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Farmers and chefs get ready for a Slow Food picnic

Carlo Petrini, founder of the Slow Food Movement 

It’s being billed as a farm-to-fork event, but next week’s outing at Chapel Hill Creamery west of Carrboro is no ordinary late-spring picnic.

On Tuesday, nearly two dozen local chefs are teaming up with innovative farmers from throughout the area to provide direct, tangible and highly edible examples of the connection between agriculture and the dinner table.

And on hand for the event will be Carlo Petrini, founder of the Slow Food movement and a passionate proponent of preserving food traditions and restoring the lost connection between farmers and those who prepare and enjoy the food they raise. In his talks, he often speaks of food that is produced in environmentally responsible ways, with concern for animal welfare and at a fair price for the farmers. Cheap food, he points out, is often just that, and not a good deal for anybody.

This is Petrini’s first time touring the South. He’s in the State’s for a book tour, and the stop in Carrboro is his only outside of a major city.

Jennifer Curtis, project manager for North Carolina Choices — an effort by the Center for Environmental Farming Systems, which organized Petrini’s trip — said the Slow Food pioneer was impressed with the number of farmers and chefs he met from the area at last year’s Terre Madre — the annual slow food international convention in Turin, Italy.

Curtis said the center, which fosters research in sustainable agriculture, wanted Petrini to help promote the group’s Season of Sustainable Agriculture series, which aims to build greater knowledge and awareness about food issues.

“He was interested in coming here because of the attitudes he saw among the farmers and chefs from the area who went to Italy,” Curtis said. Well-represented at Terre Madre, she said, this area is seen as a hotbed of the Slow Food movement.

Portia McKnight who owns and manages the Creamery with her partner Flo Hawley, said when she saw Petrini speak in Turin about the importance of the Slow Food mission, “it made me want to burst into tears.”

“It’s a huge honor to have Carlo Petrini visit our place,” she said, “just as it’s a huge honor to have all the chefs and farmers who are coming as well.”

Among those preparing the meals for the picnic will be Lex Alexander of 3 Cups; Ben and Karen Barker and Glenn Lozuke of Magnolia Grill; Kevin Callahan of ACME; Patrick Cowden of the Weathervane; Scott Howell of Nana’s; Bret Jennings of Elaine’s on Franklin; Chris Capron of Panzanella; Damon Lapas of the Barbecue Joint; Andy Magowan and Drew Brown of Piedmont; Matt Neal of Neal’s Deli; Andrea Reusing, Brendan Reusing and Rudy Rodriguez of Lantern; and Todd Dumke of Eastern Carolina Organics.

Farmers contributing food for the event include Ben Bergmann and Noah Ranells of Fickle Creek Farm, Risten Cook of Castle Rock Gardens, Bill Dow of Ayrshire Farm, Alex and Betsy Hitt of Peregrine Farm, Stanley Hughes of Pine Knot Farm, Flat River Nursery, William Brinkley of Brinkley Farms, Mary and Nelson James of Dogwood Farms, Leah Cook of Wild Hare Farm, Joann and Brian Gallagher of Castlemaine Farm, Kathy Jones and Mike Perry of Perrywinkle Farm, John and Cindy Soehner of Eco Farm, Eliza MacLean of Cane Creek Farm, Elise Margoles of Elysian Fields Farm, McKnight and Hawley of Chapel Hill Creamery, Ray Christopher of Timberwood Organics and many more.

The Creamery event, which is sold out, is a precursor to a free talk by Petrini at the McKimmon Center in Raleigh on Wednesday, May 23, at 7 p.m.

Tickets are still available for a private reception prior to the talk in Raleigh. Visit www.cefs.ncsu.edu/petrini.htm for more information.

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