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ARTICLES >> People Articles

Terra Madre 2008 - Turin, Italy

Posted by Bestprac on May 15 2009

By Stuart Mitchell - "Cashel Vale", Bollon, Q.

During October 2008, I was privileged to be given the opportunity to participate in The Natural Fibres forum at the Slow Food conference, Terra Madre in Turin, Italy.


My Participation was made possible with support from Australian Wool Network, The Schneider Group, a world leader in the supply and processing of wool and precious natural fibres, Ermenigildo Zegna, one of Italy's oldest families of entrepreneurs and a leading multinational company in the men's luxury clothing industry and the Province of Biella, an important wool and textile centre in the Piedmont region of Northern Italy.

Slow Food evolved from an organization called Agircola founded by Carlo Petrini in 1986 to oppose the opening of the first McDonalds store in Italy close to the Spanish Steps in Rome. The Slow Food Organization has expanded to include over 84,000 members all around the world interested in promoting the concepts of "good, clean, and fair". Good refers to the quality of food products and their taste; clean, to a production process that respects the natural environment and fair, to the dignity and appropriate economic return for the people who produce them and also respect for those who consume. Slow Food is also dedicated to the preservation of products and knowledge and to date has helped ensure the survival of over 200 products in Italy as well as another 60 worldwide including Yak's cheese from Tibet and Guarna, an energy giving root from Brazil.

Terra Madre 2008 was the third bi-annual conference held in Turin. Over 6800 people attended the conference from more than 150 countries and included farmers, fishermen, researchers, academics and students.

For the first time, Terra Madre 2008 included natural fibres as part of the Terra Madre network. It is felt that "fast fashion" is becoming for garments what "fast food" is for nutrition - it destroys difference, it flattens out the outputs and speeds consumption, killing traditions and killing the appreciation of the true, absolute and ethical quality. Production of natural fibres is in constant decline and is being replaced by chemically created man made fibres. Slow food understands that it is not possible to stop human progress however they believe it is possible to change the direction of progress by promoting fundamental values like tradition, quality, elegance and "naturality".

To promote natural fibres 75 producers of the most common animal and plant fibres from 15 countries participated in the Natural Fibres Forum with an aim of promoting a different way of understanding quality in the textile and apparel industry just as Slow Food and Terra Madre has done in the food industry. The animal fibre delegates included Merino wool producers from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and South America, Vicuna producers from the Andes Mountains in Peru, Kid Mohair producers from South Africa, Cashmere producers from Inner Mongolia and Alpaca producers from Italy and Peru.

The opening ceremony at the Olympic Stadium was an amazing multicultural experience with people in national dress, personal messages from Prince Charles (a huge supporter of Slow Food) and Ban Ki Moon secretary of the United Nations and an inspiring opening address from Carlo Petrini, President of Slow Food all translated simultaneously into seven languages.

During my time in Italy I stayed in Biella about an hour from Turin and in the heart of Italy's textile industry. The informal meetings in Biella were as important as the official Terra Madre gatherings and there was much discussion over some amazing coffee and pizza on the sidewalks of Biella!!

We also had the opportunity to visit Salone del Gusto, one of the world's largest wine and food exhibitions organised by Slow Food and the Piedmont Regional Authority. The fair involves cooks, wine experts, restaurateurs and journalists and attracts around 180,000 visitors.

We had a meeting with the Mayor of Biella Province, Segio Scaramal, who spoke passionately about the importance to his city and province of uniting producers and manufacturers. This was followed by an amazing dinner hosted by the Schneider family and prepared by Chef Walter Eynard, holder of two Michelin Stars, using local ingredients.

We also visited Pettinatura di Varrone of the Schneider Group where they process wool and other fibres such as wool, mohair, alpaca and vicuna.

We travelled to the mountain region of Treviro and were hosted by Pablo Zegna of Ermenigildo Zegna. This visit involved another very long lunch! I was amazed at the passion of the entire business, their absolute desire to work with natural products including their dyes and the attention to detail and quality control.

I consider my entire experience to have been a privilege for me. I am grateful for the networks I have developed and am excited that they have been extremely active since Terra Madre. I enjoyed the hospitality of my sponsors and it gives me confidence when I see their passion for natural fibres



The Vicuna is a fascinating animal it is a camelid crossbred in the Andes about 7000 years ago - weighs about 50 kilos and lives at altitudes between 3000 - 5500 metres. It was once killed to harvest it's fibre that was reserved for Inca nobility. Nowadays a consortium including Peruvian authorities and Ermenegildo Zegna are helping locals develop farming practices to introduce biannual clipping. The Vicuna fibre is referred to as "the fibre of the gods"

Last changed: Feb 16 2012

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