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by Slow Food USA President, Josh Viertel

When my fiancée, Juliana, and I were farming, we grew the most beautiful produce I have ever seen. I do not mean to brag. It is sort of like being a parent, or a pet owner. Anyone who has grown food with love probably feels that way about the product of his or her labor. We grew 300 varieties of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers, many heirloom varieties, and ingredients for cooking food from so many traditions. We sold them at a farmers’ market in a well-heeled neighborhood, and we charged a lot of money. We did not think twice about charging $16 per pound for salad greens. We knew what work went into it, we knew how good it was, and we knew it was worth it. We sold out. And we made $12,000 a year between the two of us. We thought we were doing pretty well.

When low-income people came to our stand with food stamps, we gave them two or three for the price of one. But something was broken. At $12,000, we had low incomes ourselves, and the only people we could feed had high incomes. I wanted to change the world, and I saw farming as a piece of that work. Fairness for the farmer seemed to mean injustice for the eater. Fairness for the eater seemed to mean injustice for the farmer. How could we simply choose to fight for one, with the knowledge that it undercut the other?

A few years later, I found myself standing in a room filled with about 300 extraordinary people — people working to take on the same paradox that had troubled me as a young farmer. Slow Food USA was putting on an enormous event in San Francisco in the fall of 2008 called Slow Food Nation. It brought the most inspiring artisan pickle makers, charcuterie curers, and bread bakers together with the most committed food activists and farmers. Alice Waters, Carlo Petrini, Wendell Berry, Eric Schlosser, Michael Pollan, Raj Patel, Van Jones, Vandana Shiva, Lucas Benitez, and many, many other heroes of mine were all in the same place, at the same time, to talk about food, farming, and the movement to transform both. Monsanto and Ronald McDonald would have done well to blow up the building.