In recent years, Louisville has led the way for the state of Kentucky by becoming a mecca for real food enthusiasts across the country and the world. It’s no wonder—Kentucky chefs have access to quality food produced by any of the 80,000+ farms throughout the state. It only makes sense that a city like Louisville would capitalize on this food availability and the creative talent of their chefs to produce innovative, delicious dishes that keep us salivating. There’s more, too—the city has made incredible strides in changing their food system, through programs like Louisville Farm to Table and businesses like Grasshoppers Distribution or the Root Cellar.
But. There is a new city making a name for itself in the Kentucky food scene, and it’s in a place that you probably wouldn’t expect. In the flatlands of Western Kentucky, a small group of people in Bowling Green are working to reimagine what local food looks like. This is a town with deeply imbedded agricultural roots, but a population still slowly awakening to the importance of eating local, healthy, sustainable foods.
I first connected to the Bowling Green food scene through my friends Nathan and Michelle Howell of Need More Acres Farm and have loved getting to watch them work to promote their CSA and the farmers market they play an active role in. Community Farmers Market is working to build a diverse, young customer base that is a far cry from your typical market crowd. They’ve accomplished this through a constant stream of activities, farm field days, and online promotion. (Read my complete interview with CFM for more info.)
Nathan and Michelle aren’t alone. They are surrounded by a vibrant group of farmers and consumers who are actively being the change that they want to see in their home city. People like Chef Josh Poling at Home Cafe and Marketplace, who has created a crazy menu with unique flavors at his restaurant—all while supporting dozens of local farms by buying their goods. I had heard rave reviews and managed to grab a delicious dinner while I was in BG this week. Don’t miss this place the next time you are in town. Come with an adventurous palate and prepare to be wowed.
It’s more than just restaurants and farms, too. There are women like Rhondell Miller, a kindred spirit and lover of great local food. This woman is the director at a multi-faceted faith-based ministry called HOTEL INC where she is working hard to overhaul their food pantry. She is striving to move their offerings away from canned, processed goods to healthy, local, fresh ingredients. Part of that overhaul means teaching her clients how to prepare real food for their families, too. (If you have a Kentucky food pantry working towards the same goal, you should contact Rhondell through the HOTEL INC website because she would love to chat with you about the changes you are making.)
As anyone who has ever worked to make a sweeping cultural change knows, this is a long and hard battle. It’s the small steps, the little connections, the tiny battles—and occasionally a really enormous victory. Yesterday, I watched my friends in Bowling Green accomplish something with their Food Day event that they’ve been working towards for a very long time. A joint effort of many government agencies, decision makers, farmers, teachers, non-profits, and local businesses, this event held at Western Kentucky University was a culmination of many months of dreaming and planning by some visionary folks.
This event, part of a bigger picture of events happening all over the country, featured several tracks of speakers, specifically farming, community outreach, and nutrition. There was so much to learn and so many excellent people to meet. What I found really exciting was that a lot of the attendees weren’t old pros at this sustainable thing—they were new to the movement and eager to learn whatever they could. This was really the goal for the dream team of women who worked so hard to make this happen—Michelle Howell, Christian Ryan-Downing, Diane Sprowl, and Brittany Ryan.
Michelle summed up their hopes for the event like this: “Our goal was to help everyone grow in their thinking of food. The farmers are helping public health learn more about the needs of farmers and benefits of local food. Public health and KY Department of Agriculture are teaching farmers and consumers about infrastructure that is in place (like farm-to-school, WIC, Senior Nutrition) that makes local food accessible for everyone in the community. It’s a new way of thinking about sustainability and making growth in local food systems more realistic.”
After a full day of gleaning some excellent food knowledge, it was time to embark on a full evening of activities. This began with an excellent Meet Your Farmer event put on by Community Farmers Market—product samples, giveaways, door prizes, free pumpkins, and hayrides. It was invigorating to see so many young families out enjoying the fall weather and connecting with farmers and nutritious, local foods. Knowing your farmer is simply the best way to get people to understand the value of buying locally!
The evening wrapped up with a completely perfect conclusion with the Farm Elegant Dinner, held in WKU’s beautiful vineyards. Ya’ll… I don’t say ya’ll often, but this food was just wildly over-the-top. The evening was so gorgeous everyone would have been content to simply sit in the vineyard and listen to the live music from local band Red River George without any food at all. But out comes dish after dish of decadent food, each impossibly more delicious than the last. Each course was prepared by a different chef in Bowling Green who told us where each ingredient was sourced and what inspired them to prepare the dish. The food, the atmosphere, the great company—the evening was simply unbelievably good, or at least that was the general consensus at the table I was lucky enough to get a seat at.
I feel fortunate to have the perspective of an outsider looking in on Bowling Green. Sometimes when you are really close to something it is hard to see the progress being made. However, this entire long day was nothing short of a triumph for the good folks in this city who are working so passionately to impact their community. I hope everyone there realizes how wildly fortunate they are to have this group of people working diligently, almost always behind the scenes, to radically revolutionize where they live! I came home very inspired by these courageous people to make changes in my own small community. Isn’t that what is is all about?
I’ll leave you with some more pictures for the day and tell you to mark your calendars for next year. Tickets to the Farm Elegant dinner sold out quickly this year and I expect next year to go even faster. You do not want to miss this! Thanks to the generosity of the organizers of this event for enabling me to attend by providing tickets for the day and evening so that I could share it with each of you.
To keep up with all that’s happening with these cool people, visit on Facebook:
3 thoughts on “Bowling Green: The Next Kentucky Foodie Town?”
Thanks for this piece. We’re fortunate here in Bowling Green to have people like Josh, CFM, Need More Acres, etc. leading the way. You include a picture here of JD Farms, which is another important player in this movement. They are a vibrant part of one of the three farmers markets Bowling Green now supports. They supply milk to Whole Foods from Lexington to Nashville. The host farm days out on their farm in Russellville, in an adjacent county to Warren County (where Bowling Green is). And they have opened up a bakery where they sell their milk, breakfast and lunch, and baked goods, as part of the downtown revitalization here in Bowling Green…And they’ve even started offering dinner from time to time. Seeing that happen alongside all that Josh is doing with Home is great. O’Daniel’s farm, in addition to driving one of our farmers markets in town, does at-home deliveries from their farm to people throughout Bowling Green in the winter months. And Chaney’s Dairy Barn has received a great deal of attention for their efforts right outside Bowling Green with ice cream sold on their dairy farm…With WKU also around helping drive that change, we’re fortunate to be able to support all this.
I think its wonderful that Nathan and Michelle and so many others are making local food buying and producing a reality. I grew up on a farm just north of Bowling Green and I got to enjoy the bounty of it till I left for college. I’ve always been bitter about rows and rows of factory-made, out of state (sometimes out of country) food stuffs being sold in our local groceries. I never understood why we couldn’t have a local food economy. Its simply because somewhere along the way we decided buying cheap was going to be the most important factor in everything. That mentality destroyed our local economies and our health along the way. It takes people with integrity and vision to fight the fight to bring back something they know is better. I’m glad so many of these local farmers have the special virtues to do it. Since I left the farm I’ve tried to do my part by raising a family garden but one day I’m hoping I can join the community farmers by selling produce of my own, I’m kinda jealous they are having so much fun!
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