A few weeks ago I heard a fairly new phrase during the What Now, Lexington un-conference put on by Progresslex. It was a session on local foods and some brainstorming about new funding and branding potions which might be available. The new label is a Food Innovation District.
First off, the skeptic in me does not want to hear “food “and “innovation” put together in a title since the revelation of gene splicing and genetic engineering. Mrs. Sweeper and I wish to keep our food intake to the most natural and local of ways possible. The taste of a tomato from the garden is so much fresher than one from the farm and way better than one which has been traveling for several weeks. I know how I feel and look after traveling for a few weeks.
Some of the recent innovations in GMO foods surely have not been tested as to their long-term effects on the human body, either from the steady build up or the interactions of seemingly separate and benign species experiments. These so called Frankenfoods have not been around long enough to understand if they “play nice” with your body and themselves.
Within the last two decades we have seen a “revolutionary new sweetener” come to market and be embraces warmly as well as used widely. It did its job of sweetening foods but was not absorbed into nor broken down by either the body or nature. Today there are huge concentrations of its base ingredient being located in the world's rivers and oceans. It can even be monitored as a component of the Gulf Stream off of the Atlantic seaboard.
Since the University of Kentucky has the goal of becoming a top 20 research university and they are a “land grant” institution, armed with all of the elements which would allow them to be true food innovators, does this bode well as a Food Innovation District?
The optimist in me (as well as one who loves to eat) hopes for the type of gastronomic wonders which Mrs. Sweeper and I have watched on such TV shows as Iron Chef (both the original and the Americanized versions), MasterChef, the Taste and many others. These are competitions where being creative can give you an edge.
I have talked about so many of the new dining venues which have sprung up lately and we have tried as many as we can. That same creative flair will give a restaurant an edge also. The Lexington area has quite a few quality chefs and will now have a former TV contestant as head chef at the soon to open TheJax. Being a Harrodsburg native and working in downtown Lexington, will she help make the whole Central Kentucky area a Food Innovation District?
In reality, the concept comes out of the Michigan Good Foods Charter, a statewide policy platform. Their definition for it is:
A geographic concentration of food oriented businesses, services and community activities which local governments support through planning and economic development initiatives in order to promote a positive business environment, spur regional food system development, and increase access to local food.
I think that Lexington could make a pretty good case for being a Food Innovation District, what with the research at the University and the land grant charge, our Kentucky Proud program of the state's Agriculture Department, our increasing numbers of farmers markets and local growers and local consumers. With planning and concerted effort it can work and we currently have folks who are striving for a few small, baby steps. Imagine what we could do with a little more focus.
For those of you who might like a little more information on the local food movement, I suggest that you check out the Lexington FoodHub site at your leisure. If you are a producer looking for a market or a consumer looking for a product, let them try to help out. If it is happening in local food, I think that you can find the information there.
Lets be innovative.