The new year is often a time of great evolution. In a city like Louisville, change seems to be the name of the game, year on year. Neighborhoods are revitalized, new businesses thrive, old enterprises innovate and communities come together. Louisville isnâ€™t perfect, no place is, but there are a whole host of people and organizations in this city striving to make a difference. For the first cover story of the new-look Voice-Tribune, weâ€™ve selected a handful of groups and individuals who have been creating positive change in Louisville for the past few years, and are working harder than ever to spur even greater progress in 2015. Weâ€™ve chosen to focus on food, community, technology and the arts. This is not a comprehensive list, merely a sampling of the thousands of Louisvillians who help catalyze change in this city, creating one of the most fun, vibrant and diverse towns in America.
Food: Groganica Farms
In many peopleâ€™s eyes, the people who make the biggest change on any given culinary landscape are the chefs. So often, the ones who deliver the final product are the ones who get all the glory and the largest slice of the limelight. But chefs only get that credit because theyâ€™re able to put out a dish that utilizes the best ingredients, and suppliers play a key role in that process. When it comes to the food scene in Louisville, credit must go to Groganica Farms.
Groganica Farms, the brainchild of husband and wife team Mac and Amanda DeHart, is the first commercially successful aquaponic farm in Louisville and the state of Kentucky. For those unaware of what this is â€“ the process is simple. Without the use of soil, fresh and organic produce is grown in water, which is fertilized by living fish. Fish waste feeds the plants, while the plants clean the water, allowing the fish to thrive. Best of all, everything grown comes without any unnatural fertilizers, chemicals, fungicides or pesticides, and the process uses less water than traditional methods of growing produce.
For those who may be skeptical, or think they may have never tried aquaponics, itâ€™s hard to escape them when it comes to the best restaurants in the city. If youâ€™ve ever eaten a salad at Bistro 1860, Brasserie Provence, Craft House, The English Grill at the Brown, Garyâ€™s on Spring, Le Relais, Lillyâ€™s Bistro, Marketplace at Theater Square, Mayan Cafe, Napa River Grill, Porcini, Proof on Main, Rivue at The Galt House, St. Charles Exchange, Volare, then youâ€™ve eaten the produce of the DeHarts.
â€œWe just really think this is the best and most sustainable way to farm,â€ Mac DeHart says, explaining that currently demand is outripping supply, so that soon they will come close to tripling their greenhouse space from 6,000 square feet.
â€œWe feel that in the future, farming practices that exist today are not going to be sustainable,â€ DeHart continues. â€œAnyone who has seen documentaries like â€œFood Inc.â€ will know that due to mono crop culture farming and the depletion of the soils, and drought problems we have to come up with new ways of farming and more sustainable ways of doing it.â€
Aside from a whole host of heirloom varieties, the DeHarts plan on growing more substantial produce in the future, like a greater variety of vegetables, ensuring that more edibles in Louisvilleâ€™s restaurants will be responsibly and freshly produced.
â€œWeâ€™ve been together for 15 years, and I remember I told Mac, if you donâ€™t do this now, you will regret it,â€ Amanda DeHart explains.
Nearly two years in, and Groganica is thriving. More and more restaurants in one of Americaâ€™s culinary capitals will stock the DeHartsâ€™ delicious and fresh produce.
â€œWe love the outdoors, weâ€™ve always loved the outdoors and Iâ€™ve always wanted to be with farming,â€ explains Mac DeHart. â€œIâ€™m 44 now, but at 42 years old, we both just said, â€œLetâ€™s do this.â€
For more information visit www.groganica.com
Technology: David Dafoe
If youâ€™ve tried a new soft drink or alcoholic beverage in the past few years, chances are David Dafoe and his team had some hand in it. Dafoe knows flavor. And when it comes to creating tastes for some of the worldâ€™s largest beverage corporations, Dafoeâ€™s companies, Flavorman and Distilled Spirits Epicenter have had their finger in many pies.
But in the last year, with craft brewing and distilling on the rise, Dafoe and his team have shifted a lot of their focus to alcohol. Where once 80 percent of their business was focused on beverage development, now it firmly concerns alcohol. And in a city renowned for its distilling history, Dafoe has sought to bring the industry front and center on the map.
â€œKentucky is a little behind the curve when it comes to opening up new distilleries compared to states like Washington and Oregon, New York,â€ Dafoe explains. â€œTheyâ€™re leading the pack when it comes to opening new distilleries but Kentucky is catching up.â€
One way in which Dafoe has become a game-changer in Louisville is by striving to bring an educational element into the distilling process. The companyâ€™s Moonshine University seeks to educate professionals and enthusiasts about the process, while the Distilled Spirits Epicenter helps companies develop new drinks that will soon hit the market.
â€œWeâ€™ve spent time working with the governor, the city and the state legislature because weâ€™ve always said that Kentucky should be the epicenter of distilled spirits because historically it always has been,â€ Dafoe continues. â€œWe donâ€™t want to see that move to other states because it belongs here.â€
â€œWhen we opened the Distilled Spirits Epicenter, we immediately hit the Kentucky Distillers Association, saying that we need an educational component, and if we always want to make something happen we need to push.â€
One key way in which this is likely to happen is through the development and introduction of a bourbon certification program thatâ€™s being spearheaded by Dafoe and his colleagues. The goal is to make sure that when tourists or locals want to enjoy alcohol in the city, theyâ€™re being served by individuals as knowledgeable as sommeliers are about wine.
â€œIf youâ€™re going to become a city all about bourbon, then you need all the folks like bartenders and mixologists, to know what bourbon is all about,â€ Dafoe explains. â€œOften when you go into restaurants, and you know what you are talking about and start asking questions, you realize they (bartenders) sometimes make stuff up. We want a universal certification, starting in Kentucky, but with the goal of making it nationwide.â€
With the help of the Mayorâ€™s office the goal is to make this a reality in 2015. For Dafoe though, heâ€™s just happy knowing that whether itâ€™s soft drinks or spirits, Louisville is as thirsty as ever â€“ for knowledge and libations alike.
For more information visit www.ds-epicenter.com
For those tired of endless classic rock tracks, sports call-in shows or screaming talking-heads and politics, all interspersed with ads every 30 seconds, try tuning into ARTxFM, the Louisville station for locals and by locals.
Begun as a non-profit in 2011 and continuously on-air since 2013, ARTxFM is run by director Sharon Scott with the sole goal of creating programming thatâ€™s firmly geared to focus on diversity â€“ giving people the chance to explore new ground and topics not often heard anywhere else. Itâ€™s the difference between ARTxFM and every other station including NPR.
â€œI think the difference is that public radio offers a very valuable service, but most of the time, their programming is syndicated nationwide,â€ Scott explains, who has spent her entire life in radio, ever since she caught the bug working for her college radio station.
â€œSo youâ€™re not getting the local flavor and the local voices. There are some exceptions, and there are some great shows on the local NPR stations, but to have a station in the community that is giving a voice to community members, around the clock, like ours, is incredible.â€
The station funded mostly by members and donors â€“ some from around the world â€“ has 120 volunteer DJs hosting 80 shows, each with their own unique offering to the airwaves. From poetry and literary discussions, to obscure electronica, and live bands that make their way into the ARTxFM studio on Market Street, from time to time.
â€œWe hope to reach a very wide audience, but maybe in a more specific way,â€ Scott explains, who adds that the station also receives listeners from up to 20 different countries each day. â€œWe have an old time country show, so there might be a specific audience that tunes into that show, and thatâ€™s going to be very different from the audience that tunes into the hip-hop show. At the same time, we hope that it will kind of bring everyone together. Maybe people who normally listen to the hip-hop show are like, â€˜This ARTxFM is really cool â€“ itâ€™s the voice of our community members.â€™ So instead of catering to the music tastes that people already have, we hope that weâ€™ll open people up to new ideas.â€
For now though, Scott and her collection of DJs are hoping that their radio mast will be completed in the coming year and increase their listenership further, which as of now is online only. Indeed, 2015 is shaping up to be a big year for ARTxFM and for radio in Louisville, a chance to make waves and broadcast the sound of change.
â€œWe want to always keep the programming fresh,â€ concludes Scott. â€œAnd we want to always bring in new talent. I really encourage people to keep trying it out. There are going to be some shows they like, and some shows they donâ€™t. And maybe some of the shows that at first they donâ€™t really think they like, they might continue to give it a chance.â€
For more information visit www.artxfm.com
Community: Louisville Reach Academy
Earlier this year, teachers and friends Caroline King, Kristen Thomas, Amy Clifford and Katie Taliaferro won a national year-long competition to create a school from the ground up. Create a dream school where students would receive the type of education and care rarely seen elsewhere.
Since the announcement of their win, it was decided that their plan for a new-look school will instead be implemented at Atkinson Elementary in Louisvilleâ€™s Portland neighborhood. While the plan now doesnâ€™t include a newly built school, itâ€™s still a chance for the teachers to enact some of their vision and make real changes in education during 2015, and for years to come.
â€œI think when this program originated, the whole point was to better the community,â€ Kristen Thomas explains. â€œSo that is our goal, whether its through students, or parents, families all as one, and hopefully that will spread to the community.
While JCPS has decided not to implement Reach Academyâ€™s plan in full, they are very much supportive of teachersâ€™ ideas, and are ready to embrace their input by creating a Reach Coordinator position that will oversee any changes within the new look school.
For King, sheâ€™s most looking forward to developing and growing the after-school programs that were a cornerstone of their vision. In turn making the school a hub for the local community in the neighborhood.
â€œI think Iâ€™m most excited about the after school aspect because weâ€™re going to try to target students that need that intervention and to grow as learners,â€ King explains. â€œAnd theyâ€™ll be getting that extra meal after school because they donâ€™t get those services elsewhere. So that will be a positive push for them.â€
â€œIf itâ€™s successful â€“ and hopefully it is â€“ then they can implement it in other schools,â€ Clifford adds.
Another positive from the plan that the team are working hard to bring to fruition is providing services to the school that lie outside of child education â€“ areas such as health and adult learning. One is a partnership with the National Center for Families Learning.
â€œIâ€™m excited about the National Center for Family Learning,â€ Thomas adds. â€œThatâ€™s one of the things that all four of us agreed we would really like implemented in our schools, helping the community, including the adults. With Portland being an up and coming neighborhood, hopefully we can get some revitalization and get some parent successes out there.â€
For now though, the young teachers have been busy attending weekly meetings, since September, figuring out how to provide the best education possible for the students theyâ€™re so passionate about. In a few years the plan is to expand Atkinson Elementary through to middle school grades.
For now, though, itâ€™s a learning curve for students and teachers alike.
Photos By CHRIS HUMPHREYS | The Voice-Tribune