KEEP food on FoodPort land

I’m pretty disappointed that the FoodPort didn’t work out.

A lot of good people spent a lot of time and resources trying to realize the project. In early 2015, I attended some of the West Louisville FoodPort Community Council meetings and continued to follow the progress. I know that there was local opposition, and I am sure that any place in the city would have opponents voicing their views and concerns, which would be equally valid and worth considering. From the beginning though, I thought the project would have been transformative for the local neighborhood, as well as the entire city and local agricultural community. I don’t know the details as to why the main tenant disengaged from the project, but if a version of the FoodPort could work on land half the size, like the 12-acre site at the Urban Government Center on Barrett Avenue, I’d love to see it happen … somewhere in our urban core.

If not the UGC, what about the impound lot on Frankfort Avenue?

Even though the FoodPort project won’t happen at 30th and West Liberty streets, I still think that the underlying model of an agricultural, educational and economical development project would work well at the site. I can envision a version of the model, after visiting Growing Power in Milwaukee in early 2009 and a subsequent trip in 2010. I don’t think I could adequately describe the experience, but those visits were some of the most memorable impressions that I’ve had that weren’t related to a family event. I remember standing alone in one of the greenhouses at Growing Power during a cold and dark February evening, the hum and glow of grow lights, the aquarium-like babble of the aquaponic systems nourishing the micro-greens above … it was magical. At that time Growing Power’s main facility was on less than three acres in an inner-core Milwaukee neighborhood that was previously considered a food desert. Will Allen, founder and CEO of Growing Power Inc., was teaching people to be self-sustaining through urban agriculture.

The original high-intensity agricultural operation of Growing Power was on less than three acres of land. Even if it is decided that the community would like to see other types of activity on the 24-acre FoodPort site, I would hope that a useful portion of the site could be carved out to follow Allen’s lead, creating a resource that brings people in the surrounding neighborhoods, as well as the entire city, together to celebrate and participate in our local food system.

I was fortunate as a child to have a grand-pop that devoted the small Croydon, Pennsylvania, property behind his home to a fertile oasis of tomatoes, eggplants, green beans, peppers and lettuce, among many other varieties of vegetables, flowers and even tobacco one year. His less-than-a-quarter-acre yard in an old north Philly suburb has been home to more than 150 tomato plants in a single season. Growing up and tasting a green bean right off the vine, or watching your grandmother make beautiful Italian red sauce from tomatoes and herbs you picked just hours ago, leaves a lasting impression on a person, and one that I think is invaluable to anyone who has the opportunity to experience it. Learning to grow and appreciate food doesn’t have to be expensive, you just need easily accessible examples and caring mentors to guide you.

I don’t know what is best for the now-former FoodPort site, but I hope that whatever happens to that vast amount of land will have a positive impact on the community. The kind of lasting impressions that Growing Power and my grand-pop’s garden had on me. •

Piuma is director of the Urban Design Studio, part of the UofL’s Department of Urban & Public Affairs.