By Mara Jernigan
By now many of you involved with Slow Food in Canada know that I have moved to Belize. I came here this summer to explore a job opportunity that came my way via a Slow Food colleague of many years, Anya Fernald. I first met Anya when she was working for the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity in Italy, and assisted Canada to establish our first and only Presidium, Red Fife Wheat. She’s a dynamo, someone I very much admire and I knew if she was involved in a project it would definitely involve good, hand crafted artisanal food. After leaving Fairburn Farm and seeing my son Julian move to Montreal to pursue a culinary career this year I was at a crossroads. When I arrived in Belize to find an opportunity so ambitious, diverse and compelling that it spoke to all my skills and interests I just had to take it.
So here I am, in the jungle in the Toledo district of Belize, on the Guatemalan border, the southern-most and poorest region in the country, with a new job as Culinary Director & Chef at Belcampo Lodge and Farms, Belize. We are located next to a 12,000 acre nature reserve, complete with a farm, burgeoning cacao plantation, and soon-to-be-built agritourism training and processing facility for rum, chocolate, vanilla and coffee.
Here in Belize, I am using lots of fresh, line caught seafood, I source meat from Mennonite farmers, practice whole animal butchery, raise piglets and chickens, make fresh cheese in house, work with a farm team of ten full time workers, and five Belizean cooks, while learning all about the culinary culture and how to use the tropical products of Belize. It is a terrific adventure. For those of you who came to see me in the Cowichan, it is kind of feels like Fairburn Farm, but in the tropics, multiplied by ten! There is not one growing season, there are three or four. Seeds can sprout in the garden within 24 hours, and if something perishes in the jungle, it will be gone in a matter of hours!
One of my biggest concerns leaving Canada was my ongoing commitment and responsibility to Slow Food Canada. While I have stepped back from the many responsibilities of the Canadian President’s role, I will be remaining on the executive committee until the National Convivium leaders meeting in Edmonton in May, which I do plan to attend, but I will not be running for re-election. I continue to participate in monthly meetings on Skype with the executive and stay in touch with the Slow Food International office. The Slow Food Canada executive committee has been working hard in the last few months to identify ways to improve communications and keep the momentum going. With our new electronic newsletter, Facebook page and Twitter account under the direction of our new communications coordinator Grace Evans, we have a great way to communicate and share across our big country. I’d also like to express my deepest thanks to Pamela Cuthbert, who published Slow Canada as a print publication previously. Her hard work and dedication are much appreciated, and we are happy to announce that Slow Canada is continuing on as an online publication.
I have had a great ten years working as a volunteer to promote the Slow Food movement in Canada. During that time, I have developed networks of like-minded passionate supporters of local food, met producers and tasted some of the best food the country has to offer from coast to coast. It was a highlight of my year to meet so many Slow Food members on this year’s train trip through the rockies and onward to the National Meeting in Quebec. I am very encouraged by the current activity of Slow Food in Canada, which I continue to follow online and via social networks. We have come a long way, and there are so many dedicated individuals working with convivia across the country on behalf of Slow Food in Canada. Local food has found it’s voice in our country and Slow Food Canada has always played an important role. With the start of a new year and the upcoming congress and Terra Madre being held concurrently in Torino, we need to continue to integrate our Terra Madre Networks with the activities of our convivia to create a strong positive voice and an alternative to the current food system. I remain at your disposal to answer questions about Slow Food in Canada, and love to get news from my homeland, so please don’t hesitate to contact me, especially if you are coming to Belize! If you would like to follow my adventures on twitter I am @chefinthejungle.