If there’s one thing Louisvillians love, it’s food. We love to make it; we love to eat it; we love to talk about it. And over the past several years, one buzzword has emerged in our discussions of all things culinary: locavore. Farm to table, farm to fork, farm to garage: Restaurants across the ’Ville have been steadily drinking the sustainable Kool-Aid (all-natural and produced right here in Kentucky, of course).
On Oct. 12, Kentucky Country Day School plays host to the Healthy Foods, Local Farms (HFLF) Conference, an all-day extravaganza of talks, breakout sessions and, most importantly, yummy locavore grub. While the rest of the country has begun tuning in to sustainability trends in recent years, Louisville has played host to the HFLF conference for more than a decade, with this fall’s event marking the 14th time the conference has been held in the bluegrass state.
What started with 50 people gathered in a Murray State conference room on a Sunday afternoon has evolved into a multi-faceted event drawing upwards of 400 attendees. “We have seen a change in people’s eating and shopping practices in the past 14 years,” says organizer Aloma Dew. “When we began this, people laughed and said you can’t serve all local, sustainably grown meals, but we did, and we now see other groups doing it and Louisville is known for its local food. We think we played a small part in that new awareness and demand.”
Each year’s conference revolves around a different theme, with this year centered on food sustainability and food justice. Keynote speakers include chef, author and former director of the Healthy and Sustainable Food Program at the Harvard School of Public Health, Barton Seaver; Wenona Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch and author of the book “Foodopoly”; and Michele Morek, coalition leader for UNANIMA, a United Nations NGO that focuses on women and environmental issues.
All three speakers are effusive in their discussions of accessibility to locally grown food and the environmental impact of food production, as well as their desire to get people engaged in the global movement for sustainability, which for them is a matter not only of moral duty but also of common sense.
Morek, whose talk is entitled “The Best Ideas Are Locally Grown: Global Realities of Food and Water,” says, “I want to emphasize a ‘think globally, act locally’ theme. We will look at the global food picture, the environmental impact of producing our food, issues of developed and developing countries, and some solutions — none of them rocket science! Sustainability means ‘living off your interest and not your principal’ … not living beyond your means. If we live sustainably, our descendants seven generations from now will have just as much food (and the water, soil, nutrients and cropland needed to produce it) as we do.”
Dew echoes her sentiments, “All people deserve good, clean, healthy, locally grown food. What we are doing to our land, air and water is also unjust, and some would argue, immoral. Our children and their children will pay the price if we do not protect these resources.” She takes it one step further, positing, “I would also argue that food is a big national security issue. If our people are not healthy and well-nourished, then we are at risk. These issues can no longer be just for the well-to-do.”
These are important issues that merit, and will receive, serious discussion at the HFLF Conference. But Dew is quick to emphasize that the day will not consist solely of sitting in auditoriums, listening to the experts. Above all, the day is intended to be interactive, a community-fueled meeting of the minds that gets people thinking about how we tackle these big buzzword issues on a state, city, community and individual level.
Breakout sessions throughout the day invite healthy debates, with topics ranging from “Sustainability from the Ground Up: Minority and Small Farmers” and “Beyond Voting with Your Fork: Critical Next Steps for the Good Food Movement” to exposés on confined animal feeding operations and a session on youth engagement.
And, of course, there’s the food itself: guilt-free, delicious and served up with a smile, direct from the farm to your fork, spork or eager fingers.
The whole conference is orchestrated to facilitate engagement and personal interactions. Hauter, who has traveled the country denouncing factory farms and promoting local agriculture, says, “With all my talks, I find inspiration from the people I get the chance to meet. Every chance I get to hear their stories, I know this movement is growing and it will make a difference.”
While the past 14 years have seen substantial progress nationwide toward food justice and sustainability, Dew feels the crusade is far from over. “Food and water are most important — eating is an intimate act and it is an environmental act,” she says. “That is what I hope the attendees take away: that eating is personal, environmental, an act of faith and justice and that it will take all of us working together to make a sustainable and just food system. Until all people can eat good, healthy, sustainably grown food; until we all take care of our soil and water; until the people, not corporations, have more power; until then, our work will not be done.”
For more info on the HFLF Conference, go to healthyfoodslocalfarmsconference.org.