Spannocchia Symposium II – Summary
October 25-31, 2010
In February 2009, the Spannocchia Foundation fulfilled a long-held vision of providing a cross-cultural exchange, and by hosting the Spannocchia Symposium on Food, Landscape and Community in Tuscany and New England, found a new and gratifying way to actualize its mission. The inaugural symposium gathering in February 2009 focused on the issue of sustainable local food systems and how they play an integral role in maintaining rural culture and landscape in both Tuscany and New England. Thirty farmers, chefs, agricultural educators, food writers, food policy experts and young leaders from New England traveled to the Tenuta di Spannocchia to join their Tuscan counterparts for four dynamic days of presentations, conversation, farm and market tours, and group meals featuring local and seasonal products. Participant feedback on the symposium was overwhelmingly positive, with many ideas generated to sustain the connection between the stakeholders of both regions.
Although the two regions have similarities and symposium participants share common goals, it is as much their differences that allow them to learn from one another. Tuscany’s world-renowned traditional cuisine that is tied to its landscape and culture is in danger of disappearing. In New England, on the other hand, only bits and pieces of its traditional landscape and food culture have endured—but it has a vibrant young movement dedicated to reviving those elements, adding to them, and building a new regional cuisine and farmscape. A visit from the Tuscans helped the New Englanders continue to pull their innovations together into a cohesive vision of sustainable farming that makes sense in their region. The Tuscans, on the other hand, learned from the New Englander’s success at attracting energetic young people into farming, and at educating a wide range of consumers about the value of local food, markets and farms. The New Englanders have a vibrant movement that needs to be shaped, and the Tuscans have an ancient shape that needs life and movement.
Spannocchia Symposium II was a reciprocal symposium that took place October 25 – 31, 2010 in Vermont, Maine, and Massachusetts. The overarching theme was “connecting people to farming” and the agenda featured the key issues that emerged at the 2009 gathering: access to land, farm viability, community and youth engagement, the roles of women and immigrants in sustainable agriculture, agricultural/culinary tourism, innovations in marketing and branding of farm products/activities, and the supports and limitations provided by state and regional agricultural policy. Seventeen Italian participants traveled to New England to observe first-hand the farms, educational programs, and community outreach efforts of their New England counterparts.
Shelburne Farms generously provided accommodations at the historical inn for symposium participants and served fabulous meals consisting primarily of products grown or raised on the 1,400 acre farm overlooking Lake Champlain. The symposium discussions, facilitated by John Elder, retired professor of English and Environmental Studies at Middlebury College, were conducted in an open dialogue format with simultaneous translation by Luisa de Luca and Paola D’Amato from the Institute of International Studies in Portland, ME. Interspersed with the discussions were tours of Shelburne Farms’ education center, cheese-making operation, vegetable gardens and barns, in addition to field trips to the City Market in Burlington and the Intervale Center, 350 acres supporting viable farms, trails, wildlife corridors, a native plant nursery and compost production along the Winooski River. A culminating public event: “The Orchards of Home – Apples of the Past; Apples of the Future” featured presentations by Isabella Dalla Ragione and Nick Cowles of Shelburne Orchards and their experience with orchard work in Italy and New England. The Italians and several members of the New England contingent departed for the Northeast Kingdom region of Vermont, for site visits to Pete’s Greens in Craftsbury, VT and Jasper Hill Cellars, in Greensboro, VT. Our hosts, Pete Johnson and Mateo Kehler, are part of an innovative collective of local entrepreneurs who work collaboratively to support each others’ projects with an eye towards stimulating the local economy in the Hardwick/Craftsbury/Greensboro area. See an article about the group in the NY Times here: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/08/dining/08verm.html.
Following a full day in the Northeast Kingdom that included lunch at Claire’s, a community supported restaurant in Hardwick, the group traveled to Portland, ME where the Italian and youth participants met and settled in with their gracious home stay hosts. The next day began early at Farmers’ Gate Market (owned by Erin Cinelli and Ben Slayton), a full service butcher shop and retail outlet in Wales, ME that features pasture-raised beef, pork, poultry, and lamb sourced from a network of small-scale, local farms and livestock producers. The next stop was in Lewiston, ME, to visit the Nutrition Center of Maine, a program of St. Mary’s Health System that seeks to improve knowledge of and access to nutritious food for Maine residents. A key activity of the Nutrition Center, with leadership provided by Director Kirsten Walter, is the Lots to Gardens program, an urban community garden initiative that promotes youth engagement and learning about sustainable agriculture in the urban environment. Other programs include a food pantry and a teaching kitchen. Then, it was off to Turner, ME for a traditional but entirely locally resourced lunch and a visit at Nezinscot Farm, owned and operated by 2009 Symposium participant Gloria Varney and her husband, Gregg. Nezinscot Farm is a diversified organic farm and dairy with an on-site farm store and café/bakery. The site visits ended in Durham, ME, at New Leaf Farm, where 2009 participant Chris Colson and her husband Dave showed off their ten acre operation of vegetable, herb and fruit production. A pot-luck dinner and contradance completed the day at the Pownal home of our hosts: Steve, Caroline, Benson and Anna Hyde.
The study tour continued with Cultivating Community’s day of learning about urban farming in Portland, ME. The group first visited the Portland Farmers’ Market at Deering Oaks park, allowing the Italian participants to see –and admire a New England farmers’ market in action, followed by a tour of Cultivating Community’s Boyd St. gardens in Kennedy Park. The remaining activities at Cultivating Community’s site at Turkey Hill Farm in Cape Elizabeth included Leslie Oster’s special lobster salad sandwiches along with farm-grown kale and cabbage salads and soups, prepared by the youth from the Community Culinary Crew, and a tour of the gardens hosted by student gardeners. The evening culminated in a celebratory Maine Harvest Dinner hosted by Spannocchia Foundation at Fiddlehead Art and Science Center in Gray, ME. This event featured a program designed by Alida Payson from Cultivating Community and included presentations by Kirsten Walter and a youth gardener from Lewiston and a menu designed by Aurora Provisions paired with wine from Spannocchia. On October 31, the Italians left Portland and made one last site visit to Appleton Farms, a Trustees of Reservations property located in Ipswich, MA. As one of the longest continuously operated farms in the USA, Appleton provided the Italian participants with a sense of the evolution of farming in New England, and how farm activities have changed over the years. The Spannocchia Symposium II ended at Logan airport in Boston but the long range vision for the symposia series has the cross-cultural dialogue continuing with a new range of topics related to “Forest, Energy and Climate in Tuscany and New England”, planned for 2012 at Marsh Billings Rockefeller National Historic Park, in Woodstock, Vermont, home of the Conservation Study Institute and a leader in the field of conservation.
The Spannocchia Symposium II was made possible through the generous support of the Horizon Foundation, Stonyfield Farm, and Cardinal Brook Trust well as members and trustees of the Spannocchia Foundation, and individual contributions from people who trust in the mission of the Spannocchia Foundation and our efforts to sustain rural landscapes and cultural traditions through cross-cultural dialogue and cooperation.
Feedback from Participants
“L’aspetto più innovativo è sicuramente quello delle tendenze dei movimenti giovanili e popolari per aumentare la fruizione del cibo locale . In questa sessione e nelle visite ho incontrato persone, professionalità e umanità di alto livello e fortemente incoraggianti. (The part that inspired me the most is certainly the trend in youth and grassroots movements to increase the use of local food. In this meeting and the site visits, I have met people who have a professionalism and a humanity of a high standard and it’s very encouraging.)”
“The gathering also helped me to realize how a lot of my strengths are in networking and connecting people. I love farming, and finding work that really combines the two of those in a productive way (or creating that opportunity) is where I’m headed.”
It really was a pleasure to be reconnected with such interesting people. There is a real friendship among all of the participants, a caring and sharing relationship which is quite unique and an honor to be part of.