Yes, We Are Beginning To Build Local Food Systems

When I took some books and went home recently to be part of the Mill Springs Annual Cornbread Festival in beautiful Wayne County,  I simply enjoyed a perfect day and extraordinarily kind people. I  took in the spectacular beauty of the place, so rich in food history as well as Civil War history.

I remembered how much I appreciated and learned from the hard-working, civic-minded Monticello Woman's Club members as I grew up. They have produced the Cornbread Festival for 22 years, and operate the gift shop at Mill Springs, selling fresh, stone ground cornmeal for much of each year in a building near the mill itself.

I was not thinking beyond the beauty of the day, the happiness of being with friends and family, and the pleasures of cornbread. Now I have had a chance to reflect and think a little more analytically. One reason the fine, small Mill Springs Cornbread Festival festival matters is its contribution to rebuilding local food systems. The Festival helps retrain us to value growing our own food, feeding ourselves and our neighbors. It reminds us of the goodness and sweetness of connecting to each other over our own foods.

A word of culinary caution: don't read that word "sweetness" as applying to the superb corn cakes  stellar Wayne Countian and chef-for-a day Sam Brown brought me to enjoy. Those corn cakes contained 100 percent freshly ground white corn, no sugars in sight, and they sold out, along with the cooked-from-scratch pinto beans, well before the Festival ended. With good reason. They were delicious, and they were the real thing.

For a long time, the main media message about the potential for locally grown food to make a positive impact on both eaters and growers has been dismissive. Imagine mainstream media talking to their uninspired, imaginary version of a fledgling local food system: "Oh, you cute little thing, over there in that darling little farmers' market, trying to please all those picky urban eaters who don't have to watch a budget and wouldn't know a cabbage moth if it lit on their iPHone 6 Plus. Let's just pat you on the head while you continue deluding yourself into thinking you matter. Go on back to enjoying your triple-shot super-icy giant-sized almond milk latte."

Recently the tone is changing. Local food economies that serve a wide range of customers are becoming more common, and more feasible. We learned that cropland exists to support substantial local food production around major U.S. cities. Now we hear that local food sales, taken together across the country, amount to $11 billion, a number that starts to sound respectable.

Kentucky leads the nation in the productive use of government incentives to boost farm income and local food consumption. Here in the Commonwealth, we are Kentucky Proud about that. We like leading in this way. We may be "don't-get-above-your-raising" mild-manned people most of the time, but on occasion we like leading. [Evidence? Do I even need to say it? College basketball.]

Savoring Kentucky particularly appreciates Ashton Potter Wright, who heads Bluegrass Farm to Table, for her successful work in winning federal dollars recently to launch Bluegrass Double Dollars in Fayette County. This program boosts local food sales and expands local families' vegetable and fruit options. Ashton works with many colleagues who deserve credit, too, but she takes the lead and points the way. Ashton joins other leaders and important work in other parts of the commonwealth. Some have been at this work for years already. I'm tipping a homemade Kentucky wild blackberry soda in your direction, Sarah Fritschner, Michelle Johnson Howell, Lora Smith, Jamie Aramini, Joyce Pinson, Heather Hyden, Karyn Moskowitz and every local grower who faithfully feeds us while building good soil and caring for our earth's future.

Pieces of a new local and regional food economy continue to emerge. This week Community Ventures, a community development corporation headquartered in Lexington, Kentucky,  announced plans to open Chef Space, a kitchen incubator in west Louisville:

National and local leaders came together on June 29, 2015 to celebrate the groundbreaking on Louisville’s FIRST kitchen incubator, Chef Space, located in the Russell Neighborhood. Chef Space will occupy the former Jay’s Cafeteria and will provide commercial kitchen space and business support services for up to 50 food related early state businesses. The facility will also house a retail outlet and meeting spaces open to the community. Community Ventures is renovating the 13,000 sq. ft. site with a late October 2015 opening planned as the first phase of a comprehensive neighborhood revitalization project.

(Hat tip Ashlee Eats.)

Advocates in Boston and other cities incorporate shared spaces for gardening in Community Land Trusts neighbors create to keep control of their own neighborhoods' destinies. Food production at this hyper-local level makes a difference in building workable local food systems. (Hat tip HH.)

Local food systems in many shapes and with many origins seem to be gaining ground. Let's imagine the Waynetonians will sing us out with a "Glory, Hallelujah!" They sang at the 2015 Cornbread Festival, with Anita Peters conducting.

Bonus: Mill Springs Mill, the largest overshot (water pours over the top) mill in the world—dates from 1817. See the mill in action in this video, which also features a bit of the 2011 Cornbread Festival. The Army Corps of Engineers, which now owns the mill, produced the video.


Rona RobertsComment