Hard At Work
My colleague’s effort to better connect Rural to Metro
On July 29 Henry County and Louisville came together to celebrate the grand opening of Capstone Produce Market. Capstone was started by David Neville, a farmer from Henry County. Capstone sells local produce to individuals and businesses at a Southern States Farm Center that closed some years back.
This is a source of hope. A business dependent on tobacco-dependent farmers has been replaced by a business selling local food, raised on former tobacco farms. It is a sign of a local food infrastructure that those of us concerned about the future of farming and food have long wished for. Along with farmers’ markets and CSAs, central markets at which food can be gathered for transport into Louisville are essential if we are to reduce our dependency on imported food.
Mayor Greg Fisher attended the July 29 event to speak again of his commitment to Louisville’s support of the local food infrastructure. Roger Thomas, representing the Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy and the Agricultural Development Board, was on hand to signify his approval and support of Capstone.
On the face of it, the event probably looked like all such events do. There was a ribbon cutting, a few words from local and state officials and ice cream served by hospitable little girls. But to those of us who live in Henry County, where the farms and little towns are at best showing signs of decay and at worst have decayed, the cooperation between Metro Louisville and its neighbors is the best encouragement we have received in a long time.
Also in attendance at Capstone was Sarah Fritschner. Sarah’s work with Metro Louisville, like David Neville’s in Henry County, is to connect food producers with food consumers, sellers with buyers. Her role as editor of this magazine has the same goal.
Sarah was the food editor for Louisville’s Courier-Journal for 25 years. Without her work and influence at the Courier, Louisville’s farmers’ markets wouldn’t be as numerous as they now are. Sarah would say that many people worked hard on those markets, and she would be right, but her work in seeking out excellent local food and giving people needed information and recipes for the preparation of that food was essential.
In fact, her work at the newspaper turned out to be an invaluable preparation for her work now with the Louisville Farm to Table Program. This program grew out of the efforts of the Local Food Economy Work Group, composed of elected officials of Jefferson, Henry, Shelby, Oldham, Spencer and Trimble Counties; owners of local businesses; and county cooperative extension agents. Sarah’s job, supported by several grants, including one from the Kentucky Agricultural Development Fund, was one of the recommendations of a study commissioned by the Louisville Metro Economic Development Department.
The scope of Sarah’s job is huge. Here is a partial list of her responsibilities:
- Working with farmers who are already growing food for local markets.
- Finding farmers who are interested in producing food.
- Finding markets for local food producers.
- Trying to balance supply and demand.
- Working to establish prices that allow both producers and businesses to make a profit.
- Helping us all to understand the need for economic connections between the city of Louisville and the countryside around it.
Sarah is working with the Jefferson County Public School lunch program to partner schools with farmers to get local food onto the trays of the children of Louisville. To connect our young people with good food — and to teach them something about that food — is to begin the work of making citizens, not just consumers, and the schools should be praised for that effort.
Because the U.S. Department of Agriculture has asked schools to use more local fruits and vegetables in school lunch, it creates a large, predictable market for farmers. These relationships, and the contracts that come with them, are a step forward in understanding how an economic connection might work. Tobacco farmers had contracts, and predictable income from year to year. Food farmers, too, need predictable incomes.
Just as it is wonderful to have Sarah in place and knowledgeable about local food producers and working with the schools, she is also working with restaurant owners and chefs in Louisville. Lilly’s restaurant on Bardstown Road has been committed to our area farmers since it opened 25 years ago. Chef/owner Kathy Cary says that when she first started her business it was hard to find local produce, much less dairy products and meat, and she had to find it all (this summer Kathy is serving up to 95% local food).
Now, when Kathy or the chefs at the Bristol Bar and Grille or Bistro 301, to name just a few of the restaurants Sarah works with, need more local products, they can call Sarah. I know that when Kathy was having trouble finding local veal, Sarah introduced her to the people at Marksbury Farm, a meat-processing plant in Garrard County. That introduction allowed a chef committed to local farmers to keep a popular entrée on her menu and buy product from a business that supports 25 Central Kentucky farmers.
If it is possible to find what a chef needs, Sarah will find it. I think any chef in the city will tell you that that kind of facilitation will make getting local food into more restaurants and onto more tables doable.
Sarah has brought to her work with the Louisville Farm to Table Program an understanding of the “whole” of what she is working with. She understands the work of Louisville’s cooks in high-end restaurants, in school cafeterias and in home kitchens.
From our perspective out in Henry County’s countryside, she has been our friend and our champion. She works like a good farmer works: with energy, interest, curiosity, affection, bullheadedness and love. She has found her vocation and her avocation.