Organic Agriculture's Future-and-Present Star

By Corby Kummer
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At a sustainability conference last week sponsored by Slow Food's University of Gastronomy, there was a screening of Terra Madre, a new film in release in Europe and with luck to be released here to be released this fall, directed by Ermanno Olmi, famous chronicler of Italian folk life and much-awarded neorealist filmmaker, especially for his Tree of Wooden Clogs. You can get in this trailer a sense of the conference for which the film is named, the every-two-year gathering of farmers and food producers Slow Food sponsors, improbably gathering them in huge halls in Turin.

Olmi intersperses them with lyrical passages of two farms in the Italian countryside, to show two styles of self-sufficiency. One is occupied by a hermit of 35 years, and not from what we can glean a very happy one--the farm as refuge from humanity. The other is modest but paradisal, the farmer silent and methodical, his craggy face creased with weather but lighting with the pleasure he takes when his barely-toddler son accompanies him through tomato and grape vines. In a long, wordless passage at the end of the movie we see a compressed planting cycle, starting with the farmer sitting at his simple, handsome table with a glass of wine, plotting out what he will plant, through a harvest lunch filled with friends and children and the vegetables we have watched him tend. It seems a bit too perfect to be true, but the very modesty of his life and land belies any gentleman-farmer suspicions, which I always have when I see beautiful farms.

As his very conclusion Olmi chooses--the speech my young, high school junior future-and-present star Sam Levin gave at Terra Madre's opening session, about which I had written a post just days before seeing the screening. Above is a screen shot with Italian subtitle of his, and the film's, last line: "We will be the generation that reunites mankind with the earth."

And in this week's Boston Globe an article updated progress on the ambitions Levin announced to get vegetables from his Project Sprout, at his high school in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, onto school tables, now with the help of Kathy Sullivan, the school's food service director (the link doesn't show the nice picture of Levin and Sullivan picking lettuce for the cafeteria). Starting a school garden is one thing. Getting produce into a school kitchen, in the unlikely instance that a school has a kitchen, is another. I'm not surprised Levin has lined up help.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2009/09/organic-agricultures-future-and-present-star/26724/