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Food summit hopes to sprout local gardens

Locally grown food is healthier for people and for the environment, and it's definitely better for the economy, Jim Embry says.

To encourage the eat-local movement, Embry would like to see every school, every church and every empty lot in Kentucky sprout a garden.

When doing missionary work, churches could send young people out to work on local farms. Hospitals could promote good health by having a community garden and a farmers market. "Healthy bodies begin with what we put in our bodies," Embry said.

Embry, director of the Sustainable Communities Network, is an organizer of the Bluegrass Food Security Summit, being held Thursday and Friday at Crestwood Christian Church. The summit is intended to bring people from diverse backgrounds together to share ideas on ways to create more community, school and church gardens.

"For us to have a sustainable environmental with a healthy food system, we have to eat local," Embry said.

The lineup of conference speakers and resource people includes teachers, farmers, health providers, church members, environmentalists and government officials.

Participants also plan to discuss how to lessen the negative effect of the food system on our culture. Embry said that includes the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers and dependence on machinery to cultivate crops and petroleum to transport food.

Erick Walles, who owns a 10-acre organic farm in Fayette County, said, "The carbon footprint for our current food transportation industry is very large.

"Transportation costs and the amount of petroleum used by trucks and ships to haul food coast to coast and around the world is enormous."

One local restaurant owner who buys okra from Walles told him that the okra he previously served came from Ecuador.

"I'm the first Kentucky farmer who has sold them okra," Walles said. "That's just an example of our impact on the environment just from the food we eat."

At the food conference, Walles will talk about his transition five years ago from a career as a polymer chemist to an organic farmer. He and his wife, Gayle, operate Berries on Bryan Station, a community sustainable agriculture farm and a strawberry patch where you can pay to pick berries in the spring.

Jeff Dabbelt, manager of the Lexington Farmers Market, said it is vitally important to know and interact with the people who grow your food and to pay them a fair price for their work. "There's the rub, because most people are fixated on price alone," he said.

Also at the summit, Josh Radner, a science lab teacher at Yates Elementary School, and Amy Sither, a science and math teacher at Montessori Middle School on Stone Road, plan to discuss their experience starting a school garden and incorporating it into the curriculum.