Dispatch from Slow Food Nation: The Marketplace
Slow Food Nation was held in two major locations in San Francisco. The Taste Pavilion and classes were held in Fort Mason, at the northern end of the city. Simultaneously, the Civic Center played host to the Marketplace.
Of all the parts of the Slow Food Nation program, I found the Marketplace to be the most in line with a goal to reach out to the general public. The Victory Garden was the cornerstone of the location—it is a quarter-acre vegetable and herb garden with pathways for visitors. It had been originally planted in July, so by this weekend, plants were high and the garden was lush.
At no charge, participants could watch presentations on an outdoor stage and wander through the garden. A farmers' market showcased select farmers from around California. The farmers mostly brought one or two items for sale, and many samples were available. For a reasonable charge, folks could get a plate of prepared foods, which ranged from rotisserie chicken to hand-pulled noodles to New Orleans iced coffee.
My best bite of the entire weekend was ham and biscuits from Scott Peacock of Watershed Restaurant in Decatur, Georgia. Holy heaven, this was delicious. Two small biscuits with Benton Country Ham were all I needed to be happy. Mr. Peacock was apparently present for most of the weekend, making the biscuits. Finding the chefs, artisans, and farmers available at most booths was not unusual at Slow Food Nation. I spent some time at the market early on Saturday morning and enjoyed catching up with some farmers who I don't see often—many are so busy on the farm that they usually send their employees to market.
The Civic Center, where the Marketplace took place, is in the shadow of City Hall, and the area is host to many homeless people and near some of the more low-income areas of town. It was an interesting parallel to be at the Marketplace on Sunday, when the Heart of the City Farmers' Market was taking place a block away. The Heart of the City Market is more than 26 years old and caters to low-income people, families, and customers looking for a bargain. It's a scruffy, vibrant market that I happen to love. Christine Adams is the hard-working manager of the market. I asked her if she thought Slow Food Nation would make a difference in the sustainable food world. "So many people were there, I think it has to make a difference," she said. But there is a disparity between the people attending the Slow Food events and the area in which the event was held. "I wish they had tried to help more of the people that were here," she said, referring to the constituency she is trying to work with at her market. She would have liked to see work setting up urban gardens in the area.
The energy of the Marketplace was busy and fun. I hope that some of the people who came had never heard of Slow Food, and that they learned something about sustainable food in between delicious bites.
About the author: Jennifer Maiser writes about locally and sustainably grown food. She is the founder and editor of the Eat Local Challenge website and writes at Life Begins at 30, her personal weblog.