|A few weeks ago, I had
the good fortune to meet Charles Martell, a British farmer, on a bus
in southern Italy. As the bus wove its way up to a mountain town on
the outskirts of Naples, he told me about his farm.
Since 1972 Charles has farmed near a town called Dymock in southern
England. He raises cattle and tends an orchard of pears and apples.
On the surface Martell sounds like a typical farmer. But dig a
little deeper and you’ll find that he's a recognized leader
for his efforts to conserve agricultural biodiversity.
The cattle he raises is actually a rare breed, Old Gloucester.
Though they existed in Gloucestershire County for centuries, they
were only 33 left when Charles started to farm. Enamored by the
dual-purpose breed, he’s worked with his fellow farmers to
bring the registered Old Gloucester population back up to over 700.
Rather than sell his milk to a dairy processor, he now turns it
into award-winning cheeses, including the double and single raw-milk
Gloucester varieties. These 200-year- old cheeses disappeared from
England’s markets in the 1950s, but now enjoy a healthy comeback.
And his apples and pears? You won’t find Red Delicious on
his farm, but you will discover the official Gloucestershire Apple
Collection that holds 98 varieties of local apples. To preserve
and propagate his area’s diminishing pear varieties, Charles
also help set up England’s National Collection of Perry Pears
Martell’s penchant for reviving the agricultural and biological
heritage of his region is what brought us both to Naples. He was
one of 10 individuals honored with Slow Food’s “For
the Defense of Biodiversity” award on November 9, 2003. I
was a member of the award’s international jury.
For the Defense of Biodiversity
Slow Food, an international consumers movement, has granted this
award since 2000. The event celebrates and promotes ordinary individuals
– farmers, researchers and organizations – who have
made outstanding efforts to conserve the agricultural biodiversity
and food traditions of their regions. (See side bar, “Facts
about Agricultural Diversity.”)
Slow Food started in 1986 when a McDonald’s restaurant opened
on one of Italy’s most famous squares. Concerned that the
industrialization of food was causing the eradication of thousands
of food varieties and tastes, founder Carlos Petrini reached out
to consumers. He showed them that uniformity in the food system
-- in chain restaurants or supermarkets - was not inevitable. Consumers
could choose something different.
Soon after a movement was born.
Today the Slow Food is on five continents, has over 70,000 members
and even boasts its own publishing company. The United States has
over 5,500 members.
Unlike the multinational agribusiness giants that promote efficiency
through monoculture and low commodity prices, Slow Food recognizes
that farmers are key to preserving flavorful, high quality food.
And profit is the key to maintaining farmers.
Using their influence with food lovers, chefs and media, Slow Food
rouses considerable interest in rare, often undervalued foods and
the people that produce them. This translates into more demand in
Through their work to honor and promote farmers, Slow Food hopes
to buck the trends of efficiency, scale and homogeneity. In its
place they intend to create demand for a different kind of agriculture
-- one based on quality, diversity, and small farm viability.
For farmers tired of the same old agriculture -- be it # 2 yellow
corn, soybeans or Holstein cows --this movement is leading one of
the ways toward something different.
impressive collection of people joined Charles Martell on the stage
in Naples’ San Carlo Theater. Although they came from different
climates, cultures and farming systems, each works to protect and
advance some part their culture’s agricultural heritage –
be it crop or animal species, traditional farming techniques, or
local agricultural knowledge.
Each award winner, either individual or organization, received a cash
award of 3,500 euros ($4,170 US) plus international publicity to garner
more support and interest in their various projects. Slow Food awarded
special jury prizes, 7,500 euros ($8,900 US) each, to the winners
from Burkina Faso, Brazil and Mexico.
The following is an overview of the other nine awardees, organized
by continent. To read great stories about the award winners, visit
the awards page of Slow Food’s website:
To contact one of the award winners go to:
Link to contact information (attached in excel spread sheet).
Winona LaDuke and
Margaret Smith, both
of White Earth Land Recovery Project in northern Minnesota, received
the award for their efforts to protect the integrity of the wild
rice markets essential to the White Earth Reservation’s economic
and social viability. The hand-harvested wild rice market is currently
under threat due to the influx of cheap, paddy-grown wild rice on
to the market.
A trained historian, José
N. Iturriaga de la Fuente has spent years collecting
information on food plants, recipes and products rapidly disappearing
from his native Mexican culture. He was honored for his work to
protect the country’s rich food heritage being lost as Mexico’s
population becomes increasingly urbanized.
The Union of Krahô Villages,
located in Brazil, was acknowledged for their initiative to recover
the seeds and agricultural knowledge necessary to grow local varieties
of maize, sweet potato and cassava. Lost with the introduction of
hybrid replacements in the 1970s, they have been able to reclaim
the agricultural crops suited to their soils and culture.
Agronomists Sebastien Rafaralahy
and Justin Leonard
Rabenandrasana, of the Association Tefy Saina in Madagascar, were
honored for their efforts to increase rice production while protecting
the environment. They worked with farmers to implement an innovative
rice-growing technique that utilizes native rice varieties, rather
than fertilizer-intensive “modern” rice varieties, to
increase rice yields.
Regassa Feyissa formed
the organization, Ethio-Organic Seed Action, to help recover Ethiopian
cereal varieties – such as durum wheat - displaced by the
Green Revolution. He was acknowledged for his research and collaboration
with farmers to protect Ethiopia’s agricultural biodiversity
and find markets for their agricultural products.
Union Namanegbzanga des Groupements
villageois de la zone de Tanlili (UNGVT) is an organization
that coordinates “village groups” to improve the quality
of life for small-farming families in a region of Burkina Faso.
UNGVT was honored for the successful restoration of crops and tree
varieties, which have improved food security and helped control
soil erosion over the last ten years.
a plant breeder from Georgia, was recognized for his efforts to
improve Georgian varieties of cereals and legumes neglected during
the Soviet Union’s reign. Through his organization, Dika,
he is working with farmers to grow and find markets for native varieties
of chickpeas, beans, barley and wheat.
Kuular Darjaa is a
farmer and veterinarian from the Republic of Tuva, one of the most
remote of the former Soviet Republics. Kuular was selected for his
efforts to conserve rare Tuvan sheep breeds as well as the cheese
and dairy products made from their milk.
An ethno-botanist from the northern territory of Australia,
Glen Wightman was honored for his work with
Aboriginal communities to document their traditional plant and animal
knowledge. The Aborigines have a rich oral tradition rapidly being
lost with their declining population.
The Special Jury Awards went to Iturriaga de la Fuente of Mexico,
the Union of Krahô Villages in Brazil and the Union Namanegbzanga
in Burkina Faso.
Kristen Corselius is a program associate with the Institute
for Agriculture and Trade Policy (Minneapolis, MN). For questions
or comments, please contact Kristen at email@example.com.