Groundswell Goes to Kentucky, Finds Friends in the Local & Just Foods Movement

Wendell Berry greets the crowd at the SAEA conference.

By Sam Bosco, Groundswell CRAFT Coordinator

It may be strange to see Groundswell, Lexington, Kentucky (over 650 miles away), and the word “local” in the same sentence. But indeed, two weeks ago, Groundswell and over a hundred people from across the country (and some from as far as Norway) descended upon the University of Kentucky’s (UK) campus from August 4th through the 5th to engage in a national conversation about education in local, sustainable agriculture – for students of higher education, youth, and adult learners, especially those in traditionally underserved communities. 

The Sustainable Agriculture Education Association (SAEA) provides the only forum for discussing education within sustainable agriculture on a national level. I represented Groundswell at the Association’s 4th conference,  presenting about Groundswell’s mission to provide diverse learners the access to knowledge and resources, through our educational programs, in order to facilitate the growth of a sustainable and equitable food system. 

In a series dedicated to new farmer training programs, I gave Groundswell’s presentation alongside the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, Michigan State Univserity’s Organic Farmer Training Program, and the Farm Life Ecology Summer Intensive at Green Mountain College (Poultney, VT). The overall notion was that there is no one right way to grow a farmer and the diversity of approaches shared by the presenters is a testament to this. We all felt that each others’ offerings provided learning experiences and resource access in unique ways suited to our local context.

Through a Service-Learning field trips organized by the conference, Groundswell was able to meet and briefly partner with two organizations dedicated to bringing fresh, local food to those that need it the most. Seedleaf is small not-for-profit community garden on donated land in downtown Lexington whose mission is to “increase the amount, affordability, nutritional value, and sustainability of food available to people at risk of hunger in central Kentucky.” They accomplish this through several avenues: offering community garden space, work share u-pick, food preservation and cooking workshops, personal garden installments, garden based educational programs, community-wide composting, and food distribution.

    FaithFeeds is another not-for-profit “cooperative association of individuals and faith communities who seek to assist in alleviating hunger in the Bluegrass”. FaithFeeds engages in four main activities to support their mission: gleaning extra or utility grade produce from local farmers, cooking workshops for youth and adults, urban garden installation, and food preservation of gleaned goods. Since June 2010 they have gleaned 59,000 lbs of food; 21,500 lbs of which is from this year alone! All of the acquired food is donated, raw or preserved, to several emergency food providing agencies. Groundswell helped to glean nearly 300 lbs of peaches and yellow squash (check out the pictures on the FaithFeeds website)! Now central Kentucky has a bit of Ithaca love.

    One of the most jovial moments was during an astounding farm-to-table farmside feast at the UK organic research and CSA South Farm. The meal was catered by local chefs as well as the UK Sustainable Agriculture Program’s own chef, Bob Perry, specializing in farm-to-table meals. After the feast, we were surprised by a guest speaker: Wendell Berry, a prolific agrarian writer, Kentucky native, and friend and confidant of the College of Agriculture’s Dean, M. Scott Smith. Wendell read us his short story titled Sold, a historical and current commentary on the loss of small farms in the United States. After the reading he answered a few questions. An audience member asked him, “Mr. Berry, do you have hope?” Wendell replied, “Yes. But, hope is a virtue, we cannot assume it.” At that moment I felt his words speaking through to the core of Groundswell and I was reminded of why Groundswell (and each of the other groups at the conference) was there: to change the story of the present and help to write the story of small farms in the future.

Sam Bosco is Groundswell’s CRAFT coordinator. He is also a graduate student studying horticulture at Cornell University, where he is president of the New World Agriculture & Ecology Group.