For the past two years, Denver has hosted Slow Food USA’s new, popular festival ‘Slow Food Nations.’ It attracts thousands of people looking to learn more about local food and sustainability. It is a celebration of the world’s ‘slow food’ cultures of small-scale farming and harvesting. The festival will be going on its third year, taking place on the weekend of Friday, July 19th through Sunday, July 21st. The event is modeled after Slow Food International’s Terra Madre held in Italy every other year, starting in 1996. Terra Madre celebrates small-scale food and wine producers and is an exchange for producers and consumers from all over. Also starting in Italy, in 1989, is the Slow Food movement organized by Carlo Petrini and a group of activists to defend regional food traditions. It started with the protest of a proposed McDonald’s in Rome, where the group demonstrated on the Spanish Steps.
Over the years, the movement has reached over 160 countries and 37 states. Slow Food’s mission is to protect food biodiversity, to build links between producers and consumers and to raise awareness about the most pressing issues facing our food system. Its initiatives include educating people especially youth about clean food choices, gardening and farming practices, saving endangered foods, addressing animal welfare and celebrating gastronomic traditions around the world.
The Slow Food movement is much like a governmental body going from International to National to local chapters. Slow Food International in Italy develops the projects worldwide and is lead by an International Council. On the national level, countries all have decisional freedom but follow the political guidelines of Slow Food International.
Slow Food USA is a branch that focuses on the states with over 130 chapters in different cities. Colorado has four chapters with the biggest one here in Denver. Slow Food Denver is a very active chapter in the U.S. — so it’s no coincidence that Slow Food Nations was chosen to be hosted here.
“Each chapter is different because it develops programming based on the interests of the local community,” said Krista Roberts, Director of Slow Food Denver & Event Director. “So our focus is unique to Denver and its growing food community.”
The Denver Chapter has several programs, some based on the national curriculum, some unique to the community. One of the biggest initiatives nationally is the School Gardens Program which they focus a lot on. And for the adults, the Community Table Program is a mix of socials and hands-on workshops.
The School Gardens Program
The School Gardens program is a national initiative that aims to teach children how to grow, cook and be more knowledgeable about food in general. In 2017, the Slow Food Denver School Garden programs supported 7,500 students, 300 school garden classes, 70 youth farm Stands, 48 cooking classes and 40 schools.
“We work with Denver schools teaching students where their food comes from and the importance of food choices,” said Roberts. “This program works to strengthen the food communities of tomorrow by engaging youth today.”
The Garden to Cafeteria initiative encourages schools to have gardens, harvest the produce grown and use it to supply food in the cafeteria. The program is offered in Denver, Jefferson and Littleton counties. In addition, the after-school enrichment program, Cooking from the Garden, has Slow Food instructors come in and teach kids about planting, maintaining, harvesting and using that food to cook. For each season, the classes offer something different. For example, in the fall, it’s harvesting, basic cooking techniques and putting the garden to bed.
Other programs include in-school cooking classes without the gardening component to teach kids how to use kitchen equipment and work with different ingredients and flavors. Lastly, the Denver Youth Farm Stand Coalition is a joint project between Slow Food Denver and Denver Urban Gardens where children can participate in an after-school farm stand near school property. The coalition helps kids to learn about healthy eating, consumerism and mathematics.
Community Table Programs
“Our Community Table program offers many ways for like-minded people to connect through food,” said Roberts. “When a group of people gathers around the table to share ideas and the pleasures of food, new friendships form, creativity blossoms, and the world becomes a healthier, happier place.”
Slow Food Socials happen about once a month and help to benefit the organization as well as bring people together. Recent events have included chef tastings, a wine dive and a brunch — with all proceeds benefiting Slow Food Denver’s initiatives.
Other events include author talks, a Celebrate Local campaign during the month of September celebrating local food purveyors and restaurants through dinner socials and a DIY Book Club. There are also more hands-on activities if that’s more your thing. Workshops like Preserve the Harvest is a series of events in collaboration with several Denver organizations to teach preserving and curing techniques. As you can see, Slow Food is more than just an awesome festival — it’s a year-round organization.
How to Get Involved
“The best way to get involved is to sign up for our mailing list,” said Roberts. Get alerts about all of the upcoming events Slow Food puts on each month like the socials and workshops. You can also follow them on Facebook for all updates and events.
If you’re interested in the School Gardens program — teachers, faculty or parents can become Garden Leaders meaning they become the point of contact at a community school to bring the resources of Slow Food Denver to the children. When you become a garden leader, your school receives free seeds for a school garden and monthly educational workshops. For the Cooking from the Garden after school program, you can email [email protected] to implement it at your school.
Several volunteer opportunities are available including the upcoming Slow Food Nations festival. At the festival, you can be a part of the sustainability team by making sure trash goes in the proper receptacles: compost, recycling and trash — help to serve food and more. For more details and sign up details, see here.
Additional volunteer opportunities include being an intern, cooking from the garden class assistant and tabling at farmers’ markets. You can also become a member of the Slow Food Denver chapter, or wherever you live that has a chapter nearby to help keep the movement growing. For more information on getting involved, email [email protected].
Be sure to check out the Slow Food Nations Festival in Larimer Square next month — and learn more of what Slow Food is all about.