I’m writing from my new room in Berkeley, CA, looking out over the olive tree and basil plants in my backyard garden.  Coming from Boston, where local produce is a special treat reserved for summer and fall months, the Bay Area seems like paradise.  It’s the ideal place, of course, for gourmets and locavores alike to converge, as they did the weekend before last at Slow Food Nation.

You may heard some praise and some criticism (and some things in between) of the events and displays that weekend — the Victory Garden, the Food For Thought series, the Taste Pavilion.  But not much has been said about the Youth Food Movement program, one of the most remarkable elements of Slow Food Nation.  According to the official website, the program aimed to “bring young people together in order to build and empower networks of students and young farmers, cooks, artisans, activists and eaters; give them new resources; link them with mentors in the wider food movement; allow them to inspire others; and gather, have fun and share meals in the spirit of Slow Food.”

It was also in the spirit of the college-age way of life, as the weekend started on a Wednesday and ended on a Monday.  To kick things off, about 30 people headed up to Slide Ranch for a wilderness retreat from Wednesday afternoon to Thursday morning.  We got back to basics, eating our potluck dinner under the stars after an intense session of food-system brainstorming.  The next evening, more people gathered for a seed-swap and nice-to-meet-you party at a warehouse in San Francisco’s Mission district.  Celebrities such as Severine von Tscharner Fleming and organizers of TheWhoFarm were there to inform and inspire.

On Saturday, youth participants really got down to business at a series of workshops, all held at the beautiful 18 Reasons gallery in the Mission.  Sessions included planning for the youth delegation to Terra Madre 2008; a “Jam Jam” (music + preserve-making); a Student Food Movement workshop with representatives from the Real Food Challenge, Aramark at ASU, Slow Food On Campus, and Conscious Lifestyle; and a discussion/urban garden tour with young farmers.

Sunday was a day to relax — and an opportunity to get out of the city.  Tours of the Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley were offered to highlight the “edible education” going on in public schools.

The Youth Food Movement program went out with a bang on Monday at the Eat-In.  Dolores Park was the site of this “protest potluck picnic” that brought together 250 YFM participants over one loooong table.  Sponsored by Outstanding in the Field, the Eat-In featured speakers such as:

• Jim Denevan of Outstanding in the Field
• Jered Lawson of Pie Ranch
• Bryant Terry, co-author of Grub
• Melina Shannon-DiPietro, director of the Yale Sustainable Food Project
• Laura Hess of Dunbar Farms
• Trevor Paque of MyFarm
• Meghan Cohorst of the Student/Farmworker Alliance
• Genya Erling of Slow Food UW Madison
• Sam Levin of Project Sprout, a program he founded to build a student-run organic garden and sustainable dining program at Monument Mountain High School in Great Barrington, Massachusetts (this kid is 15 years old — WOW)
• Greg Boulos of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture
• Michael Dimock of Roots of Change and the Declaration for Healthy Food and Agriculture <– sign this if you haven’t already!
• Tim Galarneau of the California Student Sustainability Coalition and the Real Food Challenge
• Josh Viertel, the newly inaugurated President of Slow Food USA

Whew.  Then it was time to eat — or rather, gorge on the many dishes contributed by participants, plus a pig roasted by the chefs at A16 and pies from Mission Pie.  Finally, to poignantly cap everything off, participants each wrote their own “little actions” on a giant tablecloth — actions they pledged to take in the coming weeks to demonstrate their commitment to a just and sustainable food system.

A big giant thanks to Gordon Jenkins, Dave Prior, and all the volunteers for making all of this happen.  The YFM program was a fantastic opportunity to meet others who care about the food system and who are doing so many different things to make a positive impact.  But of course, one can’t be completely satisfied … so now that we are all sufficiently pumped, it’s only six weeks until the next gathering, this time on a global scale: Terra Madre 2008.  Join in on the YFM forums, watch out for the action-pledge tablecloth on display, and enjoy the beautiful beginnings of the fall harvest.

Still recovering from food coma,


P.S.  Check out some pix from the YFM here, and from SFN here.