Growing The Local Food Economy

Caroline Heine.

Caroline Heine.

Caroline Heine is the project director of Seed Capital KY, a non-profit with the mission to catalyze the success and resilience of regional agriculture and the regional food economy.

In answer to the question asked by Mayor Greg Fischer – “Just how big is this local food economy?” – Seed Capital KY commissioned a study that quantifies the demand for local food in Jefferson County.  Their results are impressive, and may in fact serve as a critical tool in Louisville’s ever-increasing expansion of local food resources. Heine shares some of the study’s results, what they mean for the people of Louisville and how everyone can learn more about this hot topic that affects us all in many ways.

LORI KOMMOR: The Louisville Local Food Demand Analysis in some ways confirmed what many people have suspected all along – that there is strong interest in local food. But were you still surprised by the findings?
CAROLINE HEINE: I think we all had a strong sense that there was high demand for local food – there are so many indicators – but the surprise in the findings was just how great that demand really is.  The results show that 72 percent of people in Louisville already knowingly buy local food. And that number is consistent across all income levels and neighborhoods.

And even more promising is the fact that consumers and food buyers told us they literally couldn’t get enough locally sourced fruits and vegetables. That’s exciting for a number of reasons, including the fact that it suggests that there are opportunities for growth along the supply chain for local food. That should open the door to entrepreneurial solutions for connecting the local
food market.

KOMMOR: How will Louisville specifically benefit from the study?
HEINE: Well, first and foremost, this will help serve Mayor Greg Fischer and city officials as they plan to use these findings as a benchmark in determining the best and most effective ways to encourage continued growth of the local food economy. This study serves as a road map in terms of determining who wants local food, where it is in greatest demand and offers insight as to how we can better establish the infrastructure required to make local food available to more people.

The mayor has shown great leadership on this issue and is asking the right questions to help us move forward. This also creates an opportunity to strengthen relationships between the urban marketplace in Louisville and the rural producers – our farmer heroes – to find solutions that benefit our family farms and bring local food to our tables.

KOMMOR: Now that we have this study in hand and know these conclusions, what’s next?
HEINE: The next steps will include building a plan to fulfill the market potential identified in the survey. Seed Capital KY’s Demand Analysis offers a few ideas, but ultimately success will be dependent on the entire community.

We believe that multi-sectoral solutions that involve public, private and non-profit entities are most promising. Feedback is critical, and we want the community to remain involved every step of the way, because after all, this is very much a community issue.

KOMMOR: To that point, how can members of the community get involved and learn more so that they can help support increased access to local food?
HEINE: There are many ways everyone can get involved. The full study is available online at www.louisvilleky.gov/economicdevelopment. In addition, we are hosting an event called “Around the Table: Planning Louisville’s Local Food Economy” on Saturday, Feb. 16. We know there is extreme interest in this issue because the event sold out very quickly, but fortunately, the mayor’s “State of the Local Food Economy” as well as a round table discussion between the mayor, Wendell Berry and others will be broadcast on Metro TV, Insight Channel 25 on Friday, March 1 at 9 p.m., Saturday, March 2 at 11:30 a.m. and at 10 p.m.

Another very simple way to get involved is to ask for local food where you shop.  Let your grocers, your restaurant owners and your places of business know that you care about where your food comes from and want more local food options. In the meantime, you can support the farmers’ markets around town, or join a CSA. Visit a farm. See where your food is grown and meet the folks who grow it. Once people establish this kind of relationship with their food, they will not be satisfied with anything else.