Local Food Proponents Discuss the Movement’s Challenges, Opportunities

Food advocates say Louisville and Kentucky are in prime positions to develop the local food economy and emerge as a leader in the movement.

Author and farmer Wendell Berry, consultant Karen Karp of Karp Resources and Mayor Greg Fischer discussed the region’s role in local food yesterday at the library.

“What we’re working toward are trucks rolling into Louisville with produce coming from people who knew the people they were going to feed who would be grateful in turn to the people who produced it and who would work very hard for an economic relationship that would allow them both to thrive,” Berry said. “That’s neighborhood.”

Last month, local nonprofit Seed Capitol Kentucky released a study indicating an unmet demand for local food in Louisville. The study was conducted by Karp’s firm, and found that 72 percent of Jefferson County residents are already buying local food to some degree. Those who don’t cite price, lack of distribution, lack of product supply, and lack of access to local foods through company vendors as reasons for forgoing local foods. The study says that of consumers who don’t buy local, 87 percent would do so if these barriers were eliminated.

Seed Capitol Kentucky, alongside Berry and Fischer, hopes to foster cohesion between suppliers and growing consumer demand for fresh, local groceries. Karp noted that it was necessary to realize the economic “push-pull” between rural and urban centers, suppliers and consumers. Seed Capital Kentucky says that obstacles for the supply-side are lack of market accessibility, aggregation, distribution, sales, and infrastructure for marketing and crop planning.

Fischer said that rural farm systems are being “decimated,” putting them at risk of suffering effects like those seen with off shoring—a loss of skilled workers in a local niche. He says a good working relationship between city and state is integral to pumping life back into local farms and in turn the local community.

“Maybe our reasons for wanting to be successful with local food are different than the rural farmers’—that doesn’t matter, as long as they’re complementary,” Fischer said. “I think those are the opportunities that are created for us. It gives us a map, now let’s be smart enough to use that map.”

Fischer’s Farm to Table program began in 2010 and connects local farms to local consumers, restaurants, and suppliers. Fischer said that Kentucky was one of the “foodiest cultures in North America” and with more than 85,000 farms in the commonwealth is in a prime position to begin the movement. Karp said that according to the study, small businesses with $1-1.5 million worth of revenue were the most likely buyers of local food, which gives the movement a practical sense of scale. Smaller businesses buying smaller quantities of local food leads to long-term results, she said.

Community Farm Alliance chair Cassia Herron was in the audience for the round table. She says that after having watched Kentucky farmers struggle for years, she feels optimistic.

“If we can get over our geographic differences, our racial differences, and our socioeconomic differences, then we can prove to the nation that local food system development can work for the economy, work for people’s health, and work for the overall health of our environment,” Herron said. She also said education about the benefits of local food made people more apt to invest their time and money toward access.

To that end, Wendell Berry noted that the dialogue about local food and farmers and eating was finally ripe. “The fumbling, directionless, semi-hopeless conversation—kicking around the corpses of ideas that were already dead before we got around to them—were not a waste of time,” he said. “We finally got somewhere.”

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