Our friend Becca Self keeps the hits comming! Here’s her latest from Business Lex.
Source: Smiley Pete Publishing
by Rebecca Self
June 10, 2010
Lexington, KY – I am lucky to live in Lexington. But not just because much of my family is here, the people are kind, and the landscape is scenic.
Mostly, because there’s plenty to eat.
I don’t mean the obvious. Yes, we’ve got a boatload of restaurants in town. Many of our citizens have well-stocked grocery stores nearby, although sadly there is still a large swath of our city determined to be a “food desert,” as it lacks access to stores with fresh food. Not surprisingly, this is the same area of town with the lowest percentage of car ownership, so accessible food for this population really does come down to fast food and heavily processed convenience foods.
So maybe I should rephrase my previous statement: We’ve got great potential to have plenty to eat.
Kentucky is blessed with a wonderfully temperate climate. Our long agricultural history is not accidental; the rich soil and limestone bedrock is the agricultural equivalent of striking gold. Centuries of people have inhabited these lands not just for the scenic beauty, but more fundamentally, because it was a place where humans could thrive. Even before modern-day agriculture, our natural flora and fauna yielded an excess of food to be foraged.
I’m certainly no historian, but it is interesting to note that another great advantage for our eating pleasure stems from the geopolitical history of the Bluegrass region. Unlike other fertile states, ours was parceled into small family farms, many of which still survive today. These petite lots, a lasting legacy of our tobacco heritage, are ideally suited to be managed by a single family tending horticultural crops like fruits and vegetables, rather than the monoculture giants of corn, soy or wheat raised on megafarms in the Midwest.
But why should we care? Is this not just a convenient tidbit for the tourism office to promote? I don’t mean to sound too ominous, but our survival is inherently linked to our ability to feed ourselves.
While it is unlikely that food deliveries to our closest megamart will stop tomorrow, the warnings are dire that we cannot sustain the current global food system, which hinges almost entirely on cheap oil — a luxury that most certainly will not last. Furthermore, the current system breeds security and safety scares about our food; there’s much to lament when our food is planted by machines, sprayed with chemicals, harvested by ill-treated workers, processed in factories, wrapped in plastic and trucked thousands of miles. And that’s just the plants.
But here’s where we come full circle. We’re lucky to live here.
Lexington, as part of the surrounding Bluegrass region, is perhaps one of the most well-positioned cities in our nation
to embrace a thriving local food economy. The deck is stacked in our favor. Our climate yields an astounding variety of fresh produce. Our knowledgeable farmers raise delectable beef, pork, poultry, and even fish and shrimp. And of course, there’s also the mouth-watering cheeses and eggs. One needs only to visit the bustling farmers’ markets to become enamored by the assortment of colors, textures and flavors.
For many, the first step of participating in this economy is supporting the growers who already tend our lands. Easy suggestions include getting to know the many farmers in our area by chatting with them at the farmers market or purchasing a share of their Community Supported Agriculture. Learn to eat seasonally, which means a bounty of perishable fresh tomatoes and peppers in the summer months and hardy cabbage and squash during the winter.
But let’s push further. If we’re going to truly devote ourselves to a local food economy, then we’re going to need more growers. One needn’t be located on sprawling acreage to grow food; you can grow a garden in a small backyard (or front yard), an apartment balcony, or even in herb pots above the kitchen sink. In a city so sparsely developed, there’s no reason we can’t have urban farms. Or how about a cooperative of micro-growers who pool their harvests to supply weekly shares of produce?
In an economic climate where job creation has become the holy grail, we should be all over a local food economy. There are so many ways to participate in our food system, and this means so many jobs. Not only do we need growers, but we’ll also need an entirely new distribution system to get the food from producer to consumer. Here we are ripe for creativity, as we’ll clearly need to reinvent the system so that it isn’t dependent on nonrenewable resources like oil and electricity. We’ll need jobs in preparation and preservation — professional chefs and canners. Let’s enable new food entrepreneurs who can market and sell their beloved recipes of jams, salsas, sauces and pickles in small stalls at community markets. And let’s be sure we equip our community with what it needs for this transition by providing access to community gardens, community greenhouses and community kitchens. Laying down this new infrastructure will, of course, also create more jobs.
The great thing about the jobs in a local food economy is that the market is built-in; where there’s a city, there will always be mouths to feed.
The next steps to this larger vision may not be overt, but they will require both physical structures and the right know-how. Success will come in securing partnerships, such as connecting the Kentucky Department of Agriculture with neighborhood associations. Let’s get the public school system in on this so that our children are trained early for the future of agribusiness. Our city government can lead the charge by helping to free up land that can be used for growing more food and structures to house markets or even kitchens. The private sector should follow suit. We’ll need training in food preparation that perhaps Sullivan University’s culinary program can assist with, along with entrepreneurial training from Community Ventures Corporation. The compliance and expertise of the county extension offices, the universities and the health department will all be needed to shepherd in these changes. And we’ll need capital investments from all.
They say it takes a village to raise a child, but it takes a region to feed those children. Let’s feed them the best we have to offer.