Thursday, April 1, 2010

Sustainable And Nourishable Places

It is no secret that I am very pro local food. Mrs. Sweeper and I have tried our best to find, buy and prepare local foods. That is why we frequent the farmers markets of the area and have joined a cowshare program. I also have not been shy in commenting about the shortcomings of the Kentucky Proud program that is run by the Ky. State Agriculture Department.

It has not been an easy task to find certain local food services, but why is it an even more onerous task for the local farmer?

The idea of knowing where your food comes from is appealing to more and more families every day. Concern over food safety and eating of a healthy diet is in the news on a daily basis. So, why are the local, state and federal regulatory agencies not doing more for the growing “locavore” enthusiasts?

Sustainable development and sustainable cities have been buzzwords in the planning literature for several years and yet we are no closer to achieving such a system than we were thirty years ago. These words are now creeping into our mayoral election and yet we still hear of no solutions being put forth by any of the candidates.

Lately, I have seen a new designation put forth, a label of Nourishable Places. Nourishable Places are ones that grow a significant portion of their food within a few miles of where it is eaten AND could grow more in a long emergency. Unfortunately they are found in very few locations in the First World today. The typical ingredients for a family meal – what is that these days?- will travel over 1,300 miles to get to the table. It is getting worse daily.

In some parts of the country, particularly the Northwest, things are changing. According to there are more, smaller farms developing on the urban fringes of their Olympic area cities. Even places like Detroit MI and Dayton, OH. are looking at vegetable farming on some of their abandoned residential properties. There are places in Lexington where we could use some of our reclaimed urban floodplain land for community garden plots if need be.

Those actions may help us out in the fruits and vegetables department but will do us no good for the rearing of farm animals. But here too there we are seeing an increase in the number of small farms.

There are now new problems with this rise on farm animal production on small farms and that is, where do they get their processing done? The number of slaughterhouses nationwide declined to 809 in 2008 from 1,211 in 1992, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. America’s small independent farmers are now being forced to schedule their slaughters BEFORE the animals are born AND drive them hundreds of miles to slaughtering facilities. This added movement causes an unneeded stress on the animals and expense to the farmer.

The interest in grass fed and finished or even organic beef and lamb and the non antibiotic, no hormone added production of these animals means that using some of the larger slaughterhouses opens the possibility of introducing e-coli and other unwanted contaminants.

Slaughterhouses should not be placed just anywhere and certainly not in the most urban parts of a state, but as a matter of economic development and employment generators, they are something that a politician should be aware of.

Lexington may one day find that the concept of “peak oil” or “climate change” is real, or maybe there could be a natural or man made disaster requiring that we sustain ourselves. So far, I think that we as a city would fail the sustainability test. We are somewhat positioned, with the PDR program, to have land in the county that could be used for food production (you know, we cannot eat the horses) but we are lacking in the processing facilities necessary for a city of this size. Home canning, for the most part, is a lost art among the youth of today and butchering may mean that they would have to get their hands dirty, so we may be in trouble.

High-tech, healthcare and horses may be of some priority is certain circles and a vibrant, socially conscious downtown is a priority in others, while health and human safety or social responsibility and government corruption will highlight another’s political rhetoric. If we don’t try to arrange for our very basic needs of good food and water, all of it locally grown or collected and processed, then it may all be for nought.


Hilary Baumann said...

I thought I heard something about meat packing being put in somewhere between Lexington and Danville but I'm not sure it would include slaughter. I have no details and can't even remember who mentioned it so don't hold me to it.

Streetsweeper said...

I believe that that may be our friends at Better Beef in Paint Lick, just east of Lancaster. I get turned around down there also.

I did find this list of Kentucky slaughterhouses online,

I hope that this list is a growing one.

Steve Mouzon said...

Just saw your post... thanks for the mention of Nourishable Places! We really need to be thinking about how to accomplish this better in the near future. For more on the idea, please check out, which describes nourishability as an essential part of sustainability because if you can't eat there, you can't live there. We can eat whatever we want wherever we want today, but as fuel costs rise, that won't always be so.