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Farm to fork Galt grower Charity Kenyon wants to keep food passion growing

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Posted: Friday, April 25, 2014 9:14 am

Imagine a summer scene:  Friends chat among the peaceful vineyards while sipping locally grown wine.

On a platter nearby sits a brick of homemade cheese they nibble on while waiting for the lamb grilling on the barbecue and non-genetically engineered corn on the cob roasting in its husks.

But first, they’ll enjoy a salad made with arugula grown in a neighbor’s backyard and juicy red cherry tomatoes plucked from the vine a mere hour ago. A dressing prepared in the kitchen of another neighbor using her grandmother’s recipe will be drizzled on top.

It’s all part of the so-called slow food movement, and Galt’s Charity Kenyon is at the center of it.

“We advocate for good, clean and fair for all,” she said. “We eat, learn, act. People gather around a table and learn about it, and meet the farmers that grew it.”

It’s about educating people about where food comes from and how it’s made, she added.

Although born in Berkeley, the retired First Amendment lawyer embraced growing food after she took a gardening class at University of California, Santa Cruz, and when she met her husband, Mike Eaton.

Together, they own Kingbird Farms, a 5-acre farm in Galt where they grow fruits, vegetables and hops for a 20-family co-op and one of Sacramento’s leading restaurants, as well as the local food bank in Galt.

Kenyon also serves as a regional governor for Slow Food USA, a global, grassroots organization with more than 150,000 members and 2,000 food communities throughout more than 150 counties.

The slow food movement was officially born in 1989 after a restaurateur fought against the opening of a McDonald’s franchise in Rome — not with picket signs, but with bowls of penne pasta he distributed to residents, who embraced a slower way of life.

Today, its members work to preserve and share local foods and food cultures, and defend and advocate policies that promote holistic alternatives to the industrial system around the world. They also aim to champion local, culturally significant heritage foods, customs and recipes – and bring these experiences into farms, markets, restaurants and homes, teach the next generation how to grow, prepare and share food responsibly, according to its website.

She oversees a 15 chapters including Reno, Lake Tahoe and Sacramento.

Locally, in Sacramento County, they offer a menu of events such as book clubs centered around food; Slow Food U, a university-style class that teaches participants how to cook specialty foods; and a monthly coffee klatch where attendees can learn how to embrace the Slow Food lifestyle.

The Farm to Every Fork fundraiser this fall will educate the public about how the Farm to Fork movement is not making a difference unless it is reaching school children, homeless people and those in prison, for example.

“This is one of our ways to helping tell the rest of the story about homelessness and food,” Kenyon said, adding that Lodi is working to create its own Slow Food chapter.

Alongside a group of fellow California governors, she also spearheaded Slow Food advocacy on the Farm Bill to support young farmers and against genetically engineered foods and seeds. They also worked to save the state’s food stamp program.

Kenyon, who was an exchange student to Denmark, originally joined Slow Food Sacramento in 2003. Since July 2011, she has served as the Slow Food USA Governor for the Central Valley, chair of the policy committee of the newly formed Slow Food California Region since 2012, and as an International Councilor representing Slow Food USA at International Council meetings since 2012.

In June, as a Slow Food International Councilor she once again met Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini, the penne pasta maker, in Istanbul. He was honored by the United Nations in the fall as a Champion of the Earth.

But most recently, Kenyon was part of a statewide conference and public expo in Sacramento that included a school garden workshop open to the public. Slow Food USA leaders also met with peers from Mexico and elsewhere in California.

“Slow food started as a reaction to fast food, so you can think of it as the opposite. Our fast food culture has narrowed down what we eat,” Kenyon said.

She hopes to help change that, beginning with gardening.

She said recent research demonstrates that intensively cultivated, diversified farms are better suited to feed the world’s growing population because not only do they build their own soil, they conserve water and produce foods appropriate to the conditions.

“It’s a matter of educating local citizens about how our choices affect the environment.”

Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at jenniferb@lodinews.com.

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