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Vt. trio taking slow food message to world stage

NEW HAVEN — Imagine spending five days in Italy, talking about food and agriculture with hundreds of other people from all over the world.
In October, that’s just what Elizabeth Frank, Hugo Lara and Emilie “Savitri” McDonald will be doing.
The three Slow Food Vermont members — all with Addison County ties — were chosen to attend the biennial Terra Madre conference as delegates of Slow Food USA, and in the coming months they will be raising money for plane tickets to get them there — the conference covers their costs once they are in the country.
Their first fundraiser will be dinner and entertainment on Friday, Aug. 10, at Lincoln Peak Winery, featuring food from a number of local growers and cooks.
For Frank, who owns Eagle’s Flight Farm in Orwell, the event is also a chance to gauge interest in Slow Food Vermont in Addison County — she was recently named regional captain for the area, and she hopes to start a more regular series Slow Food events in the future.
Frank said she jumped at the opportunity to attend Terra Madre and to share with and learn from many others passionate about food — she noted that there will be delegates from 130 countries.
“We’ll be talking about what we’re doing and bringing back what others are doing across the globe,” she said.
Frank practices permaculture, a type of ecological farm management, on her farm, and she said she’s looking forward to speaking with other people who are growing with similar agricultural practices.
On a larger scale, she said the conference focuses on a present challenge for many in Vermont and elsewhere.
“The whole theme of the conference is feeding the planet, and that is something that has to be addressed locally and globally,” said Frank.
Frank has been a member of Slow Food for 15 years, dating back to her time running a catering business in Boston. She’s switched from the dining end to the agricultural, but she said to her, it’s all connected to raising, cooking and sharing good food.
“Slow food is not rocket science,” she said. “It goes back to being with your families, with your neighbors. I love growing my own food and being able to pick it, cook it and share it.”
And Lara, a board member of Slow Food Vermont, said Vermont delegates have much to bring to the table at the conference.
“We have a lot to share with the world about what’s happening in Vermont,” he said. “People really value food here.”
Lara lives in Montpelier but graduated from Middlebury College with McDonald in 2007. This year, he started A Little Peruvian, cooking foods from his native Peru at the Burlington and Montpelier farmers’ markets.
He said his time at Middlebury included a little bit of work at the college’s organic garden and a study abroad trip to Italy, where he first encountered the concept of “slow food,” which places an emphasis on creating access to and appreciation for sustainable, healthy and tasty food.
“Living in Italy, which is the mother ship of slow food, you really learn to appreciate food and time spent around the table,’ said Lara.
After some years spent working in Vermont, Lara decided that food was his passion, and that it was time to introduce Peruvian food to the Green Mountain State.
“For me, (A Little Peruvian) was a way to spread Peruvian culture and traditions in Vermont,” he said. “There’s such a diversity of crops and food and flavors in Peruvian food.”
Lara is looking forward to Terra Madre for the chance to meet new people and share common goals and struggles.
“It’s going to be an amazing place to meet different producers, farmers and people who are doing similar things to what we’re doing in Vermont, but in different geographies,” said Lara.
McDonald is also looking forward to meeting people from all over the world, and she has another goal: to collect as much music as she can while overseas.
“I’m interested in finding where slow food and music come together, because I have a theory that they do come together — it’s about nourishment,” she said.
The singer-songwriter will be playing some original music at the fundraising event, and she said she hopes to document her experience at Terra Madre and find a way to pull all of the new music she’s gathered together when she returns from the conference.
McDonald said moving to Vermont and attending Middlebury College played a major role in her appreciation for agriculture, food and shared meals. While in college, she said she still remembers the things she learned from Jay Leshinsky, the organic garden advisor at the time. She also credited her time spent abroad in Italy with her appreciation of the slow food movement.
After several years working in Philadelphia with farmers’ markets and starting a CSA program, late last year McDonald decided it was time to come back to Vermont. She said part of the draw was her yoga community here, and part of it was Vermont’s agricultural and food-based opportunities.
This summer, McDonald is working as a farmhand at Elmer Farm in Middlebury and New Leaf Organics in Monkton, and she said it’s been a very good experience.
“The farms have been incredible, and I have so much admiration for my bosses and coworkers,” she said. “It’s a lot of labor. It’s really a lifestyle.”
Now, she is looking forward to the conference and what she will learn there.
“I’m expecting it to be overwhelming — everything is translated into 11 languages,” she said. “I’m excited for the people I’ll meet and the stories I’ll get.”
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected].

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