Tom Eblen

EBLEN: Where's your food coming from?

Do you ever worry about where your next meal is coming from? Maybe you should.

I don't mean how you will pay for it, although that seems to be a concern for more and more people these days.

I mean literally where it's coming from, what's in it and whether the food and the methods used to produce it are good for your body, your community and your environment.

Those issues brought more than 100 people to Crestwood Christian Church last Thursday and Friday for the Bluegrass Food Security Summit. Organized by community activist and local dynamo Jim Embry, the summit was a place for farmers, educators, social workers, government bureaucrats and even clergy to talk about how to make this region better-fed and more environmentally sustainable.

The scientific and economic revolution that reshaped American agriculture after World War II did a lot of good, and a lot of bad. Many family farms were replaced by industrial agriculture that could produce more food cheaper and more efficiently. But cheap food has had other costs.

Pesticides and herbicides have contaminated soil and water. Overuse of antibiotics in animals has led to drug-resistant infections in people. Industrially processed food and fast-food culture have caused a decline in nutrition among many segments of the population.

Cheaply produced meat, vegetables and fruits are trucked great distances to market — something that will be less possible as oil supplies diminish and prices rise.

Controlled-feeding animal operations — such as the hog and chicken farms that plague many parts of rural Kentucky — produce huge amounts of waste that pollute groundwater and create an unbearable stench for miles around.

Things are changing, though, as more people seek healthier and tastier foods. Kentucky is making more progress than many states, thanks to wise investment of tobacco settlement money in agricultural diversification. And the family farm is being re-invented in many parts of the state, thanks to groups like the Community Farm Alliance, which is celebrating its 25th year.

Kentucky has seen tremendous growth recently in organic and naturally produced meat and produce, much of it on small, family-owned farms that sell through farmers' markets and community-supported agriculture (CSA) plans. The University of Kentucky now even has an organic farm and CSA operation — and a degree program in sustainable agriculture.

Co-op groceries that focus on fresh, locally produced food are becoming more popular. Lexington's Good Foods Co-op on Southland Drive now has nearly 5,200 owners.

There also has been a lot of emphasis on starting school and neighborhood gardens, a focus of such organizations as Seedleaf (www.seedleaf.org) and Embry's Sustainable Communities Network (www.sustainlex.org).

In Lexington, gardens have been created in many neighborhoods; at Bryan Station High School; the Chrysalis House program for women with substance-abuse problems; the Bluegrass Domestic Violence Program; and at Employment Solutions, a company that provides vocational training to unemployed people.

Outside Lexington, many organizations are working to promote local food alternatives and environmental stewardship. One notable example is Sustainable Berea (www.sustainableberea.org), which offers workshops in gardening and related skills and helps people in the Madison County community plant berry bushes and fruit trees.

"It's an issue of stewardship," the Rev. Kory Wilcoxson, senior pastor at Crestwood Christian, said at the summit's opening session. "When you read the Bible, the world was started in a garden."

Many of Lexington's community gardens have a strong emphasis on participation by children and youth, and there were many of them at the summit's opening dinner and program Thursday evening. Embry believes that children are the key to steering society back to the local food and sustainability ethics that were the norm in America until the late 20th century.

"The great work of this century is to restore the sacredness of the earth and its connections to ourselves," Embry said. "It means we have to find new ways of doing things. We don't want our children to inherit the problems we created."

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