High South Foodways
Creating Market Pathways for Kentucky Farms
The cultural, social, and economic practices relating to the production and consumption of food
The Kentuckiana Food Aggregation Project
Kentuckiana: A region surrounding the city of Louisville, Kentucky
along the Kentucky and Indiana border.
Throughout the years, businesses have come and gone in our region with very few finding a way to sustain their operations and build a reliable market for small family farms. At the same time, farmers and food system advocates have come together to discuss the challenges and brainstorm solutions. We participated in many of these conversations and began asking ourselves, “How can we take these ideas, check the assumptions against the real market, and move toward solutions?” We were hearing assumptions about what the problem was, but if we were going to launch a business with its main purpose being to provide reliable, wholesale market access to small-scale producers, we needed to know the facts. We needed to have conversations with producers and buyers and collect data that would support these assumptions.
About a dozen local food studies were conducted in the region that dug into issues of supply, demand, and everything in between. Many of these studies advised creating an aggregation-type business as a way to address the producers’ need to have their products marketed and sold on their behalf so they could focus on increasing production and producing a high-quality product. This informed our decision to test this advice and conduct a study to see if an aggregation business would in fact be feasible in the Kentuckiana region.
This study became the Kentuckiana Food Aggregation Project. The goal of the Kentuckiana Food Aggregation Project is to identify the feasibility of an aggregation business that creates a path for small-sized food producers to sell into the existing wholesale distribution system in our region. Ideally, the business would pull together products from many different farms to distribute to buyers in a way that is producer-friendly and increases the direct farm impact.
The question we drew from this goal was:
Can an aggregation business meet the needs of small-sized farmers in our region to access wholesale markets and become financially sound in three years without depending heavily on grant support?
Who we are
We are three local food advocates living in Louisville, Kentucky, who have worked as community organizers, program managers, and farmers and gardeners over the last 6 years. In 2016, we became equal partners in a Limited Liability Corporation we named High South Foods, LLC and began raising the funds needed to launch a research project.
Rachel Brunner is the Program Manager at Common Earth Gardens, Louisville’s refugee
agriculture program. She studied agricultural economics, community food systems, and international agriculture at the University of Missouri and has since used a community organizing approach to support urban agriculture efforts, regional food system development, and to manage and grow local food programs, sales, and production systems in Louisville, KY, New York City, Nashville, TN, and Pittsburgh, PA.
Lilias Pettit-Scott is the Urban Agriculture Conservationist for the Jefferson County Soil and Water Conservation District. Over the past 10 years she has worked with numerous small-scale agriculture projects in an administrative capacity in Northern California and Louisville, KY. She has also worked on three specialty crop and meat production farms ranging in size
from 1 acre to 40 acres. She lives in Louisville, KY on a double-lot in Schnitzelburg with a small fruit orchard and apiary.
Laura Tornes has worked in community development and network cultivation locally and
internationally as a Community Food Security Coordinator, Program Assistant for International Disaster Response and Development, Neighborhood Liaison, and
performance consultant. She comes to this project with expertise and experience in community food justice, facilitation, community organizing, grant reporting and accounting, and project management.
Our conversations with local food producers and our study of the potential for food aggregation in the Kentuckiana food region's economy resulted in the creation of three documents: A feasibility study, a literature review, and a guide on how you can conduct your own feasibility study in your area. Take a look at our findings and see how this information can help you build the local food economy in your community.
Guide to Your Own Study
This project would not have been possible without the support and partnership of our farmer-led advisory board, the producers and buyers who participated in surveys and interviews:
The Kentucky Center for Agriculture and Rural Development
Louisville and Bluegrass Farm to Table Coordinators
The Food Connection at UK
The Bluegrass Harvest program of Community Ventures