FIELD REPORT: Kentucky Local Food Systems Summit 2023


The Food Connection at the University of Kentucky hosted and organized the Summit in Lexington. Attending this summit was an opportunity to deepen our network and support the efforts of state-wide organizations in Kentucky.

By Greater Cincinnati Regional Food Policy Council,

Published March 31, 2023

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Contributor: Amanda Lukas

Our Community Connections Coordinator, Amanda, attended the Kentucky Local Food Systems Summit on March 29, 2023. The Food Connection at the University of Kentucky hosted and organized the Summit in Lexington. Attending this summit was an opportunity to deepen our network and support the efforts of state-wide organizations in Kentucky.

If you don’t already know, the Greater Cincinnati Regional Food Policy Council has a ten-county region, and that region includes four counties in Northern Kentucky! Opportunities like the Local Food Systems Summit allows us to keep a pulse on what is happening in the state, so our work can better align with current efforts.

Map of Green Umbrella & the FPC’s 10-County Region

Event Summary

The Summit’s energy was inspiring, energizing, and reflective of the state-wide effort to bring more local foods into institutions like the University, public schools, restaurants, and workplaces. The Summit’s spotlight on local farmers and producers through breakfast, lunch, and dinner options aligned well with the goal of the evening. The breakout sessions were informative yet collaborative in nature. Now we can get into some of the details of the opening panel and first breakout session!

Profiles of the Event Speakers

Session Highlights

Opening Panel Discussion

Amanda was struck by the efforts and passion of the opening panelists when they discussed Kentucky Local Food Systems and their roles within the system. The Opening Discussion Panel was an opportunity to amplify the “doers” of the food system: people with boots on the ground working to create and expand the bedrock of the food system.

The themes of the Opening Panel were strategic planning, long-term partnership building, deliberate actions, and intentional outreach and change.

The panelists were realistic about the challenges of producing or growing, preparing, and distributing food, including:

  • converting to more sustainable and specialty crop practices
  • utilizing the land and resources that are currently available to generate more revenue
  • overcoming the stigma around working as a front-line worker or food producer, since culturally it isn’t deemed a profitable or important job
  • competing with larger businesses so employees and owners both can make livable wages with incentives
  • diversifying products, services, and outreach in an ever-changing social landscape

The COVID-19 pandemic and its continuing repercussions on the local food system were common themes. The pandemic highlighted the flaws in the long food supply chain American agriculture is built on. However, there are still many more challenges like money, staff, and resources that local, smaller producers face, making it difficult for them to scale up, despite the lessons learned from the pandemic.

One example of a lesson learned came from a panelist whose business was able to hire more people during the pandemic, instead of laying employees off, as a result of flexibility and willingness to diversify the company’s services. Steven Clem from Clem’s Refrigerated Foods described the process of pivoting his business when he realized their typical way of operating wasn’t conducive to the atmosphere created by the pandemic. In addition to nimble adaptability, long-term preparation for business diversification came in handy. In years prior, Steven saw the need to register as a local meat processor, which allowed his business to fill a much-needed gap during the pandemic.

Here are some additional snippets from panelists’ stories:

  • When asked about working an off-farm full-time job and farming full-time, Travis Cleaver from Cleav’s Family Market said, “You gotta be your own bank.”
  • When asked how to pay a livable wage to farm workers, Michelle Howell from Need More Acres Farm suggested this strategy: “Employees can make $12 per hour if they can produce $25 per hour revenue for the farm. This inspires innovation and ownership by the employees.”
  • When asked about what is a significant problem with our current food system, Kristin Smith from The Wrigley Taproom & Eatery said, “Our current food system is broken. Partially this is due to racism. In addition, it is hard to compete with the incentives available at larger businesses.”
  • When asked about the cost of food grown by smaller farmers, Travis Cleaver said, “You want cheap food, you’ll get cheap results.”
The Opening Panel bridged the three session tracks for the event: Value Chain Coordination, Cultivating a Just, Equitable, + Resilient Local Food System, and Where Are We Going?

Breakout Session One: Louisville’s Food in Neighborhoods

This post would be too long if we wrote in depth about all of the three breakout sessions Amanda attended, so we focused on the breakout session hosted by Louisville’s Food in Neighborhoods.

Food in Neighborhoods (FIN) became Louisville’s de-facto Food Policy Council, after the original Food Policy Council was disbanded. It is a community coalition of individuals working in the food system space. FIN focuses on land access as a form of liberation, vacant property buying programs, and food literacy advocacy opportunities.

During the breakout session, FIN spotlighted one case study about their work around Louisville’s vacant property buying program:

FIN supported the owner of Louisville’s Hope Garden during a complex vacant property purchasing process. Hope Garden was established on a piece of land that had a vacant lot next to it. The owner took care of and even cultivated the vacant land for five years, hosting movie nights and food education opportunities, and planting produce and pollinator plots. The owner wanted to buy the vacant lot and went through the appropriate process to do so. Louisville has a city ordinance that created a vacant property buying program. However, it took eighteen months of work and another three months for the owner to get the deed for the land he was taking care of. It is an example that spotlights the collaborative efforts of the owner and FIN.

Some lessons FIN highlighted during the breakout session include:

  • Radical Hospitality is a vital piece of advocacy. Inviting the media, city, and county leaders to the project, location, or event encourages people to see the benefits.
    • FIN engages in Radical Hospitality through the South and West-side AGriculture (SWAG) Tours for the City of Louisville and Jefferson County agriculture policymakers, in addition to hosting other events and activities.
  • The Hope Garden case study highlights the institutional racism shaping the food system and its policies.
    • The vacant property (among the many others in Louisville) was on the West Side of Louisville. The West Side of Louisville is a historically underserved area of Louisville, and the population consists of predominantly Black and brown citizens.
    • FIN tries to address institutional racism by starting every meeting with the public, its coalition members, and/or city policymakers with a training session on Louisville’s history of racism.
  • Food Policy work requires not only buy-in but also a mindset change to encourage the long-term adoption of equity. We should work to shift the mindset from “scarcity” to “abundance,” particularly for individuals who hold a place of privilege.
    • Supporting underserved populations through increased access to resources helps elevate the entire population and doesn’t detract from others.
    • Equity allows an even playing field, so socioeconomic and racial obstacles are not limits to individuals’ success and opportunities.
  • It is essential to “collect people and organizations” (as FIN members put it) who are on board as a coalition or collaborative to create real, impactful change.
    • Coalition or collaborative work requires people keep showing up, whether at board meetings, local area business chamber events, or during coalition opportunities.
Louisville’s Food in Neighborhoods shared images of the work they drive in their community as illustrations of their guiding principles.

In Closing

There was so much collaborative and inspiring energy during the Kentucky Local Food Systems Summit, and the Food Policy Council was honored to be a part of it! Check out these featured organizations to learn more about some of the work the event featured:

The Food Connection at UK

Louisville Food in Neighborhoods

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