In February I had the good fortune to attend the New Partners for Smart Growth conference, having been asked to speak on a panel focused on value chain innovation clusters. I was especially pleased to be amongst such a professionally diverse group, including elected officials from every level, city planners, architects, nonprofit executives, realtors, arts groups, advocates for equity and environmental justice, and more.
My co-presenters were Dan Carmody, President of Eastern Market Corporation in Detroit, and Sydney DeLuna, Program Manager of The Redd on Salmon Street in Portland, Oregon. In what was really more of a conversation than presentation, we discussed the challenges and opportunities of developing community-scale food infrastructure, including how food innovation districts can serve as anchors for jobs creation and retention, economic development, innovation and entrepreneurship. We talked about how to incorporate communities of color and disadvantaged communities in this work and how to steward resources of land and water. We also talked about the opportunity that these projects afford to connect urban and rural communities.
It was interesting and exciting to see the West Louisville FoodPort project juxtaposed between the Eastern Market, the largest historic market in the US (with a legacy dating back to the 1800s—think Louisville’s Hay Market if only we had had the foresight to keep it around), and the Redd on Salmon Street, a small-scale, new urban venture that is more of an incubator for small food businesses. While there are many differences in our projects—including distinct differences in our geographies, cultures, histories, settings, sizes and approaches—the things we share in common are quite compelling. In particular, we share a focus on developing and maintaining collaborative enterprises that strengthen local food systems, increase the commons, bridge gaps that divide people from one another and divide people from their food sources, create stronger and more abundant connections with regional (often rural) food producers, and create economic, cultural, environmental and community benefits.
In fact, it was clear from our time together that we share key values in our approaches to food system development, and that it was no surprise that we would be presenting at a “smart growth” event focused on “practical tools and innovative strategies for creating great communities.” Despite our differences, we all are focused on developing robust food systems as a way to create economic, environmental, and social opportunities in our cities.
Of course, for the West Louisville FoodPort, unlike the Eastern Market, or even The Redd, the proof still largely remains in the pudding. We have a few victories to celebrate, to be sure: the West Louisville FoodPort Community Council with its active membership and dedicated work groups; a well-considered, collaboratively developed workforce development plan that has already resulted in the first new hires from West Louisville into Messer’s construction career path jobs; the stunning design of what will become a landmark for our city. But much of the promise of this remarkable vision will continue to materialize in the months and years ahead. While we continue to look to models like Eastern Market, The Redd and others for lessons learned as we forge our path, at the same time we confidently proceed to create what will surely be a model for others as well. Westward ho!
Written by: Project Director and Co-Founder Caroline Heine