Bounty by the County

The stateís winemakers and food producers arenít exactly key playersin the global economy. A Mizzou professor aims to change all that.

Fumes Barham: "The U.S. trade rep's office is basically saying to the EU: 'We should not have to respect your rules because Americans don't know their geography.' That's their argument. Well, American ignorance of geography should not be a global standard. It's a national disgrace."

The attitude hasn't exactly made the professor friends in Washington. "She's a bit controversial," notes Patrick Kole, the Idaho Potato Commission's vice president of legal and government affairs. "I think Anheuser-Busch would think she's a pest."

The St. Louis brewer has been tussling in European courts recently against the Czech brewer Budejovicky Budvar over the very issue of place-based labels. Budejovicky Budvar says it lays claim to the trademark Budweiser Budvar because its first beers were brewed in a town named Budweis. A-B opposes that moniker. Its Budweiser brand, after all, is the world's best-selling beer.

Jennifer Silverberg
Beth Barham is on a first-name basis with vendors 
at a farmers’ market in Columbia, where she picks up 
fennel and other locally grown veggies every Saturday 
Jennifer Silverberg
Beth Barham is on a first-name basis with vendors at a farmers’ market in Columbia, where she picks up fennel and other locally grown veggies every Saturday morning.

So what does A-B think of Barham's cuisines project? Dan Pierce, a company spokesman, acknowledges that some A-B officials follow her work, and at least one attended a conference on GIs that she organized in St. Louis last year. But Pierce declines to elaborate.

A-B might wield the political clout to cancel out Barham's efforts, but if the company does see her as a threat, it doesn't appear to have taken any steps to thwart her. No one representing the brewery, according to Representative Jo Ann Emerson, has lobbied her to squelch the project. "Even if they did come to me and they didn't like it, I don't care," says the congresswoman. "My first interest is my constituents and being able to keep the young ones in rural America, as opposed to having them move to St. Louis."

Fred Ferrell, director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture, agrees. "We won't let [Barham] get away. She's a Missouri treasure."

To her critics, Barham is quick to point out that Missouri wouldn't be the first North American community to pull off appellations. In 1994 farmers in Les Éboulements, Quebec, discovered that Montréal and Quebec City — even Paris restaurants — had listed their specialty lamb on menus without purchasing so little as an ounce.

The producers solicited help from the French government to establish GI legislation in Canada, which finally got passed in April. The label is now on its way and the farmers of Les Éboulements couldn't be happier. "We'd like to start exporting, but we don't even have enough to fill our orders here," says Lucie Cadieux, who spearheaded the effort. "I just made deliveries last weekend to restaurants in Montréal. Those were orders that we took last fall!"

Says Anne Richard, who oversees France's AOC cheeses: "[Barham] understands that GIs can work for Longjing tea from China, or Basmati rice from Pakistan, and tons of other products from across the world. She gets it. We view her as a militant, in a good sense."

The French view Barham as one of their own. She's no citizen, but last May claimed bragging rights — along with Louis Pasteur, Paul Prudhomme and Julia Child — as a Knight of the Order of Merit in Agriculture. Barham didn't believe the news. And when at last it sunk in, she felt a stab of regret. "Julia Child had just died," she recalls. "I couldn't call her up and say, 'Hey, I got this thing too, could we get together sometime?'"

At last year's knighting ceremony the Champagne producers' association honored Barham with four cases of its bubbly. "I made sure we saved it until the end, for the toast," she says. "Because that's when you're supposed to have it, at the end."

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