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Green Scene: A great food city and beyond

by Lisa Markowitz, chair and associate professor of anthropology last modified Jun 01, 2012 09:28 AM

Food trucks converge for Derby, city chefs garner national awards, the National Slow Food Congress convenes in Louisville – all these events highlight Louisville’s emergence as a great food city, one where people increasingly appreciate and savor the bounty of local fields, pastures and gardens. Kentucky, thanks to the legacy of tobacco, has upwards of 85,000 farms, which places the state fifth nationally.

Green Scene: A great food city and beyond

Garden Commons is on Belknap Campus beside the Cultural Center.

Over the past decade, farmers, chefs and community activists, among others, have worked hard to connect producers with consumers and cooks eager to enjoy the culinary, environmental, and political benefits of eating locally. Universities, especially given student interest and passion, also have central roles in play in healthy eating and the production, distribution, and consumption of locally sourced foods.

The energy of our local “local food” movement is manifest in the swelling numbers of farmers markets in the Metro area, currently totaling 22, including one the School of Public Health and Information Sciences started near the Health Sciences Center.

Innovative new forms of food distribution are also on the rise: hundreds of families have joined with dozens of farmers to participate in Community Supported Agriculture, signing up each season to receive a weekly box full of seasonal vegetables, which since 2009 have been delivered to the Belknap Campus among other sites. Grasshoppers is a farmer-owned distribution business which collects food from as many as 70 farmers for sale to shops, restaurants and 600 (and counting) subscribers via its CSA programs. New Roots, a nonprofit, works with community centers and churches to set up volunteer-based food buying groups, called Fresh Stops, in low-income neighborhoods.

To this rebuilding of food system alternatives, we can add farming the city–new gardens and gardening projects are proliferating across Louisville with the support of federal and Metro agencies, as well as the energies of activists from such groups as Breaking New Grounds, Sustainable Agriculture Louisville and 15Thousand Farmers. At UofL, for the third summer season, students are collaboratively cultivating the Garden Commons at the Cultural Center (near the University Club).

Across the United States, the myriad challenges of transforming the food system have engaged students. In response, universities — the University of Montana, New York University, Oregon State University, to name just a few — have implemented new academic programs in food studies and sustainability. At UofL, a growing number of students have pursued their interests in food, farming and social justice by carrying out internships with a range of local agrifood organizations. In addition to working with several of the groups mentioned above, students have interned with the Refugee Agricultural Partnership Program, which supports Louisville’s refugee farmers as they apply their agriculture knowledge to enhance their diets and earn some extra cash.

Others have helped the statewide grassroots organization, Community Farm Alliance, organize farmers markets in low-income neighborhoods. Still others have assisted the Food Literacy Project in its goals of sharing the pleasures of food and farming (including the special role of earthworms) with young children. In sum, as the range of interests and activities in Louisville and Kentuckiana burgeon, student involvement is likely to grow and continue to provide energy and fresh ideas much appreciated by agency staff members and community organizers.

Rebuilding our food system, of course, goes far beyond any single project, or any single city achieving recognition for its food, albeit the welcome boost to nearby farmers. The problems we as eaters and citizens confront are huge, especially at a moment when record numbers of people in the United States face food insecurity. This is why it is important to recognize the sort of broad-based, grassroots engagement we see today in Louisville, particularly the involvement of students and other  young activists, that will be key to ensuring that everyone has access to great food.

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