Some people would describe our food system as a disaster. There is enough food produced on earth to feed all of the people in the world and then some, yet hundreds of millions of people go hungry every year. In the United States, the government heavily subsidizes crops like corn, soybeans, wheat, rice, and cotton. This results in enormous amounts of those subsidized crops. Take the corn for instance; in 2011 we harvested 84 million acres of corn in the U.S. Then we fed 80% of it to our domestic and overseas livestock, poultry, and fish production. (http://www.epa.gov/oecaagct/ag101/cropmajor.html ) Another 12% goes to things like chips and an endless supply of high-fructose corn syrup. The system is not only resulting in the creation of large amounts of unhealthy, heavily processed food, it’s polluting our air and water, and destroying our land.
Sustainability is not built in to that system. It needs to be.
The Kentucky Project asked Sustainable Kentucky’s Jamie Aramini about sustainability, our food system, obesity, and how it all works together. She also told us about some of the events she has organized to promote a Sustainable Kentucky.
For those not familiar with Sustainable Kentucky please tell us a little about it.
Sustainable Kentucky is a blog where I write about the sustainability movement in Kentucky, particularly with an emphasis on small farms and local food. We also organize events, including the Kentucky Green Living Fair, the Market on Main (a farmers market in Somerset), and, new this year, WildFest, a wild foods and fermentation festival featuring NYT bestselling author Sandor Katz.
What was your motivation for starting Sustainable KY?
Well, I had been through some difficult personal experiences, including a painful divorce. I found myself very lonely and depressed and needing something productive to occupy my spare time, especially when my children were visiting their dad. I was passionate about gardening, homesteading, living simply, etc. but I didn’t really know very many other people who were. I thought a blog would be a fun way to explore my interests while meeting others who shared similar ones.
Do you have a day job?
I am a freelance writer. I write children’s books and contribute to print and online publications. I also sometimes do marketing work—website design, social media management, copywriting, etc. Basically, I am a starving artist but I live a really fulfilling and interesting life, as long as you don’t look at my checkbook balance!
You’ve been running Sustainable KY for a couple of years now; do you notice an increase in the number of people that are concerned with where their food comes from and the state of our current food system in the US?
Oh, definitely. When I started Sustainable KY, I felt like I targeted a really narrow audience of folks—the kind who are hoarding heirloom seeds in their freezers, refuse to shop at Walmart, and dream of having solar panels. Over time, as our audience has grown (nearly 4,500 Facebook likes now), I feel like a lot more mainstream people (for lack of a better descriptor) have taken an interest in food production. People are concerned for their health and also the health of the environment whereas they might not have thought twice about it ten years ago. Documentaries like Food, Inc. and Forks over Knives and books like Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma have really put local food into the forefront of people’s minds.
What do you think is the best method for eliminating or at least reducing the number of food deserts in KY?
Oh, wow, that is a tough question. I’ve looked at the work that my friends at Faith Feeds and Seedleaf have done in Lexington with so much respect, but I think what they have learned is that it isn’t enough to give people whole food and expect that they will choose to eat it. People need education, about why to eat healthy and more importantly, how. Basic cooking skills are unfortunately nonexistent in a surprisingly large percentage of America’s population. Anita Courtney’s work with Better Bites to get better menu options at Lexington recreational areas is brilliant… Community Farmers Market in Bowling Green is working at creating a mobile farmers market that could really change the way farmers markets do business and how lower income folks get their food. The market even doubles SNAP benefits, so someone with $20 in government benefits will get $40 worth of fresh food. In all of these cases, it takes whole groups of really impassioned people working really hard at what they believe in. This is the only way things will change—but it takes all of us supporting such endeavors to make a difference.
Do you believe that if nutritious whole foods are made available to more people that they will make the healthier choice and forgo the processed food that is calorie rich and nutrient poor? If not, what do you think is the best method to get Kentuckians to make healthier choices regarding food?
Ahh…. the million dollar question. If I knew the answer to this, I would be rich and famous wouldn’t I? The reality is that if you put me in front of a stack of fresh zucchini and a bag of potato chips or cookies, do you know what choice I am going to make? I can only tell what has worked to change my eating habits personally. I grew up eating a very typical American diet—a lot of processed food, too much fast food, and so on. But getting involved in food production really changed things for me. When I was growing my own garden, I was willing to try and eat things that I never had before. The flavor in something homegrown was so drastically different from grocery store vegetables, too, that it made me more willing to eat my veggies. Also, as I have gotten to know the farmers who grow what I eat, I think a lot harder about how I spend my money. I feel guilty when I give $15 to a fast food restaurant when I know my farming friends really need that $15 to help pay their feed bills, farm mortgage, etc. My obsession with local food really only solidified when I fell in love with the community of local food producers and buyers who are now like my family. I think encouraging folks to learn about food and get to know farmers is the only way they will change. Also, creating engaging food experiences for people will pave the way for changes in their personal lives. This means vibrant farmers markets (even in small towns), taste samplings of farm products, and local restaurants serving farm-raised, healthy food that people want to go home and replicate in their own kitchens.
Tell us a little about the Kentucky Green Living Fair that you hold annually in Somerset, KY.
The fair grew out of my experiences with Sustainable Kentucky. I had met so many great folks throughout Kentucky while writing the site that I really wanted a chance to get them all together and let folks meet them, ask questions, and learn from their knowledge. I wanted it to be fun too, so we tried to have activities for kids and music and that sort of thing. Folks envision living sustainably in terms of what you have to give up (McDonald’s and driving an SUV) instead of what you gain—delicious food, great friendships, and peace of mind. Last year was our first year and I had no experience doing event planning. We were all stunned and truthfully overwhelmed when over a thousand people showed up. It really reaffirmed that there is hope for Kentuckians to learn and grow in terms of how our lifestyles affect our communities and the environment. We are excited to do it all again this year on March 15!
Do people need to purchase tickets to the Kentucky Green Living Fair or can they just show up?
The fair is $5 admission, 12 and under are free. We aren’t doing pre-sell tickets… they are only available at the door.
What future plans do you have for Sustainable Kentucky?
Well, the website doesn’t get updated nearly as often as I would like because I have gotten very busy with all the good, real-life things that have been a result of creating Sustainable KY. I hope in 2014 to really refocus on writing and conducting interviews and also growing our list of contributors to keep content fresh. I’m working on a novel, too, which carries over a lot of the themes of sustainability. So I hope to complete that and just keep moving forward in spreading the word about living simply and locally.
Thanks to Jamie Aramini for taking the time to do this interview! You can find links to her website, Sustainable Kentucky, the Kentucky Green Living Fair, and more below.
Please tell us in the comments below what you think about sustainable living and whether or not you think more sustainable practices in Kentucky and in the rest of the country could have an effect on the food problems we are facing.