“Food culture is very important. It’s not just about food security, it’s about food sovereignty as well,” explained Julie Hopper-McNeel of Slow Food Barbados. “Food is good meaning that it is pleasing to all the senses. It’s also sensitive to the environment. Our third principle is that food should be fair, meaning that there is access into the market so that the average person can afford to eat that way, also that farmers get a fair price for their produce.”
The Slow Food Barbados chapter was co-founded by John Hunte, a member of the Organic Growers and Consumers Association, along with eco-entrepreneur Ian McNeel and his wife Julie, a health and wellness coach, environmental planner Lani Edghill and environmental builder Fraser Young.
The local group started in 2012 with a series of farm-to-table dinners and a mission to show local chefs the important role they play in good, clean, and fair food culture. Changing the mindset of Barbadians and how they access food was, and still is, at the top of the list.
“In Barbados we tend to be committed to whatever comes in on a shipping container because we can’t grow enough food to take care of ourselves,” Hopper-McNeel explained.
“A lot of times external pressures put a lot of pressures on the farmers here. And that, coupled with the other factors that make it difficult to farm here, makes this movement very important. I think that education is the way to do it so the average person will understand why they should shop at a farmers market and the questions to ask the farmers. In other words, become more a part of the food process. In Slow Food we call the consumer a co-producer.”
Responsible for community outreach and education Hopper-McNeel said the group has created 12 school gardens in its bid to teach youngsters about responsible food and farming techniques. Workshops and small grants to the schools for garden/farm installations have raised awareness about the link between health and clean food.
“One of the things we would like to see is less sugar in schools because there is a huge problem with diabetes here,” Hopper-McNeel noted, adding “a recipe contest using the foods grown in the garden will be used as a teaching tool to reach young people. We’re trying to work together to create something really sustainable.”
Slow Food Barbados survives through donors and increasingly popular farm-to-table dinners. The group also holds fundraisers for the schools garden program. Coming up is the “Lionfish Derby” that involves spear fishing the invasive species of fish that is destroying local reefs. The local movement is also creating a special chef alliance element to broaden the Slow Food Barbados reach.
“We’re still very young as an organization, but we have had such an overwhelming wave of support,” said Hopper-McNeel. “There are so many different directions that we can take the organization, but we need to just concentrate on the ones that get the most traction. “We’ve also put together a buyers’ guide with all of the local and organic producers we could find. But, even with commercial farms, we try to encourage everyone to adopt organic practices. Try to use less chemicals, try to do something better for the earth.”