Local Food Movement Builds in Kentucky

By: Ashley Hoover

            The local food movement is growing stronger and is expanding exponentially across the United States.  Local Food sales topped $11.7 billion last year according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) which has invested more than $800 million in more than 29,100 local and regional businesses and infrastructure projects.[i] This investment is part of a federal initiative called “Local Foods, Local Places,” which invites communities to participate by providing direct technical support to build strong local food systems.[ii] Over 4,000 local and regional food businesses and projects – including food hubs, farm-to-school programs, and initiatives to expand health food access to low-income communities – can be pinpointed in every state across the country.[iii]

            Kentucky leads the nation in participation in this federally funded local food project.[iv] In commenting on the project, Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture, stated that “Kentucky is well-suited to take advantage of those efforts.”[v] In fact, Kentucky has 1,659 projects including high tunnels that extend the growing season, microloans for smaller farmers, and direct funding for food hubs, farmers’ markets and other local food enterprises.[vi] “Kentucky's bipartisan ‘Shaping Our Appalachian Region’ initiative identified local and regional food systems as opportunities to create new jobs and new entrepreneurship.”[vii] Several examples of the positive effects from this initiative can be seen throughout Kentucky. For example, in Barbourville, Ky., the community received technical assistance to expand a farmers market into a permanent facility which may later become a regional food hub.[viii] Furthermore, Hazard, Ky. is currently developing a non-profit organization to launch community identified local food systems projects, including creating the North Fork Market, a local food retail store.[ix]

            The benefits of this movement are shown extensively. The projects help develop a sense of community and connection to farmers while providing consumers with more fresh choices and allowing new relationships to develop with local producers.[x] Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack declared that “Local food is rapidly growing from a niche market to an integrated system recognized for its economic boost to communities across the country.”[xi] It is encouraging to see that Kentucky is leading the way for this promising initiative.

[i] News Release, United States Department of Agriculture, Obama Administration Assists Communities in Building Local Food Systems to Foster Economic Growth (June 30, 2015), http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?contentid=2015/06/0193.xml&contentidonly=true.

[ii] Id.

[iii] Allison Aubrey, Communities Get A Lift As Local Food Sales Surge To $11 Billion A Year, NPR (June 30, 2015), http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/06/30/418835394/communities-get-a-lift-as-local-food-sales-surge-to-11-billion-a-year.

[iv] Janet Patton, Kentucky leads nation in federal funding for local food, Vilsack says, Lexington Herald-Leader (June 30, 2015), http://www.kentucky.com/2015/06/30/3925470_kentucky-leads-nation-in-federal.html?rh=1.

[v] Id.

[vi] Id.  

[vii] Id.

[viii] Aubrey, supra note 3.

[ix] Patton, supra note 4.

[x] Id.

[xi] Aubrey, supra note 3.