By Julie Lawrence Special to Published Oct 03, 2008 at 2:27 PM

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As a concept, Slow Food is much more complex than just the opposite of fast food, but that is part of it. In fact, the movement got its start in Piedmont, Italy in 1986 to combat a McDonald's franchise looking to open near the Spanish step in Rome.

Today it's expanded globally to 122 countries, and in the U.S., the 16,000 members of Slow Food USA work to promote local and traditional food products, lobby against the use of pesticides, teach gardening, promote taste education and educate consumers about the risks of fast food and monoculture.

Slow Food is a system -- and a way of living -- that is based on the principals of high quality and taste, environmental sustainability and social justice.

Locally, Martha Davis Kipcak and Braise Culinary School founder Dave Swanson are co-leaders of Slow Food Wisconsin Southeast, which encompasses the metro-Milwaukee area. There's also a Madison chapter led by Susan Boldt.

These local convivial networks help educate Wisconsinites about the precious and unique natural qualities that characterize our ecoregion. They promote and celebrate the Midwest's rich agricultural history, which has produced special culinary traditions and food products, as well as provide a supportive infrastructure to ensure area farmers have a stable future.

Listed on their Web site are the many partners and projects they coordinate, inclduing The Milwaukee CSA Initiative, an effort to build a rural and urban network of healthy food and sustainable agricultural practices. CSA stands for "community supported agriculture," a model of food production and distribution that connects local farmers with local consumers.

Like a co-op, food buyers become members or shareholders of the CSA by financing the farm's whole seasonal budget, including seeds, tools, maintenance and land payments. In return, they get weekly or monthly baskets of fresh, organic produce, fruits, flowers, herbs, eggs, milk -- anything the farm can produce.

Similarily, The Farmer Chef Connection works to keep a strong and close relationship between the farmers and restaurant chefs in southeastern Wisconsin. This year chef Swanson helped organize the state's first Restaurant Supported Agriculture (RSA) system with the support of Gov. Jim Doyle's "Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin" grant, a program aimed at keeping food spending in local communities by encouraging Wisconsin restaurants and businesses to make 10 percent of their food purchases in state by 2010.

In its first year, Swanson says his RSA is working with eight area restaurants, including Meritage, La Merenda, Café Manna and La Reve, and eight farms, including Full Harvest Farm in Hartford, Rare Earth Farm in Belgium, Afterglow Farm in Port Washington, MoonStar in Elkhorn and Pinehold Gardens in Oak Creek.

Four Slow Food Wisconsin Southeast growers -- Pinehold Gardens, Hedgerow Farms, Afterglow Farm and Urban Gardener Laura Kohl -- are participating in Renewing America's Food Traditions (RAFT). As the name suggests, RAFT is a coalition dedicated to maintaining the diversity of America's edible plants, animals, and their food traditions because of the important ecological, gastronomical, cultural, and health benefits of biodiversity. Through events, publications and promotion, the group has worked to create seed banks to preserve heirloom vegetables and even successfully brought back foods from near extinction.

To help consumers make smarter food choices, Milwaukee's Slow Food sector produces the Farm Fresh Atlas, a free fold-out map of Milwaukee area farms and guide to farmer's markets and food related businesses.

By educating the public about the harmful emissions released from the production, packaging, processing, transport, preparation and waste of food, Slow Food is helping Wisconsinites trade in its concerns for a low-carb diet for that of a low-carbon diet.

Julie Lawrence Special to staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.

As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”