Seven examples of food communities around the world
Africa: Local food in the N’ganon School Canteen (Ivory Coast)
In the village of N’ganon, 70 Km from Korhogo in northern Ivory Coast, an educational project is underway to encourage local consumption, promoted and developed by the Slow Food Chigata Convivium.The project involves all the inhabitants of the village, but focuses on the N’ganon school. In addition to providing students with at least two meals a day, the program presents a menu with dishes prepared using healthy well-balanced local products. The village women grow the raw materials, which partly supply the school canteen, are partly used for family consumption and are partly sold on the market to support the project.Following the convivium’s presentation of the initiative on April 7, 2008, the village head gave 7 hectares of land to the inhabitants of N’ganon. Their women revived organic methods used in the village up to 20 years ago, before the introduction of the first chemical fertilizers.The school principal welcomed the idea of including local products in school meals, since in recent years traditional foods had been disappearing due to the WFP (World Food Program) distributing imported food to African school canteens.Since the project started, the 7 hectares have been ploughed and cultivated, while technical experts and economists have helped to select the most suitable cereal and vegetable varieties for the land. The first products, such as rice, peanuts and beans are harvested in September-October, followed by vegetable produce.Students at the N’ganon school have been able to eat traditional Ivory Coast dishes since September. This enables them to appreciate the great value of food products grown at home and the importance of their own food culture. The project Consommons Ivoirien, Equilibre et Sain dans nos Cantines Scolaires is coordinated and supported by the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, through funding from the Gund Foundation.
Latin America: Producers of the Xochimilco Chinampas (Mexico)
Xochimilco, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987, is an agricultural oasis containing the greatest plant and animal biodiversity in Mexico City.Here in a large marshy area, a community of active farmers is trying to maintain close links to rural traditions, though the site has for some time been incorporated in the metropolitan area of the capital. The farmers cultivate a great range of products in the chinampas or “floating gardens”. These chinampas are separated by canals wide enough to allow the passage of canoes.Seventy-six people are directly involved in this environmental project and are divided into three different groups: the farmers, who cultivate a large variety of vegetables, cereals and native fruit, the producers of medicinal plants and the flower growers.Marigolds (Tagetes erecta L.) have close links to Mexican traditions and are the most important flower species grown in Xochimilco, while corn is the main crop, widely used in Mexican cuisine to make tortillas, soups, tamales (using corn flour dough and meat), quesadillas, and flour.All the products, whether fresh or transformed, are eaten within the community and sold at markets through intermediaries.A rich seed bank containing a range of native plants is also kept here.
North America: Nova Scotia Maple Syrup Producers (Canada)
The North Eastern part of the United States and the Canadian provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia account for most of the world’s maple syrup production. The province of Quebec alone produces 80-90%, while Nova Scotia has just 1%. The community of this region is composed of about 70 producers. The variety of maple cultivated (Acer saccharum) grows much more slowly and is less productive than the variety cultivated in the US, Ontario and Quebec. The production of syrup begins with the tapping process. This involves making an incision in the bark of a tree and delicately inserting a small tube. Sap is extracted in the months of March and April when the temperatures begin to remain above zero. At this time of year, maple trees emerge from their winter dormancy and prepare for growth. Once collected the sap is boiled to eliminate excess water. In its crude state it is composed of 97% water, 2% sugar and 1% mineral salts. After boiling down for a longer period it reaches a sugar concentration of at least 66%: 40 liters of sap yield just 1 liter of syrup. The season for producing maple syrup only lasts 4-6 weeks and ends when the buds begin to sprout between the middle and the end of April.
Asia: Dried Hachiya Persimmon (Japan)
Dojo Hachiya-gaki is a type of dried persimmon produced in the town of Hachiya, now part of Minokamo municipality (Gifu prefecture, central Japan).This product dates back to the ninth century when it is said to have been offered to members of the imperial court (dojo) and shogunate, who considered it “as sweet as honey” (hachimitsu), hence the name of the village, Hachi-ya.As a result of offering the persimmon, the village for a long time enjoyed various privileges, including a reduction of taxes paid in rice. Persimmon cultivation was then almost completely replaced by mulberries for the silk industry; the varieties and production techniques were only saved through the efforts of the farmer Murase in the first half of the 20th century. He managed to find the last tree of the original variety in an old farming couple’s garden, and its branches were distributed to members of the community for grafting. After harvesting in November and December, the persimmons are left to ripen for three to seven days. They are then peeled, smoked and hung, first in the shade and then in the sun. The producers continually polish the surfaces with their hands and remove any excess sugar with a brush.This fruit is closely linked to the culture and traditions of Minokamo and a popular Hachiya tea and persimmon ceremony is held each year in January at the Zuirinji temple, also known as the “persimmon temple”. The increasing age of producers is again endangering the survival of this product however. In an attempt to protect it and transmit production methods, children of the third and last grade of elementary school attend a course each year on producing Hachiyagaki.
Western Europe: Producers of Yema de Huevo and Gofio di Lanzarote Potatoes (Spain)
Lanzarote is the fourth island of the Canaries archipelago, and being situated furthest to the northeast, is exposed to the continuous fresh winds of the Northern Atlantic. Although the island has been nominated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, its main economic activity remains mass tourism, which is indifferent to the island’s distinctive geographical and cultural features.The land is very arid, particularly in the south of the island, but fertile due to the volcanic soils. The farmers of Lanzarote have always built distinctive stone walls to shelter crops from the strong wind, but this makes it difficult to use machinery.The community is composed of local small farmers. With great manual effort they strive to produce some extraordinary products from this dry land. The environmental conditions mean that returns from farming are low and many people are progressively abandoning the activity and the rural landscape of Lanzarote risks disappearing.The few hundred small farmers who persevere in working the fields of Lanzarote in traditional fashion grow some interesting products. One of the most distinctive is papa yema de huevo, a variety of slightly sweet local potato, which is eaten with the skin (which is why they are called papas arrugadas, or wrinkled potatoes), often boiled in sea water and accompanied with garlic-based sauces.A second special product is gofio, a flour produced from cereals (such as corn or wheat) and at one time also with vegetables (such as lentechas menudas or chicharros, traditional local vegetables which have now almost disappeared), toasted and stone ground. Gofio contains a high concentration of nutritional substances and is a basic ingredient in traditional soups and sweet products.It is very hard for this community to compete with the prices of imported products available in supermarkets and it is also difficult to sell to local restaurants and shops, which are not yet receptive to promoting the island’s traditional foods. The small farmers hope to achieve recognition for their production methods, particularly for gofio, which continues to be stoneground in an old mill. Run by an elderly miller, it risks closing because the activity is not an attractive financial proposition for younger people.This community is striving to obtain produce from an amazing land, which only a cursory and superficial glance would consider infertile.
Eastern Europe: Community of Kostroma Black Salt Producers (Russia)
Black salt has a long history, dating back to when rock salt was first extracted by the Troize-Sergiev monastery in the Kostroma region of northern Russia. The salt is also called chetvergovaya (“made on Thursday”), because it used to be used on Maundy Thursday for seasoning Easter dishes. For a long time this black salt was part of Russian culinary heritage and the secrets of production were handed down from generation to generation.With the coming of the Communist regime, which brought an almost complete cessation of all religious activity, the production of black salt was abandoned and this traditional foodstuff forgotten.In the mid-1990s, Lebedev Andrei, a resident of Kostroma and a fireman for 20 years, read an article in the magazine Science and Life about the amazing benefits of black salt and decided to revive this traditional local product.Andrei recreated the traditional preparation method with the help of a woman from a nearby village. After mixing with rye flour, the rock salt is put in a linen bag and surrounded with birch wood. It is then all put in an oven and burned. The resulting solid ball is broken up in a machine and then sieved.The black salt producer community is located in a natural area, a long way from large industrial centers. Burning birch wood does not harm the local ecosystem because felling is planned and authorized to control the forest.The community comprises 10 people, including 5 women and 5 men between 18 and 40 years old, of different nationalities and religious beliefs.
Oceania: Producers and Transformers of Tasmanian Wallaby Meat (Australia)
Tasmania and Flinders Islands lie to the south of the Australian continent. The wallaby is a native animal similar to the kangaroo, but smaller and its name comes from the Eora Aboriginal tribe, who at one time inhabited the Sydney area. The wallaby’s preferred habitat is the thick bush, while the big semi-arid plains are more suited to kangaroos. The relative isolation and practically intact ecosystems of Flinders Islands and Tasmania have enabled the conservation and development of significant plant and animal biodiversity.The food community consists of about 80 people: wallaby farmers who can assure product quality, butchers, and chefs who offer this unique product in their restaurants.Wallaby meat is processed, coated with red pepper and cooked like a steak. The community’s second product is a Tasmanian salami whose meat is minced, spiced and then enclosed in a casing before being smoked.Wallaby is an integral part of Aboriginal diet, but very few other people in Australia eat it, though the meat is lean and has a delicate flavor.