food & grocery: Slow Food USA's National Congress and the local food economy in Louisville, Ky. inspire thoughts about food in Ann Arbor
Kim Bayer | AnnArbor.com Contributor
Last week I had the privilege to be among 150 other chapter leaders at the Slow Food USA National Congress held in Louisville, Ky. It's always inspiring to hear about the incredible food community, farm, and school garden work that more than 225 Slow Food chapters are engaged in around the country — it's like a national version of our own "Local Food Victories." But Kentucky is known more as the land of bluegrass and bourbon than as a leader in the Slow Food movement for "good, clean and fair food."
That's why one thing that made a big impression on me from the National Congress was that Louisville's mayor, Greg Fischer, gave the opening address. The first thing out of his mouth was "The headquarters of Slow Food USA is in Brooklyn, New York? Give me a break. This is the heartland — this is where food comes from."
Mayor Fischer explained that Kentucky has more family farms than any other state, a legacy of the tobacco days. And that although 55 percent of the population resides in cities, the state operates more like a rural state.
He noted that 55 percent of the population consumes about $83 billion dollars worth of food annually, and Louisville's part is about $3 billion. The mayor wants to know: "What part of that can come from local farms?"
So Louisville's Local Food Economy Work Group drafted a report on Building Louisville's Local Food Economy. The premise of the study is "that Louisville, as the state's largest population center, has the potential to increase substantially the amount of food purchased from Kentucky farmers. In addition, the team has considered strategies that have additional benefits besides farm income, such as the community revitalization effects of farmers' markets or the impact that a downtown public market might have on attracting tourists."
They found that to grow the local economy in a way that farmers could support, the city should: expand current farmers' markets; create a year-round indoor public market; strengthen and increase CSA shares sold; create local food distribution infrastructure; encourage restaurants to purchase and market local food; develop area meat and poultry processing facility; and support agritourism.
So of course all of this is making me think about Ann Arbor. From January through April this year, my town held a series of Sustainable Ann Arbor forums, using a $100,000 grant from Home Depot. Attendees were supposed to "get the chance to discuss 15 goals in four areas of sustainability, which include climate and energy, community, land use and access, and resource management."
The overall "Sustainability Framework project aims to reorganize city goals to foster more integrated planning. This project is an 18-month project that will produce an overarching framework that integrates all city planning and a sustainability action plan that will connect overarching goals with quantifiable targets."
Although it is in there, I admit to being disappointed about the role of food and agriculture in Ann Arbor's goals for itself. Tacked on to the Resource Management aspect of the framework's goals is "Local Food — Conserve, protect, enhance, and restore our local agriculture and aquaculture resources." I agree that support for the Greenbelt's farmland protection is crucial, but the vision and the policies for a sustainable local food economy don't seem to have made it into the plan otherwise.
There's a lot going on in the food world here, so I'm puzzled why the city of Ann Arbor is so slow to find ways to implement policies and goals like Louisville's — to create a year-round indoor public market, increase CSA shares sold, create local food distribution infrastructure, encourage restaurants to purchase and market local food, develop area meat and poultry processing facility, and support agritourism.
On the bright side, there are a couple of new farmers' markets starting up soon. The Friday afternoon Dixboro Farmers' Market opens on the northeast side of town on May 18. And the Wednesday Evening Farmers' Market starts up for a second season on May 2.
At the end of his talk to the leaders at the Slow Food National Congress, Mayor Fischer asked, "Why do you think mayors are talking about local food? Because we want the authenticity of the place to draw people here — for the architecture, the culture and good local food. Local government is a catalyst for making it happen. We're trying to lubricate those inflection points to get more good, fresh healthy local food here."
I say Michigan is the heartland, and this is where food comes from. After seeing what's going on in Louisville, I know we could be doing more to support our farmers and food producers and to create a city where people want to live.