Louisville likes local food. And according to a study that was released earlier this year, Louisvillians are willing to buy more local food than is currently available.
But when people talk about local food, they usually mean crops grown in nearby rural counties…but there’s also an untapped agricultural potential in Louisville’s urban core.
Pam Faulkner is on her knees in the middle of her garden.
“I’ve got the corn, kale, three different kinds of green beans,” she said as she pulled weeds.
She’s also got flowers, herbs, hot peppers, squash, tomatoes and cotton, to name a few. A few yards from Faulkner’s eighth of an acre, traffic whizzes by. This stretch of Seventh Street Road in Shively is home to fast food, strip clubs and flea markets. But it’s also 11 acres of farmland: the Seventh Street Community Garden, one of the sites owned by Jefferson County’s Extension service. In all, Extension oversees 37 acres of the county’s land…and most of those acres are in Louisville’s urban core.
“We can’t raise 1,000 acres of soybeans within the city limits” Jefferson County Extension Director Wayne Long said. “There’s just no space for that. We can’t run 100 head of cattle here. But we can produce a lot of food here.”
Long said urban agriculture requires imagination, as growers figure out how to make the most of small spaces. And there are many possibilities.
“Maybe not necessarily livestock, but we can produce a lot of vegetables here.”
According to a study released earlier this year, Louisville residents are hungry for more local food. The study found that Louisville residents spend about $100 million on food grown nearby and they would buy $150 million more if it were available.
So what if some of that demand could be met with food grown in the city?
Some folks are already trying to fill that gap. Community gardens are a common sight in most neighborhoods. There’s a market garden in Shawnee, and several full-scale farms closer to the county’s edges.
Long said the produce produced by Extension’s 11 community gardens is worth about 1.6 million dollars.
“When we start putting that type of value on what is being produced from urban agriculture or community gardens, vegetables in particular, it starts to make a lot more sense,” he said.
And that’s just the dollar value. Proponents of gardening point to other, less-tangible benefits: an increased sense of community, lower crime, healthier eating habits.
That’s why Metro Government wants to encourage agriculture. But until earlier this year there was a major regulatory hurdle in place that stymied urban ag. No area smaller than five acres could be zoned for agriculture. Metro Government local food administrator Theresa Zawacki said that blocked many plans for community gardens.
“So what we did was to fill in that gap to provide a framework for people who were bonafide agricultural producers, whether for themselves or for profit, to be able to do those activities in a way that addressed adjacent land usage and that minimized potential impact to neighbors,” she said.
The new parts of the Land Development Code recognize both community and market gardens…which are gardens that primarily produce food for retail sale. This puts community gardens into the city’s zoning framework, but also imposes more requirements that would-be garden developers have to meet, including neighborhood approval. Starting a community garden isn’t simple.
But advocates of urban agriculture say the benefits outweigh the headaches. At the Seventh Street Community Garden, Pam Faulkner takes her extra produce to a farmers’ market and sells it. She said on average, during the growing season she can expect to make anywhere from $35 to $150 per week from her garden, which supplements her income. And there are other perks that are harder to quantify.
“I like watching things grow. It’s very therapeutic for me,” she said. “When other people get into it, they really get that sense of peacefulness and well-being of their accomplishments of what they can grow.”
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WFPL intern Fiona Grant contributed to this story.