The Slow Food movement was born in Rome, Italy more than 20 years ago when McDonald’s wanted to open a location on the Spanish Steps. Politicians, farmers, food artisans and concerned community members rallied to stop it from being built. They failed in their efforts, but out of all that, Slow Food became a reality. Today there are more than 400 chapters in the U.S., each with its own unique mission.
Slow Food Temecula will present their annual Field To The Fork event Saturday May 21st at Leonesse Cellars to benefit school gardens in Temecula. When board president Leah Di Bernardo moved to Temecula with her one year old daughter, she was convinced with the bounty of locally grown food here that her daughter would be fed well at school. What she saw turned her stomach. She decided to follow in the footsteps of Alice Waters and launched a school gardens project, hoping to put a garden in each school in the region.
That goal has nearly been achieved. Slow Food Temecula is on the map in a major way, putting gardens in more schools than any other city in the nation besides Denver. Leah sees the program as being both academic and edible. Her dream is to see kids move from the garden to the kitchen and learn how to prepare what they have harvested.
Not only does Slow Food Temecula support gardens in the schools, they are advocates for farmers, food artisans, cheesemongers and local winemakers and brewers.
Board member Rick Neugebauer has lived in the area since 1963 and began growing food organically when he moved here. He believes in the importance of keeping it local, stressing that it’s not necessary to go outside the Temecula/Murrieta area. He points to the Murrieta Farmstead Market that is slated to open next year, calling it a “labor of love”. “It’s about our kids… about teaching them how the food grows, how we harvest it and how we eat it gastronomically.”
Fellow board member Nicolina Alves says “we see the value in bringing healthy, good produce to families in our community.” She points out the focus of Slow Food is to educate youth, our future’s most vital resource. “There is something so powerful when you get students in the garden, when their hands are touching the earth, they feel that connection.” Noting Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, she believes he doesn’t need to visit the Temecula area. Slow Food has been sending the same message he does for years.
Another thing Slow Food Temecula is doing is bringing tables into the gardens and conducting classes there. They educate the kids on taste, too, pointing out to them that ugly doesn’t mean it doesn’t taste good. Many of the gardens have irrigation systems and in the future the hope is for them to have teaching tables, planting tables, shade structures and washing stations. If you’re interested in making a donation, they’re looking for hand tools, gloves, composters and organic mulch.
The event itself promises to be a very special one. Local winemakers, brewers and chefs will be serving up their finest. The event includes educational symposiums and will conclude with a “Chef Fight“, featuring a battle of the sexes, with Bernard Guillas and Dean Thomas pitted against Leah Di Bernardo and Dean’s wife Nicole. Each team will receive a mystery ingredient and their protein the week of the event and they will have 30 minutes with the assistance of middle school students to prepare their dishes. 50 VIP ticket holders will get to taste their creations.
Mike Rennie is one of the owners of Leonesse Cellars, the site of the event. He has been a friend to Slow Food Temecula since nearly day one. His farming company, Stage Ranch Farm Management farms 450 acres of wine grapes in the Temecula Valley in addition to certified organic citrus and avocado primarily in the De Luz area. His operation is 100% sustainable. He plants barley between every other row of vines which is then disked, chopped and cut into the soil. Organic compost is placed under the vines every year. If there’s a beneficial or carnivorous insect that can do the job of a pesticide, he uses it. The only thing they spray is sulfur to control powdery mildew.
The wines of Leonesse come from 100% estate grown grapes. He notes the winery is an agricultural experience and wants visitors to get into the vineyards and touch the vines. “We really want to blend properly, to have the look of all wine countries.” Rennie is doing his best to put Temecula wines on the map. Crystal Cruise Lines will begin offering Leonesse to its passengers this October.
Slow Food Temecula’s board is comprised of educators, bankers, chefs and farmers. They realize the importance of getting the community involved in what they are doing and encourage people to join Slow Food USA. “We’re doing something right” notes Di Bernardo. “Our children have a right to good, clean food.”