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Is slow food slowly changing?

Farmers and food artisans discuss the future of the slow food movement at the biennial Terra Madre.

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But others worried that the Terra Madre did little to alleviate the by now familiar charge that Slow Food is for elites. Posting on The Ethicurean blog a few days after she returned from Turin, Debra Eschmeyer wrote, "In my current state of mind of trying to figure out how young people are supposed to make a living farming, I left very bitter with a fire in my belly. None of my farming friends could afford that trip and when they asked me if it was worth it, I had to say no."

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The physical layout of the convention played up discrepancies. In the hangarlike building where Terra Madre was held, Malawi farmers and Thai craftspeople, most in traditional dress, sold goods on the floor. That was a far cry from the massive Salone de Gusto, where French cheesemakers and Italian bakers sold exquisite artisanal goods from attractive booths. For the first time, the two buildings were physically connected by a corridor lined with kebab stands and gelato carts, but that connection didn't quite bridge the gap in tone and cost between the two venues. "No, I haven't been over there," said Ms. Petroni, the Burundian potato seller, in reference to the Salone. "I couldn't afford to buy anything anyway."

The Salone also raised the question of whether Slow Food was getting too big. Organizers announced an initiative to begin branding Slow Food-approved products with a logo. And some of the convention's sponsors – such as the coffee company Lavazza, which maintained a sleek booth where black-clad baristas turned out perfect espressos – could hardly be considered small producers. "It's good that the movement is growing," said Brian Bouchon, who was serving slices from Irish raw-milk cheeses. "But you worry that it will become too successful. This edition [of Terra Madre] is already a lot more commercial than the last one. It's lost some of its intimacy."

It's a fine line to draw, of course, between too commercial and doing what's necessary to keep small producers in business. One of Slow Food's most successful ventures has been to create what it calls presidia – loose organizations designed to protect and promote individual products that would otherwise be in danger of extinction. At Terra Madre, it was easy to find producers grateful for the aid that the presidia has offered. At a booth displaying cookies and breads made from the Galician black corn called millo corvo, Victoria Martínez explained the benefits: "This corn was nearly extinct, and with it part of our region's biodiversity, part of our way of life," she said. "We haven't seen economic benefits from the presidium yet, but we've gotten a lot of publicity from it."

For Juan Jara Ruíz of Cajamarca, Peru, the benefits of Slow Food were even more obvious. "This used to just grow wild," he said, peeling the papery leaves from a small fruit to reveal an orange orb that he uses to make jams. "We started planting it and within one year, Slow Food started helping up commercialize the fruit. Now I make enough to learn a living just from growing them."

Two women from Cape Verde interrupted Mr. Jara to ask the fruit's name. When he told them "tomatillo," they giggled. "In our country, its called 'capucho.' We make jam from it, too."

And that, despite its flaws, may be Terra Madre's greatest accomplishment – the space it creates for farmers from around the world to come together and exchange ideas. It certainly was the greatest benefit for Petroni, from Burundi. Although she was pleased to have sold several bags of potatoes, she was most excited by what she learned from a Romanian she met at lunch one day. "He told me that if we could start growing bananas, they would buy them from us and export them. I'm going to go home and do that!"