Unbridling, If Not Yet Quite Unbridled

Bottle opener, made in China, given away at WEG by UK College of Agriculture

Bottle opener, made in China, given away at WEG by UK College of Agriculture

Certified Organic produce from Elmwood Stock Farm, Bourbon County, Kentucky

Certified Organic produce from Elmwood Stock Farm, Bourbon County, Kentucky

For this next-to-last of the 116 daily Savory Bites, launched 100 days before the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games left the starting gate at the Kentucky Horse Park, reflection is in order. During a visit to WEG four days ago, on a perfect, blue-and-gold Kentucky afternoon, I checked out the ways our productive Eden shines through -- or doesn't -- in the big exhibits just inside the main gates, in the areas I assumed nearly all Games visitors would tour.

I tried to think like a person from Anywhere, The Globe, as I looked at the main exhibition areas: The Alltech Experience, Kentucky Experience, the tradeshow tent, and a dedicated University of Kentucky exhibit tent, and many booths around and between these areas. Honestly, with the exception of our signature alcoholic drinks, which were handy at all times, in one short visit, I did not find much in these areas that seemed likely to give visitors and our own people more clarity about our Commonwealth's distinctions.

In order to produce Savoring Kentucky for four years, I have chosen to ignore, most of the time, the critical, hectoring voice in my head, the one that goes, "Why didn't they..." or "Somebody should..." or "How could they not..." or, of course, "What were they (not) thinking?" That voice is always "They, They, They" - not all that useful, except as a way to avoid figuring out how to make a positive difference. I have chosen to concentrate on what works, on potential, on progress.

I have heard the hectoring voice a lot in the days since my WEG visit. My first response was disappointment that Kentucky's best products (beyond alcohol) do not shine through in the areas visitors to the Games frequent. I still hear the voice and feel the disappointment, but I have begun to see some of the successes and positive results, too.

The Kentucky spirit of service and our commitment to welcome and hospitality radiated through the place, courtesy of the thousands of knowledgeable, cheerful, seemingly tireless volunteers. I felt it like the sun's warmth, and I basked, basked, basked in that spirit of generosity. I appreciate, too, the apparently widely shared sense that the facilities and even the transportation logistics -- thanks primarily to the awesome, affordable, brilliantly managed Lextran shuttle buses -- succeeded superbly in meeting contestant and visitor needs.

Although I could not sense these factors in my short visit, these paragraphs in a Lexington Herald-Leaderarticle by ace reporter Linda Blackford suggest some Kentucky producers sold products and ingredients for use at the Games:

Pritchard said Games organizers decided early on they wanted to use as many local providers as possible, and are now using 26 different Kentucky producers. For example, Critchfield Meats has provided a lot of the meat products, including the Alltech Angus. Creation Gardens, a Louisville-based produce and gourmet food supply company, is shipping in several hundred cases of food every day, much of it grown in Kentucky.

Jim Walker, Creation Gardens' vice president, said that while it's nearing the end of the growing season, the company is still shipping Kentucky apples, pears, summer squash and winter squashes.

"This showcases the wonderful things we can grow in this state," Walker said.

Good! Some Kentucky producers benefited from the Games.

Even so, and although even this much involvement of local producers could not have been imagined five years ago, it could have been better. One of the moments when I heard "What were they thinking?" rattling around in my head came late in my visit when a kind person at the University of Kentucky's tent handed me a small, attractive blue metal horse head (left photo, above) that is a little bit evocative of Kentucky's "Unbridled Spirit" logo. The metal object is a bottle opener, designed to attach to a keyring. It bears the imprint "UK AG Equine," and a bright, white "Made in China" sticker.

I wish we had the kind of university that looks at every turn to see what it can do to support health and produce wealth in the Commonwealth. So, for example, I wish the College of Agriculture had asked itself and the rest of us two years ago to identify and produce Kentucky-based give-aways for the World Equestrian Games. What would or could those have been? I do not know. I have confidence, though, that had the University's distinguished College of Agriculture put out a call and engaged the creative, generous people in our state, we could have come up with something affordable, usable, worthwhile, and worth taking home. Perhaps a tiny bit of Kentucky wealth could have been generated as a result.

Multiply this small decision about one giveaway by thousands, and the opportunities at WEG for supporting Kentucky's economic health become significant. True, Kentuckians did not control the major decisions about contractors and providers, but many Kentuckians involved with producing the Games did make specific decisions that had economic implications for the Commonwealth. I wished for stands selling Kentucky fall apples and Kentucky bottled water (since bottled water seemed to be the only sort available), Kentucky-made shawls and wraps for the cool evenings and rainy days, Kentucky-made head-gear and skin protectants for brilliant sunny days, Kentucky-made compostable plates, utensils, and cups...and so on.

This will happen in time. I have confidence. The Games' overall success will boost our Commonwealth Confidence, too. At future festivals and events, I am certain we will see changing habits, toward deeper investment in our own producers and our own economies, our own communities' health.

One of the sources of that confidence is the strong, unwavering, decades-long work of many Kentucky food champions. Their numbers are growing.

More personally, I take confidence from two literary events I attended during WEG that constituted, for me, the true "Kentucky Experience." The Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning hosted "Born and Bred" on September 28, and "Kentucky's Finest" on October 5. During these two events nine poets, three fiction writers, and one poet/playwright/multidisciplinary artist read to packed rooms full of excited, appreciative people, all of us well stoked on fine Kentucky foods that came with the events.

During "Kentucky's Finest," when Frank X Walker read from his rich new poetry collection, Isaac Murphy: I Dedicate  This Ride, and then read an excerpt Thomas Merton wrote in his journal after he first visited Kentucky and deemed it a paradise, and THEN read contemporary Lexington poet Bianca Spriggs's "The Afro That Ate Kentucky"-- right there, my spirit did indeed become unbridled, and I felt the truth of what I often say: We live in paradise. People are figuring it out. Never mind the "Made in China" blue horse. The forward energy is electric. I am beyond blessed to be a witness, a chronicler of our progress.

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The world is coming to visit central Kentucky this year for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. To help our visitors know more about Kentucky's food and food ways, Savoring Kentucky is rolling out 116 Savory Kentucky Bites, one for each of the 100 days before WEG begins, and 16 for the days during WEG, September 25 - October 10. Today's Savory Bite is number 115.