Next Steps | Civil Eats

Next Steps

Children in the Victory Garden

Children in the Victory Garden

This is the final part of our 4-part series on the process of creating Slow Food Nation. See the intro to the series here, Part 1 here, Part 2 here and Part 3 here.

Over the past month, Slow Food Nation has been interviewing and surveying all of the collaborators in the inaugural edition including the team, curators, designers, sponsors, vendors, farmers, food producers and community organizations who built this year’s event. We are gathering the knowledge necessary to make recommendations on the future of Slow Food Nation based on what we learned this year. I hope we’ll be able to announce some concrete next steps with Slow Food USA for the event in the space of a few weeks, but I’d like to share some of the information that we’ve gathered so far.

So much of Slow Food Nation was done with such haste and hurry that it is novel and amazing to have time to reflect, dialogue, and discuss. It’s also great to learn that although the event was hugely ambitious, the vast majority of people we have spoken with feel that an ambitious and highly visible big step was the right choice for this time, this city, and this community. In general, the community feels that an event that requires such great financial and in-kind support needs to happen every two years – like the international events on which Slow Food Nation is broadly modeled. I am pleased that most of the community that built Slow Food Nation agreed that the event needs to move beyond San Francisco for the next edition (the cities of Des Moines and Washington DC came up often in our interviews and discussions). People felt that the city of San Francisco was a natural choice for a first edition, but to build greater impact, the event needed to grow in areas where it could contribute even more to building a food culture, and many of the curators and designers who participated in this first edition volunteered to help advise future in-kind supporters in other cities based on their experiences in the inaugural edition in San Francisco.

I am also learning how much the event was a clear reflection of the city of San Francisco – its mature and vibrant food scene, its incredibly active non-profit community working in food justice, sustainability, and advocacy, and its food-savvy residents. A future event needs to reflect the fabric and color of the community it serves – just as in the city of San Francisco, our event took on the shine, shape and passion of the city. A future event would need to do the same in the city it serves and to build event elements that reflect local food culture and community. That’s why I do not feel like a future event would need to look or feel at all like the inaugural edition – it might take on a completely different scope based on the context of the community it serves.

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In the ten days immediately after the event, everyone we spoke with was very focused on the details (lines were too long, Slow Food Nation should have managed the volunteer program directly, etc), but with the distance of a few weeks, some broader ideas have been emerging. This is where things get interesting for me. What are the conditions for success for an event building on Slow Food Nation? What are the fundamental elements of city and community that made this event possible? Based on these broader questions, here’s what we think is fundamental for future editions: a strong and positive relationship with the city government; highly visible, accessible and symbolic event locations; a relationship with an interested and engaged design community; strong spokespeople; a cohesive and collaborative team; the ability to make most of the event free of charge; and willingness from members of the local food community to take on leadership roles in the event planning. In retrospect, these were the broad underpinnings of success for Slow Food Nation, and are concepts that need to be seriously considered in identifying a location and community for future events.

So, we continue to interview, download, listen, and learn as we understand the role of the inaugural edition. Through this, we’ll accomplish something more important: gather the knowledge necessary to understand what could be the most powerful and transformative next steps for Slow Food Nation.

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Anya Fernald was most recently Executive Director of Slow Food Nation, and has just launched a new venture - Live Culture Co. Read more >

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  1. Jennifer Friedrich
    My mother and I went to the inaugural slow food events and were pleased and motivated to go back home to Plymouth, Ma and Wentworth, NH where we are farmers and community members to spread the underlying message of Slow Food Nation. We were displeased with the lines at the Taste pavilion, especially for the price of the ticket, but got over it and had a good time. We loved the talks, (we attended 3 over the weekend) and went on the Slow Journey with Joel Salatin, which was incredible! I would love to see a Boston Slow Food run a similar event. The requirements in your piece are well matched to the area and it's resources.

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