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Real and lasting change, however, has to happen at the grassroots level, which is one of many things IdeaFestival hopes to effect with its one-day Local Food: The Power to Change event.

That’ll take place on Mon., Sept. 23, from 8:15 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. at the Mellwood Arts Center. It includes about a dozen seminars and discussion panels centered on what reg’lar folk can do to change how they eat and further influence better farming, better foods and a greener planet.

In her work as—get this mouthful of a title, executive administrator for brownfields and local food initiatives for Metro Louisville—Theresa Zawacki seeks to connect the community with farmers, food producers, distributors and sellers to help spread the gospel of better nutrition through real, local food.

And while it may sound like huckstering for her boss, Metro Mayor Greg Fisher, Zawacki’s belief in a leader who understands Louisville’s potential for growth is, well, highly believable.

Fischer’s administration has made the development of the local food system a priority by promoting it heavily.

“He’s recognized something that the city and state are really good at, and he’s behind it,” Zawacki said. “When you look at our restaurant scene, you already see a thriving farm-to-table emphasis. Those restaurants have built relationships with local farmers, and (Louisvillians) can take that much further.”

That means multiple opportunities for the city:

  • To further Louisville’s brand identity as a “food focused” place, a town that, as Chez Panise owner Alice Waters told me in an interview for an unrelated story, “gets it, because you have so many farmers markets there.” (Waters, regarded by many as the founder of the farm-to-restaurant-table movement, raved about our 17 farmers markets, which she learned of that during a 2007 speaking engagement at Bellarmine University. Now we have double that.)
  • To deepen our connections between our restaurants, stores and farmers markets and local agriculture.
  • To leverage those opportunities to spur economic development and job creation. “We’re always looking ways to make the city a hub for food processing and the logistics of food,” Zawacki said.

In other words, there are more Bourbon Barrel Foods-type companies waiting to be launched here.

“What’s happening on the 23rd is a continuation of a vibrant conversation Louisvillians are already having,” said Zawacki. A recent survey conducted by the city in partnership with Seed Capital Kentucky revealed that 72 percent of consumers are already buying some amount of local food each year. “And that crossed all socio-economic levels. It wasn’t just one group. That tells us people are saying they want to buy more.”

What may surprise some is national experts on local food movements regard Louisville as on the cutting edge, placing it in conversation with cities such as Boston, Portland, Ore., and New York.

“Those are cities that have been working on those initiatives much longer than we have,” Zawacki said. “That says a lot about our city and that makes me pretty happy.”

What would make her even happier is for you to go to all or some of the Local Food: The Power to Change seminars. We’ve listed the lineup below (which is being adjusted some as we speak). Tickets are $35 each. Click here to get yours.

* 8:15 to 8:50 a.m. – Registration and Kentucky Proud breakfast

* 8:50 to 9 a.m. – Welcome and introductions

* 9 to 9:30 a.m. – Louisville, local food and community 

Sarah Fritschner, Louisville Farm to Table

Local food encompasses an amazingly broad set of issues, from farming to distribution, from retail sales to hunger and access.  Sarah Fritschner will connect the dots using her 30-year career working in local food to describe the tangled web that is local food.

* 9:30 to 10 a.m. – Louisville’s growing community

Theresa Zawacki, Metro Louisville’s commitment

Mason Roberts, Louisville Grows

Lauren Goldberg, Refugee Agricultural Partnership Program

Andrea Wright, JCPS garden project

Urban agriculture comes in many forms.  Policy makers are working to make it easier to develop gardens in the city while nonprofits are taking on projects to create space for urban food production for individuals and entrepreneurs.  JCPS is using garden spaces for a range of educational moments and extracurricular opportunities.  And the next generation of urban growing is on the horizon with hydroponics, vertical growing and aquaponics promising to create jobs and opportunities for food production in the city.

* 10 to 10:15: LouisvilleIsFood.org Debut

Melissa Richards-Person

The 2013 Bingham Fellows have been working hard to develop a smart food culture in Louisville, and have partnered with Winston Industries and others on an exciting new resource to support what’s happening in the community.  Learn how LouisvilleIsFood.org will provide information about existing community food system assets, promote greater connections and coordination among organizations working in various aspects of the system, educate the public, and promote the good work happening in Louisville around local food.

* 10:15 to 10:45 a.m: Learning about local

Carol Gunderson, Food Literacy Project

Mary Kay Korfage, Food is Elementary

Alicia Arnett, JCPS Fruit and Vegetable program

Stephen Bartlett, Sustainable Agriculture of Louisville

Our connection to food begins in our childhood.  How are educators working to ensure that this generation of children understands where food comes from, how it gets to the store, what they should eat, and how they can help prepare it?

* 10:45 to 11:15: That all may eat (well)

Karen Moskowitz, Fresh Stops

Sasha Belenky, Corner store initiative

Stan Siegwald, Dare to Care

We are not all fortunate enough to live near a grocery store or farmers’ market, to be able to shop for groceries as often as we like, or to buy as many fresh foods as we should be eating.  Hunger is a reality for many people in this community, and financial resources to buy food, particularly local food, are not a given for all.  But healthy food and even local food is finding its way into the community through a corner store initiative designed to incentivize convenience store owners to convert a portion of their floor space to fresh produce, an innovative model of neighborhood-based cooperative buying driven by community empowerment and food justice education, and food banks working to provide much-needed assistance to the hungry.

* 11:15 to 11:45: Direct farm impact

Sarah Fritschner, Louisville Farm to Table

Ben Abell, Community Farm Alliance, Abell Organics

Melissa Schreck, Gray Street Farmers Market

What does it mean to provide direct economic impact to farmers and why does it matter?  Is it the same to buy a tomato from Florida as it is to buy a tomato at a Louisville farmers market? Kentucky ranks fifth in the nation for the number of family farms still in operation. As these farmers transition from growing tobacco to growing other crops, particularly edible crops, we are faced with the challenge of finding ways to make growing food just as profitable as growing tobacco. Learn about programs and policies trying to bring greater economic success to Kentucky’s farmers and how you can support this effort.

* 11:45 to 12:45 – Kentucky Proud box lunch and networking

* 12:45 to 1:15 – Where can I buy local food?

Ron Smith, Root Cellar

James Neumann, ValuMarket

Lynn Greene, Grasshoppers

Explore the challenge of sourcing local food for retail sales with conversations about seasonality, consumer education, volume, distribution and market development with three retailers working with local food under three different sales models.

* 1:15 to 1:45 – But what if I want to go out to eat?

Annie Pettry, Decca

Bruce Ucan, Mayan Café

Gabe Sowder, Taco Punk

Coby Ming, Harvest

It’s not any easier for chefs to figure out how to use local food. Why do chefs choose local food when they could just order it from the distributor? Where does the local food on restaurant menus come from? And what are chefs doing to support Kentucky farmers?

* 1:45-2:15 – Two feet, four feet, six feet

Maggie Keith, Fox Hollow Farm

John Mark Hack, Marksbury Meats

Thomas Webster, Kentucky State University

Chickens, cattle and bees: How does each affect the economic potential of the farmer, improve the land, and provide critical support to system of food production? What are the challenges in processing local animals?

* 2:15-2:30—Snack attack!

Chef-prepared, local ingredients

* 2:30-3:00 – The power of the penny—financing your food (business)

Carrie VanWinkle, Just Money

Bill Johnson, Farm Credit Services

So you’re finally ready to start making your granny’s famous marinara sauce for a commercial market. Or you’ve decided to leave corporate life to grow hydroponic microgreens in an urban warehouse. Or you want to diversify your farm to include a new crop—maybe berries? So how are you going to pay for that? Ask these experts to show you some options.

* 3:00-3:30 – There’s more to this puzzle…

Commissioner James Comer

Mayor Greg Fischer

The changing face of Kentucky’s farmers transitioning from tobacco to alternative crops and particularly food crops creates opportunities to build strong networks for communication, leadership and relationship building. Join Commissioner James Comer and Mayor Greg Fischer for a conversation highlighting their experiences working together to promote the local food economy.

* 3:30-4:15 – The future is out there

Agriculture, like all other industries, requires innovation to meet the changing needs of food consumers. Village Capital, the world’s largest accelerator for impact ventures, and VentureWell, a program of the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance, have been hosting their agriculture and clean technology accelerator in Louisville since June.  From over 100 applications, 15 ventures were selected for the accelerator program.  Today, we will hear from Victoria Fram of Village Capital about why investors are excited to invest in these entrepreneurial endeavors, and from representatives of the agriculture teams competing in the incubator program about their potentially world-changing ventures.

Steve Coomes is a restaurant veteran turned award-winning food, spirits and travel writer. In his 24-year career, he has edited and written for multiple national trade and consumer publications including Nation's Restaurant News and Southern Living. He is a feature writer for Louisville magazine, Edible Louisville & The Bluegrass and Food & Dining Magazine. The author of two books, "Country Ham: A Southern Tradition of Hogs, Salt & Smoke," and the "Home Distiller's Guide to Spirits," he also serves as a ghostwriter for multiple clients.


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