by Theresa M. Zawacki, Bingham Fellows Class of 2013 —
After 9 months of planning, countless Friday-morning meetings, an incredible amount of detail management and several moments of panic (what did we forget?), the Louisville Barn Raising took place on January 13-14, 2014. Hosted at 21C Museum/Hotel, and professionally facilitated, the Barn Raising brought together 70 hand-selected individuals working on the supply side of the local food economy for a discussion focused on how we could collectively grow the amount of local food available to meet the roughly $650 million in demand in Louisville. These individuals represented farmers, distributors, processors, institutional food service providers, retailers, investors and policy-makers from across Kentucky.
The idea for the Barn Raising came from the Leadership Louisville Center’s 2013 Bingham Fellows’ focus on developing a smart food culture. A small group of us decided to tackle our local food system. The challenge, understanding how to support the development of the supply side of the local food system, which includes production, aggregation, distribution, processing and food service, would be daunting for individuals, but becomes manageable with experts who can inform that process. Similarly, building a barn is a complicated task that becomes easier when individuals with many different skills come together to work on the project. The Barn Raising was guided by two consultants who are professionals in the field of human behavior and large group dynamics, Karen Wunderlin and Merrell Grant of The Wunderlin Company. Their role in the conference was to assist us in accomplishing our tasks; they had no stake in the outcomes. The activities of the conference were designed so the conference belonged to each attendee individually as well as collectively to the group, as is also true for the future of local food in this community. Over two full days, attendees engaged in a collaborative process intended to identify the future of food production, aggregation, distribution, and processing to address the gap in Louisville’s local food market.
The outcomes of the Barn Raising include eleven unique projects ranging from farmer education about the local food marketplace, to rural aggregation centers with micro-regionally-appropriate value-added processing, to a dairy guild, to an exploration of succession planning techniques for Kentucky farmers. Project goals are to increase food production, develop more aggregation and distribution for local food and find ways to process that food to reach more consumers over longer periods of time. In the coming months, Barn Raising attendees will continue to meet to develop specific plans for specific projects, identify funding to implement them and move them forward. The Barn Raising has already resulted in a preliminary deal between one of the largest institutional food service providers in Kentucky, a regional distribution company and a farmer to supply local produce to six large venues across the state. These outcomes have and will continue to expand opportunities for Kentucky’s farmers to engage with diverse markets for the foods they produce, provide economic opportunity for those working to distribute, process, or serve those foods and foster increased collaboration around local food.
The Louisville Barn Raising was made possible through the generous support of Foxhollow Farm, the Kentucky Agricultural Development Fund, Louisville Metro Government, Chase Bank, 21C Museum/Hotel, Farm Credit MidAmerica, the Arthur K. Smith Foundation, Seed Capital, Kentucky, and of course, the Leadership Louisville Center, through which the Barn Raising Project team was convened, and from which the team received a number of extremely valuable contributions that were essential to the Barn Raising’s success. The Barn Raising Project Team includes Kristopher Kelley, Joel Neaveill, Kelly Garvey, Maggie Keith, Summer Auerbach, B. Todd Bright, Bruce Williams, Duffy Baker, and Theresa Zawacki.