The Summit of Encouragement

The Kentucky Local Food Systems Summit pulled nearly 150 people to the University of Kentucky Gatton Student Center last week, just as the 2019 outdoor planting season warms up. I worried about the Summit in advance, given the season, given the storied difficulties of parking for any event at UK, and given that the Blue Grass Community Foundation had long claimed March 27 for On the Table, its acclaimed annual day dedicated to hundreds of small community conversations. The 2019 topic of belonging particularly promised to attract thousands—and did.

Elmwood Stock Farm  hoop house, or high tunnel. Elmwood farmers have practiced season extension for years as part of their organic farming operations.

Elmwood Stock Farm hoop house, or high tunnel. Elmwood farmers have practiced season extension for years as part of their organic farming operations.

Because I was involved with On the Table in the morning I went only to half the Summit. Half was enough, though, to sense energy, effort and hope. My unofficial sample of participants suggests people found the summit encouraging.

A sample of facts I learned in the sessions I attended:

Black Soil - Celebrating African American Agriculture Past and Future: Ashley Smith and Trevor Claiborn of Black Soil: Our Better Nature described steady growth in their business, which has this mission: to reconnect black Kentuckians to their legacy and heritage in agriculture. Black Soil’s expanding reach throughout Kentucky is exciting and promising.

Extending the Season, Expanding Markets: Dr. Krista Jacobsen, agroecologist at the University of Kentucky, said the 950 Kentucky growers taking advantage of assistance from the Seasonal High Tunnel Initiative at the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service place Kentucky high in the national ranks of states adding these potent tools to their farms. These unheated, steel-framed, polyethylene-covered structures “extend growing seasons in an environmentally safe manner.” Dr. Jacobsen said those extended seasons may help growers offer popular crops like strawberries a couple of weeks early in spring, and continue offering popular greens a bit longer in fall than is otherwise possible.

Dr. Krista Jacobsen, agroecologist, presenting on Extending the Season, Expanding Markets at the 2019 Kentucky Local Food System Summit

Dr. Krista Jacobsen, agroecologist, presenting on Extending the Season, Expanding Markets at the 2019 Kentucky Local Food System Summit

Are CSAs good for your health? (Yep!) Dr. Timothy Woods and Dr. Jairus Rossi, both of the University of Kentucky Department of Ag Economics, presented research on the substantial cost savings people reap when they have diet-related health issues and begin getting and preparing fresh local food weekly. For the research project, employers paid a portion of the cost of a seasonal share of a local organic farm’s yield; the research demonstrates substantial returns on investment for the participating employers. Brook Gentile, director of the Organic Association of Kentucky, described the work of the Kentucky Farm Share Coalition, which is having increasing success persuading employers to offer a CSA-based workplace wellness program that connects employees to organic food from a nearby Kentucky farm.

Kentucky’s local food system needs much development and investment. Yet we have good efforts underway. This year’s Kentucky Local Food System Summit offered substantial encouragement and information, along with good opportunities to renew old ties, make new connections and carry increased energy out into the unfolding spring. Thank you to The Food Connection at the University of Kentucky, in partnership with Bluegrass Farm to Table and Bluegrass Tomorrow for producing the Summit.

Sponsors included in this post: Elmwood Stock Farm. Thank you!

Rona RobertsComment