Where can an ambitious sustainable agriculture student have a conversation with an Ethiopian camel herder and a Ukrainian cheese maker? The bi-annual Terra Madre Conference, held recently in Turin, Italy, is one such place. GMC sophomore Katelyn Mann spent a week there last month as part of a ten-member Vermont delegation at the 2016 conference. Organized by Slow Food International, the event attracted 7,000 delegates from 142 countries.
“I was 15 when I first heard about Terra Madre at a farm in North Carolina where I was working. The owner of the farm had gone to one of the first conferences and was telling me about it. I was so awestruck and inspired by his description—ever since it’s been a really big dream of mine to get there.”
As president of the Slow Food chapter Green Mountain College, Katelyn applied for a scholarship to Terra Madre and become a fully funded delegate. From September 21-26 she put her fall semester classes and her cross-country running season on hold—and got an unparalleled education on food systems around the globe.
Katelyn was a panelist on a Terra Madre presentation about food waste, a topic she’s familiar with through her work at Cerridwen Farm with Carl Diethelm ’17. She and Carl share a passion for food recovery and making sure all segments of society have access to fresh, local food.
“There were three academics, one chef, and me as the student representative on the panel. About 200 people were in the audience and I’d say one-third were students, which was really beautiful. I was able to talk about how we’re addressing food justice issues at GMC and how students could initiate similar projects on their campuses.”
She stayed in the village of Fossano on the Italian Piedmont, about an hour’s drive from Turin. The local townspeople greeted Katelyn and her fellow delegates with a marching band procession and a community meal. “Fossano was a friendly place with these staggering views of the Italian Alps. My host family was a couple over 70 years old—by the end of our stay they had us calling them ‘nonna e nonn’ (grandma and grandpa).”
Katelyn was obligated to leave Turin each evening at 6 p.m. to catch the bus back to Fossano, but her time in the village had its own rewards. She got an intimate picture of the Piedmont region through a trip to local wineries and garden tours with Alice Waters (the famous American food activist, chef and restauranteur) and Ron Finley (the “guerrilla gardener” in South L.A.).
The experience has influenced Katelyn’s thinking about her own academic journey. She’s considering changing the focus of her self-designed major in GMC’s progressive program to agro-ecology, agricultural methods that raise food in ways that minimize disruption to natural ecosystems. She’s already connected with GMC alumni in the region like Josh Brill of Breezy Meadows Orchard in nearby Tinmouth, who raises goats and is one of three commercial Vermont rice growers.
“Josh uses agro-ecology practices from Japan, growing chestnuts and hazelnuts as feed for the goats. Hazelnuts replicate soy in nutritional qualities, and chestnuts can replace corn. One of the big benefits of Terra Madre is it gives you opportunities to share practices like this person-to-person. If I’m in a micro-climate similar to another place you can be really creative about adapting practices to your own region.”
Katelyn is pumped at the prospect of attending Terra Madre again two years from now—she’s also interested in helping her GMC classmates through the process of applying as funded delegates. In the meantime, she’s using her knowledge gained internationally and close to home to practice food justice in creative ways. For the College’s annual Thanks and Giving celebration later this month, Katelyn and her fellow GMC classmates will serve meals prepared from produce gleaned from local farms.