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Opening New Markets

‘Farm to Table’ making progress
in connecting farmers, chefs

Effort designed to promote
local food producers in region

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (October 2010) – Metro Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson’s initiative to connect regional farmers and consumers in Louisville seems to be gaining momentum. The program is a collaborative effort of elected officials, small and large businesses, poet and farmer Wendell Berry of Henry County, and county cooperative extension agents.

Sarah Fritschner

Fritschner

“I think we’ve learned a lot during this season,” said Sarah Fritschner, who oversees the program. Fritschner is a former Louisville Courier-Journal Food Editor. The program is supported through grants from the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board and Wired65, a group that is developing a regional economic development strategy.
“Farmers have to make a certain minimum to sell their product,” she said. “If management can help farmers, I think there’s potential for these markets. But without support, it’s unlikely they’ll be successful.”
Traci Missun, Oldham County Cooperative Extension Agent for Agriculture and Natural Resources, said: “One thing that’s often misunderstood about farmers markets is pricing.”
Food at a farmers market may be priced higher than at the local grocery because “the food found at farmers markets is hand-raised, usually with much care by folks who take pride in providing high-quality products to their customers.”
Maryellen Garrison, Henry County Cooperative Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Sciences, said: “Community markets are the first entry point for many farmers just starting to diversify. The markets enable farmers to start produce enterprises and related ventures without necessarily having to make a large-scale investment.”
Fritschner cited four different categories that seem to be working for the Farm to Table program. The first is a one-on-one relationship established between a farmer and a restaurant who agree to make a business deal with each other. She said Stone Cross Farms in Spencer County, Ky., is a good example of this idea.
Stone Cross Farms is selling pork burger to Patrick O’Sheas, located in downtown Louisville by the new arena. It also is selling sausage to BBC Brewery and Restaurant, and pork chops and pork belly to Lilly’s. Fritschner helped orchestrate these weekly sales.
The second category to fall under the program “would be a larger “fix” to the system,” she said. Fritschner is working with Jefferson County Public Schools to incorporate more local food into their meal and snack programs.
“So far, they have purchased some squash for breakfast muffins and figured out that they can use 540 pounds of zucchini per week to make muffins. That product can be frozen, so it’s promising for next year,” she said.
A planning meeting is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. on Oct. 14 at the CB Young Center, located at 3001 Crittenden Dr. (by the Kentucky State Fair and Exposition Center) for all produce and fruit growers interested in selling their locally grown products to the Jefferson County School Lunch program.
Ongoing talks are taking place with Louisville Originals, 40 independently owned restaurants in the Louisville area.
In addition, she said, “We’re working with a produce aggregator-distributor to begin a project that can help farmers grow, grade and sort their products.” The next step would involve finding markets for lesser quality products that may include off-size or over-ripe produce; such products might be appropriate for immediate use in catering businesses or restaurants.
“The benefits of shopping a farmers market is knowing where your food comes from, who produced it and how it was produced,” said Missun. “I believe it’s also vital for consumers to understand food production, and farmers markets are the best place to learn firsthand about this.”
The third category involves multiplying the solutions, Fritschner said. A workshop is being planned to bring large-volume buyers in contact with distributors, aggregators and others to support wholesale and large-volume sales at affordable prices. Fritschner said the fourth category consists of identifying barriers to progress.
She spent the winter months attempting to sell the idea of a corporate CSA. “The idea seemed a little too foreign for most corporations to bite, but SHPS was interested in a farmers market,” said Fritschner. SHPS is a local health care company located on Bluegrass Parkway in Louisville. A Trimble County farmer and a Shelby County farmer set up a sort of mini market on site for about two hours at the end of the day. “SHPS is extremely supportive of this event; we consider them full partners.”
“Farmers markets are an integral part of the growing interest in agritourism,” Garrison said. “In addition to fresh produce and other farm products, many people are interested in the stories and experiences of agricultural production. Community farmers markets provide all of these attractions in one location.”
Fritschner said there is a lot of potential for this program. “I have many, many future goals.” One being the Institutional Food Market meeting on Nov. 5 in partnership with Bellarmine University Center for Regional Environmental Studies.
This meeting will include several panels to help business owners, such as school food services, hospitals, universities and banquet facilities, address barriers to buying local in their operations.
“It’s important for citizens to support local businesses and farms in order to help their community thrive,” Missun said.
The Louisville Farm to Table Program is the result of a study completed by the Economic Development office. The program recommended expansion of neighborhood farmers markets, and for the city of Louisville to aid in serving as the connector between farmers and consumers.

• For more information about the Louisville Farm to Table Program, contact Sarah Fritschner at (502) 396-5457 or visit: www.louisvilleky.gov/HealthyHometown/farmtotable.

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