The current year has been declared by the United Nations to be the “International Year of Family Farming”. This is not just about a celebration. Family farming has long languished in the cultural waiting room, and now that an intergovernmental organization is commemorating it, we must not think even for a moment that this is something of little importance.
For this reason, along with the Ark of Taste, family farming will be one of the two key themes at the 2014 Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre. When the Green Revolution arrived a few decades ago, bringing with it an agricultural model based on monocultures, synthetic chemicals and mechanization, family farming began to be thought of as something incapable of meeting the demographic needs of the contemporary world, with a constantly growing population and an arable surface area unable to expand as urban and industrial areas proliferate. It has taken decades of economic, political, educational, environmental, intellectual and farming resistance, at all levels, to reach this proclamation.
The difference between family farming and industrial agriculture does not lie solely in the dimensions; if anything, the dimensions are a consequence of the philosophy that guides the two models.
Industrial agriculture is first and foremost a business; in some parts of the world, it is called “agribusiness.” It produces goods to be sold. The aim is profit, and the orientation is primarily towards the market. The market, in the singular, the one of commodity exchanges, supermarket chains and exports, the one in which food has become merchandise: for this market, it is necessary to produce large quantities, in a standardized way and disconnected from the timings of nature, assisted by inputs of energy and chemicals. The land must be kept working to forced rhythms. When we talk about animals raised in factory farms, we talk about how they are constrained in unacceptable conditions, deprived of freedom, health and space; the natural rhythms of sleeping and waking, growth, reproduction and relationships with their fellow creatures are all denied. Try to think of the soil, of Earth, as a large, delicate, complex animal. Industrial agricultural uproots many of the wild species it hosts, floods it with chemicals, poisons its water, lacerates its surface with deep furrows, pushes its natural rhythms with synthetic products… and we eat the result of all this. But what is important to agribusiness is not that we eat it. It’s that we buy it.
Family farming produces food. Its focus is the people who will eat it and also the land, which works with the farmers, season after season. Family farming produces things to be eaten, not things to be sold. What’s important is to have a harvest, and so it diversifies as much as possible, seeking to integrate itself with the rhythms of nature, not to oppose them. Potatoes are sown, but also corn and beans, because the weather patterns that might harm one of these foods will benefit the others; vegetables are planted, but also flowers and herbs, because insects and parasites do not harm them. Behind family farming there are no corporations, only farmers, who along with their families are the first to eat their own produce. And there are markets, in the plural, those nearby, but also alternative ones, like food-buying groups, internet orders or cooperative shops.
Family farming should be celebrated because it produces 80% of the food eaten by the Earth’s population. What is eaten, note, not what is sold. People’s hunger is not appeased thanks to turnover charts, but if they have something on their plate. And it does not matter whether this something arrives thanks to a purchase, a gift, an exchange or because it was cultivated by the same person who brings it to the table. Family farming should be celebrated, and politically encouraged and supported because it stops initiatives like Slow Food’s Ark of Taste, which catalogs foods at risk of extinction, from becoming a list of melancholy memories. Instead, it can remain a list of possible projects—and indeed the Slow Food Presidia originate from this list.
In Turin, from October 23 to 27, the Oval space will host over a thousand products from all over the world that have already boarded the Ark of Taste. All visitors to the event will be able to participate in this battle to safeguard the planet’s biodiversity, as they are invited to bring examples of foods they wish to save and nominate them as future Ark passengers.
Family farming should not be seen as what will save the planet. Instead, it is what has so far stopped the planet from being lost. We look forward to seeing you at the Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre, where we can understand all this while doing, tasting, listening and sharing stories.