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Kentucky conference urges healthy foods, sustainable economies
By ROBERT RIGGS Kentucky Correspondent LOUISVILLE, Ky. — To promote farming as a cooperative industry of food workers and local entrepreneurs, famous author, chef, restaurateur, local foods advocate and children’s health activist Alice Waters was keynote speaker at the eighth annual Healthy Foods, Local Farms conference held in Louisville Sept. 28-29.

A Kentucky Department of Agriculture marketing department grant helped foot the bill for the fun event, which included a harvest festival on the grounds of historic Waldeck Mansion in Crestwood, Ky., on Friday evening. Saturday saw a symposium of related lectures presented on the campus of Bellarmine University in nearby Louisville.

The conference was organized by the Sierra Club of Louisville, the Slow Foods Bluegrass organization and others. It was Sierra’s ninth year of hosting the event, the purpose of which is to bring together area farmers and the local community.

Sierra Club spokesperson Aloma Dew from Owensboro, Ky., was on hand for the entire conference. She said the organization’s goal is to reconnect people with their food, so they might know who grew it, where it was grown and under what conditions it was grown, and to educate people – starting with children – about good, nutritious food.

“Food is elemental; it is one of the most intimate things we do,” Dew said.

According to Dew, the Sierra Club never asks producers who participate in “local foods” events to discount or donate their food because the whole point is to promote them as part of a larger sustainable local food economy, which she said is good for everyone.

The festival conference kickoff was a tasting of several local restaurant recipes by supporters who paid to attend the event and maybe catch a glimpse of a favorite author, chef or farmer. For the event to be educational, producers and chefs stood by each table to serve and discuss the ingredients of the generous portions of culinary delight provided by each team.

James Durr is marketing director for Kentucky Bison Co. (KBC), which supplied the meat for regular customer Proof Restaurant On Main, of Louisville. Courtney, an employee in Proof’s kitchen, said the restaurant prepared braised oxtail with a house-made ricotta pasta dish for the festival. He added KBC’s Woodland Farm in Oldham County is the single largest property on Kentucky’s Historic Registry.

“Oxtail is classically a Southern delicacy,” Durr explained. “It requires slow and low-heating heat cooking.”

Producer Kathy Wheeler, with her husband, Scott, raises heritage turkeys at STAR Farm in Hardyville, Ky. She said the conference on Saturday turned out well. It was jam-packed with people and the speakers, she said, were wonderful. Although Wheeler did not present that day, she was able to exhibit some of her flyers, business cards and special recipes for cooking Bourbon Red Turkey.

For the previous night’s tasting, the Wheelers had paired with Limestone Restaurant of Louisville. Chefs Michael Cunha and Jim Gerhardt served delicious Turkey Pot Pie made with Sour Mash Biscuit.

STAR Farms’ beloved motto is “Bourbon Red Turkey – A Kentucky Heritage Worth the Tradition.” Wheeler said heritage turkeys, a staple during the 1930s and 1940s, have a slow growth rate, taking twice as long as today’s commercial birds. The raising of heritage turkeys is considered part of the Slow Foods movement.

This year’s Healthy Foods, Local Farms conference keynote authority Waters attended college in Paris, France, in the late 1960s to early 1970s. This seems to be where she developed her consuming philosophy that food is an “indispensable part of life,” something that can “put you in harmony with the world.”

After college, Waters started a restaurant in Berkley, Calif., and from there became a spokesperson for the “buy local, buy organic” movement. She also authored such books as Fresh From the Farmers’ Market along with Janet Fletcher and Victoria Pearson, Slow Food: The Case For Taste with Carlo Petrini and William McCuaig and, in 2007, The Art of Simple Food.