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Delegates pitch Delta County at Slow Food summit

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Photo submitted From left, Delta County residents Jim Brett, Mark Waltermire, Graham Waltermire (front), and Pete Kolbenschlag man the Slow Food Western Slope booth at the Slow Food Nations Summit, held July 14-16 in Denver.

A group of delegates from Delta County recently joined some 500 delegates from around the globe at the Slow Food Nations Delegate Summit, held July 14-16 in Denver.

An estimated 25,000 attended the summit, which featured 305 speakers, 70 exhibitors and 155 events, among them the "Big Bad Breakfast" brunch party, and the "Colorado Made Block Party," an evening of demonstrations and tasting by some 65 restaurants, held on Larimer Square.

Delegates shared conversation, ideas, delicious food and drink, and information about Delta County with other delegates, exhibitors, attendees and producers from all over the world.

And while food and drink were both amazing and plentiful, the main purpose of the trip was to promote all that Delta County and the North Fork Valley have to offer, said Paonia resident Jim Brett, president of the Slow Food North Fork (SFNF) chapter.

For those seeking good, clean food, Delta County has it all: water, a high concentration of farmers and ranchers and entrepreneurs growing and producing local food and drink, and a welcoming climate. These things are attracting visitors from around the globe to the area, said Brett. "They see what's going on here."

Broadband is also here, said Brett. "I think that's an important thing."

More and more, people are buying into the realization that eating locally is one of the best things they can do for themselves, their health, community, and the environment. A 2015 report by the USDA shows that annual local and regional food sales in the U.S. increased by $4.8 billion from 2008 to 2012.

Brett, who along with wife Elaine eat mostly local foods, sees the change in how people view and value food as "evolution," and not a "revolution."

Delegates included Marsha Grant with SFNF, Delta County Tourism coordinator Kelli Hepler, and farmer Lori Vaught with Valley Organic Growers Association, a network of area growers and producers promoting sustainable agriculture and providing unique products to consumers.

On opening day representatives attended a delegates-only summit at the McNichols Arena. The benefit showcased 65 Denver restaurants and offered a day of breakout sessions on a variety of food-related topics and some of the biggest names in eating locally and consciously.

There were some "hot topics," said Grant. "Breaking the Corporate Stranglehold" addressed problems related to abuses within a market controlled by a handful of companies, and "Fighting Labels that Deceive Consumers," addressed problems with meat labeling.

The James Beard Foundation and Slow Food Chef's Association encouraged chefs to make an impact on their communities through their menu choices. They believe that food and beverage producers should be a part of the political discussion, said Brett.

Keynote speaker Ricardo Salvador with the Union of Concerned Scientists spoke on the state of the international food system. Some of the delegates were once a part of that system and are now local suppliers, said Brett.

Each session included a unique food sample.

Delta County was among some 70 exhibitors represented during a two-day street festival on Larimer Square. Delegates shared maps, brochures, pamphlets and other Delta County literature that Hepler brought to the event. "You name it, she brought it," said Brett.

Paonia resident Pete Kolbenschlag with Colorado Farm and Food Alliance brought a jar filled with 45 different fermented hot peppers for visitors to sample. Farmer Mark Waltermire shared plants from his 15-acre Thistle Whistle Farm on Hansen Mesa., among them, a rare variety of pepper found on the Ark of Taste, a living catalog of foods -- meats, fruits, veggies and more -- facing extinction. "He grows a number of Ark of Taste foods," said Brett.

The Ark of Taste is a Slow Food tool aimed at increasing the biodiversity of a variety of rare plant and animal foods around the world and preserving and restoring regional food traditions. Cajun and Creole foods of the Deep South is a good example.

Brett met briefly to Sen. Michael Bennet, who was among the guest speakers. Bennet told Brett that Delta County is among his favorite places. A photo of citizens holding a "Save the North Fork Valley" sign from the 2010 proposal by the BLM to sell some 30,000 acres of oil and gas leases in the valley hangs in his office.

Delegates also met with chef Alice Waters, who launched the modern farm-to-table movement. Waters served a vegan lunch on the State Capitol lawn and spoke about the Edible Schoolyard Project she founded to promote high-quality student lunch programs.

The final day delegates met with other organizations and groups. One meeting was on "Gastronomic Sciences University," a three-year, Slow Food International-sponsored program covering all aspects of food. Students of the university have toured the North Fork area in the past, "to experience where food comes from," said Brett.

Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini gave the closing keynote address. One takeaway from his speech, said Brett, is that in farming, academic and farmer knowledge are equally valuable and significant. That will be the theme for SFI in 2018, said Brett.

SFNF was established in 2007 by nationally known food writer, Eugenia Bone, who lives in New York City and Crawford. Brett has been president since 2008. They meet regularly between October and April, when people aren't busy growing, and have a book club. And they share food. "With Slow Food, everything we do happens around food," said Grant.

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