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International delegation discusses food in Auburn

Group focuses on organic practices, farm-to-table
By: Krissi Khokhobashvili, Journal features editor
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Visitors from six countries have been touring our farms and agriculture centers for the past few weeks, learning about organic farming, community-supported agriculture and the slow food movement. They’ve  visited farms large and small, but a highlight of their trip was a stop for lunch Monday at Joanne Neft’s Auburn home.

The group, hosted by the Department of State through the International VisitorLeadership Program, is participating in a three-week program called “On the Road in America: Farm to Table.” They represent Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, with professional backgrounds in journalism, television, education and science. They’ve been in the U.S. since June 23, visiting farms in Wisconsin, Iowa, Arkansas and California.

Saroopa Samaradivakara, a scientist from Sri Lanka who works in agriculture biotechnology, said the goal of the trip is to give participants a view of agriculture in the U.S. and its role in the farm-to-table movement, along with learning about the latest technologies.

“It’s quite an eye-opener about the organic movement that we have gotten to see here in the U.S.,” she said. “It’s quite interesting to see how much people are interested here in where their food is coming from.”

Neft hosted the lunch cooked by Chef Laura Kenny, of Real Food Catering. The pair has authored two cookbooks together, both focusing on locally grown food purchased fresh at farmers markets here. The lunch included locally raised chicken, sautéed Romano beans with cherry tomatoes, sautéed summer squash, a green salad and berry-peach crisp for dessert.

“We’re talking around raising food and how to celebrate it,” Neft explained.

One topic Monday was fast food in America, and how many countries that have historically focused on small-scale agriculture are moving toward more “convenient” food.

“We all overeat,” Neft said of Americans. “And not only do we overeat, we eat the wrong kinds of food. We’re eating junk food. Please don’t follow our example. I’m serious about that – do not. Don’t try to pick up what we’re doing that’s unhealthy.”

Samaradivakara said that most farmers in Sri Lanka work on three or four acres, as opposed to commercial farmers in the U.S. who might be working thousands of acres.

“One thing I’ve noticed is I’ve met farmers – they’re all very hefty and heavy, but the farmers have so many acres, they can’t really help but to get in a machine, sit on it and just mechanically do it,” she said. “But at home our farmers are constantly tilling, and they have the sexiest bodies.”

Babar Ehsan, an agribusiness specialist from Pakistan, described the trip as an opportunity for the representatives to bring back to their countries information about farming technologies and practices having positive results here.

“It’s a bridging, two ways,” he said. “Understanding people, culture, technology and systems, bring that back and making people aware of these systems, technologies and cultures, and then let’s see how they bridge together.”

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Real food on TV

To watch Joanne Neft and Laura Kenny discuss local food on “Studio Sacramento,” click here.