For over a decade, Community Farm Alliance members in Louisville have worked hard championing the development of what we call L.I.F.E. — a locally integrated food economy that provides healthful food to consumers and opens new markets to struggling Kentucky family farmers
In 2007, we published our community food assessment, "Bridging the Divide," which detailed West Louisville's lack of access to healthful, affordable food and revealed the high concentration of fast food restaurants in the affected neighborhoods. While our assessment focused on Louisville's West End, access to healthy, affordable food is a problem all across the state, from Lexington to Pike County to Fulton County.
The health risks associated with the most commonly purchased fast foods (which sometimes turn out to be the only available "food" for blocks, if not miles) are well known and well documented, as are the costs to society in terms of medical care and absenteeism at school and at the workplace as a result of poor health.
Increasing access to healthful, affordable food is therefore necessary to abate our current health crisis. Kentucky farmers can be part of that solution. Kentucky farmers need new markets in order to justify the transition from growing tobacco to raising crops for food. Those markets can be found in our underserved rural and urban communities; however they will not simply materialize. New markets for farmers will need policies and other incentives to make them both attractive and sustainable.
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Regrettably, the proposal by Yum Brands Inc. — owner of KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell — in lobbying Gov. Steve Beshear to make Kentucky one of only a few states to allow the elderly, the disabled and the homeless to use food stamps to purchase prepared meals at fast food restaurants falls far short of being the kind of creative solutions we need to address our commonwealth's food and farm crises.
Indeed, for years now policy-makers across the state have been generating creative collaborations with a wide range of governmental, business and non-profit stakeholders to support the development of a local food economy.
Just this past month, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer named the members of the Food Policy Advisory Council, which will begin to examine the city's entire food system and recommend improvements. Louisville Metro Government and the YMCA are working hard to provide all of its citizens with healthful food through "Healthy in a Hurry," a project that puts fresh fruits and vegetables in corner stores. And most recently, Fischer announced that his office would oversee the development of a LIFE Zone (Local Food Enterprise Zone), an area in which individuals and other entities would be provided with incentives to create new food businesses.
Under the Beshear administration, we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of Kentuckians shopping at farmers markets, many of whom seek out the Kentucky Proud label — a marketing program administered by the Department of Agriculture. The department has also made farmers market produce and meat accessible to seniors and women (with infants and children) by using food stamps.
In one of its more exciting programs, KDA (along with non-profit and other agency partners) has been working with school districts in dozens of counties to bring local food into school cafeterias. First lady Jane Beshear has made local food a priority; she maintains a garden providing the men's homeless shelter in Frankfort fresh produce during harvest season.
We expect our leaders to address the intertwining web of challenges we face today: chronic health conditions, poverty, dwindling markets for family farmers and decaying urban communities just to name a few. We urge all Kentuckians to tell the governor that we need the kind of creative solutions that provide the most vulnerable in our society access to healthy, affordable food and promote the viability of family-scale farming.