Could we feed ourselves in Kentucky, and free ourselves from dependence on trucked-in food? We have the moderate climate, adequate rainfall (usually), productive land, capable growers, and ongoing commitment to small farms. Do we have the will and the persistence?
Controlling our own food supply—"food sovereignty"—sounds like real homeland security to me. Will we treasure our own land, people, and products enough to make it happen? Will the small surge of interest in local, sustainable food and agriculture become mainstream? What needs to happen next?
As part of Nougat's issue on change and improvement, I consulted with several Kentuckians whose lives are dedicated to advancing Kentucky food, agriculture, and culture. I asked, "What is the one thing you most want to see happen next for Kentucky food, drink and agriculture?" Here are excerpts from their answers.
John Foster, the pioneering Lexington chef who is now Associate Chair for Culinary Arts at Sullivan University, said, "My wish for the immediate future is that all food related businesses -- whether restaurants, supermarkets, fast food or independents -- will look to Kentucky FIRST to satisfy your needs. The artisans are here lurking on the fringes with great products but unless we give them our attention, the future of Kentucky's commerce will always be in some other state."
Mark Williams, Executive Chef at Brown-Forman and convener of the Slow Food Bluegrass Convivium, said, "The one thing that I most want to see happen next for Kentucky food, drink and agriculture is for all of the farmers, producers and consumers of good, clean and fair food in our state be able to come together to develop a directory in order to find each other."
Sarah Paulson, an experienced grower, recently became the new Office and Farm Marketing Manager at Berea College Agriculture and Natural Resources. Sarah said, "I would like to see the people of Kentucky returning to the roots of our own soul food by recreating those foods as they would have existed 100 years ago (freshly ground organic grains, pastured meats and eggs, organic fresh produce, organic raw dairy), making those foods uncompromisingly culturally and philosophically essential and highly visible in our communities and available to all community members no matter their socioeconomic situation."
Larry Snell is the respected former manager of Cumberland Farm Products cooperative in Monticello who now directs the Kentucky Center for Agriculture & Rural Development (KCARD) in Elizabethtown. Larry said, "I would like for consumers to have better opportunities for or access to locally grown/produced Kentucky foods. My vision is regional 'All Kentucky Food Stores' across the Commonwealth. This would require strategically placed stores serviced by a couple of distribution centers for the warehousing and delivery of Kentucky foods."
Ouita Michel, chef and co-owner of Holly Hill Inn (Midway), said, "When I think of Kentucky's food future, I want us to be the Vermont of the south. Local food and local ingredients can be our calling card, and we can link that to tourism in a powerful way."
One such linkage takes place at the acclaimed Snug Hollow Farm Bed & Breakfast (Estill County), where owner and host Barbara Napier feeds her guests from the sustainably grown gardens near the farmhouse. Barbara said, "What better way to show Kentucky's culture than through our cooking? Our "Kentuscan" bean soup, stir fried greens and fried okra are some of the favorites that open up lively dialogues on local foods right at the Snug Hollow table."
Leo Keene, co-owner of Blue Moon Farm (Madison County) says, "The state of Kentucky is doing a fair job of promoting local farmers. I would like to see the state invest more of its own food budget in buying local foods. Another thing that would make us happy would be for the city of Lexington to secure funding and land for a permanent farmers' market. In a nutshell, I would say that what is needed is sincere encouragement."
Even with all the openings not taken, all the new habits not yet formed, and all the infrastructure not yet developed, this is the most promising time I can remember for Kentucky food and agriculture. Does that mean we are on our way to feeding ourselves, to achieving food sovereignty? We ourselves are the deciders on this important question, and we contribute to the answer with each choice we make about what to buy, eat, cook, and grow.