School districts around Kentucky are recognizing the Department of Agriculture’s Farm to School program this week, which connects school cafeteria directors to local farmers in the state.
The idea is to increase the amount of local produce found in school lunches.
“Fruits and vegetables grown locally and served at their peak of freshness are more nutritious than produce trucked in from across the country or across the boarder,” said Agriculture Commissioner James Comer in a statement.
Aside from being more nutritious, local produce is also more appealing to kids in the cafeteria line, said Tina Garland, Farm to School program coordinator.
“Studies show that with local produce on the line, participation rates of the school children will raise, has risen anywhere from 3 to 16 percent,” she said.
In the 2011-2012 school year 84 of Kentucky’s 174 school districts bought local vegetables, fruits and meats from over 70 farmers through the Farm to School program bringing in over $285,000 in revenue for local farmers.
Local food in school cafeterias is accessible and economical, Garland said.
“Local food is not more expensive, and in the majority of the cases we have found that it is very competitive and it is very doable for the food service directors,” she said.
Garland said more Kentucky school districts and farmers are participating this school year than ever before.
Jefferson County Public Schools purchased 13 percent of food used for its school lunches from Kentucky growers last school year according to JCPS nutrition service center manager Martha Dysart.
“The growing season in 2011 was hot and dry, and consequently, the quantity some of the local items we needed, did not happen.” Dysart said.
This year the district is buying from six farmers in the state and has plans to increase that number and the amount of Kentucky Proud produce by next school year. Technically, buying local includes a 150 mile radius from the given school district, which could include growers from neighboring states.
Under the Restaurant Rewards Program, school cafeterias can be reimbursed up to $12,000 a year for purchasing Kentucky Proud products.
The Farm to School program aims to include every county in Kentucky within the next five years.
One of the country’s most effective environmental laws– the Clean Water Act–turns 40 today.
The act has been setting water quality standards and regulating pollution for the nation’s streams, lakes and wetlands since being signed by a bipartisan Congress in 1972.
“Before 1972, this nation approached water quality as ‘the dilution is the solution to pollution,” said Hank Graddy of Kentucky Watershed Watch, in a breakout session at the Healthy Farms, Local Foods Conference last weekend.
The Clean Water Act was passed in response to the dumping of pollution in national waterways, and called for “zero discharge of pollutants into navigable waters by 1985, and fishable and swimmable waters by 1983.”
The goal of the act was to “restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of our nation’s waters.”
Not all of those goals have been realized–there is still pollution discharged into navigable waters–but the Act did prompt a nationwide clean-up.
The Clean Water Act anniversary was the inspiration for the conference theme, “No Water, No Food.”
EPA Deputy Assistant Administrator for Water Nancy Stoner was in Louisville to speak at conference. On Sunday she joined Kentucky the Waterways Alliance and Watershed Watch of Kentucky on a canoe trip along the Louisville waterfront and celebrated the anniversary of the act with Mayor Fischer who declared it an official day of celebration.
In her talk on Saturday she discussed current threats to national water sources and stressed the need for modernization.
“We need new tools, we need new approaches, new innovative approaches. We need a 21st century infrastructure. We need 21st century monitoring. We need 21st century treatment approaches. We need 21st century pollution prevention approaches,” she said.
During a breakout session, conference attendees asked Stoner about the agency’s actions to protect water from mountaintop mining pollution, and about how the EPA plans on monitoring pollution by big industries. The questions came in light of the news earlier this month that a coal company was responsible for thousands of violations of the Clean Water Act in eastern Kentucky.
Stoner talked about the modern tools—like two soon-to-be-released smartphone apps the EPA is using to monitor water pollution. But Kentucky author and farmer Wendell Berry was skeptical. “My guess is that the muskrats know more about the water quality of the Kentucky River than the EPA does,” he said.
Kentucky poet and farmer Wendell Berry advocated for a 50-Year farm bill at the 13th annual Healthy Food, Local Farms Conference this past weekend.
Farm bills are usually passed by Congress every five years. But Berry says a longer-term 50-year farm bill would be more beneficial to the environment.
Right now, 80 percent of farmable acreage is planted with annual crops, like vegetables. These crops require vast amounts of water and fertilizer and contribute to soil erosion, while the remaining 20 percent of acreage is planted with perennial crops of forages and grains.
“This, by the standard of any healthy ecosystem, is absurdly disproportionate,” Berry said. “Annual plants are nature’s emergency medical service, seeded in wounds and scars to hold the land, until the perennial cover is reestablished.”
Berry says by this rule, our present agriculture is in a state of emergency, and a 50-year farm bill would reverse the present ratio of perennial to annual crops.
Berry says the bill would address urgent problems of soil erosion, soil and water pollution, the loss of biodiversity, and the destruction of farming communities and cultures.
This year’s conference theme was “No Water, No Food,” and Berry also discussed how water pollution and water use could be reduced by replacing thirsty annual crops with perennial pastures that are less reliant on water and herbicides.
This transition back to perennial pastures would allow for farm animals to return from the factories, back into the fields.
“Besides being an immense kindness, this movement would be a return to ecological health,” Berry said. “It would transfer vast tonnages of so-called animal waste from the water courses, where it is a pollutant, to our actual food-producing acreage where it is an indispensable fertilizer.”
Berry said a 50-Year farm bill would make ecological sense a priority—rather than fiscal and political sense—and allow agriculture in America to become more sustainable.
“We have to begin by recognizing the fundamental incompatibility between industrial systems and natural systems, machines and creatures,” Berry said. “You can’t run a landscape, anymore than you can run your life, indefinitely, as a state of emergency. To live your life, to live in your place, you have got to bring about a settlement that does not involve you continuously in worry, loss and grief.”
After reading his essay in favor of a 50-year farm bill, Berry concluded with a humorous reading of his short story “Down in the Valley Where the Green Grass Grows.”
About 200 people attended the day-long conference Saturday at Kentucky Country Day School. Besides Berry, keynote speakers included farmer activist Lynne Henning, National Geographic environmental editor Dennis Dimick, and Nancy Stoner from the EPA.
A day-long conversation about local food and farming is scheduled for next weekend. The 13th annual Healthy Foods, Local Farms Conference will focus on the theme “No Water, No Food.”
Conference coordinator Aloma Dew said the theme is especially relevant this year. 2012 marks the 40th anniversary of The Clean Water Act, which cleaned up miles of waterways and reduced water pollution by regulating discharges of pollutants into the waters. Also this year, Kentucky farmers are recovering from a summer drought.
“We wanted to really emphasize to people that how we care for the water, the amount of water, the problems with global climate change and water are very very important to food sources,” Dew said.
Keynote speakers for the conference will include farmer activist Lynn Henning, National Geographic environmental editor Dennis Dimick, Christian Environmentalist Mathew Sleeth, and EPA Deputy Assistant Administrator for Water Nancy Stoner.
Speakers will address the connection between water, food and the environment, both in Kentucky and globally.
Breakout sessions will address issues of food justice, the economic incentives to local food, the Farm Bill, and food education.
Hank Graddy of Watershed Watch Kentucky will speak during one of the sessions about the 40th anniversary of The Clean Water Act and why the legislation is important to farmers and eaters.
“We’ll talk about the fact that farmers need clean water to produce healthy food and to feed their livestock, but that there are problems when too many animals are concentrated too close together and there are problems with runoff from industrial agriculture practices,” Graddy said.
Other Kentucky speakers will include University of Louisville geography chair Keith Mountain, and farmer author Wendell Berry.
Learning stations on beekeeping, rain gardens, native plants, composting and vermiculture, permaculture, hydroponics, and healthy oceans will run concurrently with the breakout sessions.
A local lunch will be served, too. Dew says that Louisville has become a national leader in local food and that the conference was one of the first to insist upon providing attendees with an all-local lunch, 13 years ago.
“We can bring farmers and chefs and eaters all together so we that we begin to get an idea of what the market is,” she said. “It’s a very intimate conference. People have the opportunity to speak with each other and do a lot of networking. They also have the opportunity to talk with the speakers.”
The day-long conference will take place October 13 from 9 am – 5:30 pm at Kentucky Country Day School.
More information is available here.
A.T. Simpson Jr., an associate professor at Bellarmine University, will teach a condensed version of his Music in the Black Church course through the Louisville Free Public Library next month.
The course will explore traditional African music, American folk music, European classical music and American pop music, and will touch on everything from traditional Negro spirituals to hip hop.
“There’s so much stuff out there and Louisville has such a rich tradition of black churches,” Simpson said.
Students in the course will observe how the black church is portrayed in popular media by listening to music recordings, watching movie and television clips and experiencing the live in-class performances Simpson has scheduled with local musicians.
“We talk about the musical component in the black church. We talk about its history and its varying periods, its stylistic kinds of categories. We sort of watch it evolve over 100 or so years,” Simpson said.
Simpson says he designed Music in the Black Church Short Course to be an introduction to the topic, but will tailor it to suit the expertise and interests of students it attracts.
Library Short Courses are taught like college courses by professors and experts in their fields, for an hour and a half each week. They are free and open to anyone.
Music in the Black Church is being offered on four Tuesdays, starting October 9, from 5:45 -7:15 p.m.
To register, call 574-1635.