(Image courtesy of Slow Food USA)

Denver is now home to the Coachella of food festivals. Slow Food Nations kicks off for the first time this weekend and organizers say they plan to return annually. The event is modeled on an international gathering of nonprofits in Turin, Italy, that celebrates local food that drew over a million people last year. The American version this year is expected to attract around 10,000 chefs, writers, farmers, educators, food advocates, policymakers and -- reliably -- eaters. 

"The idea is that there is a global community of chefs and farmers and fishermen -- and eaters, like me -- who think we can change the world through food, and food that is good, that is clean and that is fair," Richard McCarthy, executive director of Slow Food USA, tells Colorado Matters. "That's a dramatic cultural shift."

What does he mean by clean? “Food that is not pumped with all that junk that you can’t pronounce,” McCarthy says. “Simple whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Our food as we recognize it. Or, more importantly, as our grandparents recognized food. And fair: That there should be dignity from field to fork, for the labor of those who produce the food as well as for those of us who purchase it.”

Restaurants, of course, are huge purchasers of food and play a key role in farm-to-table. Adam Schlegel, co-founder of Snooze in Denver, describes having his eyes opened by visiting the kind of caged hen facility from which his restaurant bought eggs, "and then also seeing in the next instance, walking through a true cage-free instance. And that was, you know, that was a revolutionary moment for me and certainly for our restaurant."

"We have a tremendous responsibility with what we do as restaurateurs to make sure that what we provide our guests what is what is true to our values," he said.

What's Happening

You've got to be a dedicated foodie ready to spend some money to access all areas,  because while there are many free events, tickets are required for others. Among the open-your-wallet highlights there's Colorado Made on Friday and Grainiacs! An Ancient Grains Block Party -- surely heaven for bread nerds -- on Saturday, both in Larimer Square ($69). Or maybe a workshop is in order? Try The Art of Day Drinking on Sunday at Union Station ($52).

Alice Waters, the driving force behind farm-to-table pioneer Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., is among those scheduled to make presentations. Hers? School Lunch as an Academic Subject: "Featuring the traditional Zapotec three sisters (corn, beans and squash), both the form and the content of the meal will illustrate Alice’s vision for school lunch in America." But you can catch Waters and other stars in the foodie-verse for free as well.

What's Free?

Alice Waters, and modern Mexican cooking maestro Rick Bayless, will both appear at the Tattered Cover in Lodo to talk about their latest books. Bayless will also join Ben Burkett and Wes Jackson for a discussion of their "Letters to a Young Farmer: On Food Farming, and Our Future." The full author schedule us here.

Want to know what to do with watermelons? Or what chili should go where? Perhaps olive oil is your thing? Dozens of food producers will be selling their products, giving away free tastes and offering cooking demonstrations.  Kids will dig the garden, seed and cooking demonstrations. And Larimer Square will turn into a Taste Marketplace.