Mike Higgins had just become president of a national food manufacturing company based in Louisville, Kentucky, when he met Sarah Fritschner from the city’s economic development department.
“Sarah asked if I would be willing to try local food in our products if she found the farmers and took care of getting it to me the way I would need it,” he said.
The conversation launched new recipes at Higgins’ Custom Food Solutions and high-volume sales for its initial Kentucky farm suppliers. It also brought into place a large-scale processing piece of the regional food supply puzzle.
Fritschner is tasked with pulling this puzzle together as part of metropolitan Louisville’s job creation strategy. Another big piece the city and nonprofit developer Seed Capital Kentucky have secured is a US$56 million food business park that will break ground this fall in West Louisville.
The picture of how local food can spur both urban and rural revitalization is getting clearer in the Bluegrass State. Louisville has led the way with a strategic focus on finding and connecting entrepreneurs along the regional supply chain from farm to table.
“What Sarah does is very intangible but absolutely essential,” said Theresa Zawacki, senior policy advisor to Louisville Forward, which is two-term Mayor Greg Fischer’s economic development initiative.
The big carrot Fritschner holds out is an estimated US$258 million per year in consumer demand for local food along with US$353 million in commercial demand.
Jose Cubero, head of Louisville-area operations for Indianapolis-based Piazza Produce, explained there is an internal motivation as well. “I live in Kentucky. I’m proud of my state and my city. I want to do something to make a difference here,” he said. Piazza reached the US$1 million mark last year in local food.