FoodChain expanding mission with kitchen, neighborhood grocery

September 20, 2015
Rebecca Self, executive director of Food Chain, an urban agriculture non-profit in the Breadbox building at West Sixth and Jefferson Streets, posed with greens being grown along with tilapia fish in a closed-loop aquaponics system. The greens and fish are sold to restaurants, primarily Smithtown Seafood in the next room. Photo by Tom Eblen |

Rebecca Self, executive director of Food Chain, an urban agriculture non-profit in the Breadbox building at West Sixth and Jefferson Streets, posed with greens being grown along with tilapia fish in a closed-loop aquaponics system. The greens and fish are sold to restaurants, primarily Smithtown Seafood in the next room. Photo by Tom Eblen


The urban agriculture nonprofit FoodChain is trying to raise $300,000 for its next two links: a food-processing and teaching kitchen and a neighborhood green grocery.

The effort will begin Oct. 2 with Relish n’ Ramble, an event featuring tapas by four guest chefs and tours of the proposed kitchen and grocery space in the Bread Box building at West Sixth and Jefferson streets.

Three years ago, founder Rebecca Self and her board raised $75,000 to create an aquaponics demonstration in a back room of the 900,000-square-foot former bread factory, which also houses West Sixth Brewing, Smithtown Seafood, Broke Spoke Community Bike Shop, Bluegrass Distillers, Magic Beans Coffee Roasters and The Plantory, a shared office space for nonprofit startups.

Since September 2013, FoodChain has been producing about 30 pounds of greens and a dozen tilapia each week. The fish and most of the greens are bought by Smithtown Seafood. Blue Moon Farm distributes excess greens to other restaurants.

The aquaponics system works like this: waste grain from the brewery is fed to the fish, whose waste water provides the nutrients for lettuce and other greens to be grown under energy-efficient indoor lighting.

“You would never pinpoint this as a place to grow food,” Self said of the once-abandoned building. “But it’s actually a perfect fit.”

Sales of greens and fish have covered about 35 percent of FoodChain’s $100,000 annual budget, and virtually all of the cost of producing them, Self said. Funding for educational programs comes from donations and foundation grants.

To promote replication of its work, FoodChain has given more than 6,000 tours of its facilities, which also has provided revenue. “We’re unusual among nonprofits in that we have a revenue stream at all,” Self said.

This next phase will move FoodChain closer to its mission: developing systems to bring affordable local food to urban “food desert” neighborhoods, such as the West End.

Self’s husband, Ben, is one of four West Sixth Brewing partners who bought the Bread Box and have been renovating and leasing it. FoodChain’s kitchen and grocery will occupy the last 7,000 square feet of the building, the oldest part of which dates to the 1870s.

The kitchen and grocery will be on the west side of the building’s Sixth Street frontage, with the grocery in the corner. A lot of windows will be added to the solid-brick walls, bringing light and public visibility.

The kitchen will have an instructional area where neighborhood residents can receive food safety certification training for restaurant jobs and take classes to learn to prepare and cook their own meals with fresh food.

In the back half of the kitchen, FoodChain plans to partner with Glean Kentucky, other nonprofits and area farmers to collect, process and preserve food “seconds” that might otherwise go to waste.

“This is something that’s been talked about for a long time,” Self said. “We’re hoping that because we’re getting this food at pennies on the dollar on the seconds market that even once we’ve added in the labor costs it will still be at an affordable price for the store.”

In addition to fresh local food, the grocery will carry other foods and household necessities. Both facilities are being designed to meet the neighborhood’s needs based on focus groups conducted by the Tweens Coalition, a local youth nutrition and fitness organization.

The store and kitchen will create about a dozen jobs, and Self hopes to fill them with neighborhood residents.

“If there’s anything that comes out of the census data for this area it is the desperate need for jobs,” she said. “You can’t afford good food if you don’t have an income.”

Self said renovations to create the kitchen and store won’t begin until all of the money needed is raised. Ideally, she said, the kitchen would open in fall 2016 and the store in spring 2017.

“We’re just trying to show the viability of something like this,” she said.

If you go

Relish n’ Ramble

What: Fundraiser for FoodChain featuring tapas inspired by Indian, Latin and Asian street food from guest chefs Vishwesh Bhatt of Snack Bar in Oxford, Miss.; Ouita Michel of Holly Hill Inn; Jonathan Lundy of Coba Cocina; and Jon Sanning of Smithtown Seafood. Includes a West Sixth beer and souvenir glass and tours of FoodChain’s planned commercial kitchen and grocery spaces.

When: 6-9 p.m. Oct. 2

Where: Bluegrass Distillers in the Bread Box, West Sixth and Jefferson streets

Cost: $35 advance, $40 at door.

Tickets and info:

NoLi CDC gets $550,000 grant to turn bus station into public market

March 31, 2015

NoLiRichard Young, left, and Kris Nonn of the North Limestone Community Development Corp. stand in front of the former bus station near the corner of North Limestone Street and West Loudon Avenue that the NoLiCDC hopes to acquire from LexTran and turn into a community market.  Photo by Tom Eblen


The nonprofit North Limestone Community Development Corp. will get a $550,000 grant to help turn a former Greyhound bus station into a public market and local food hub focused on the surrounding neighborhood.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is announcing the grant Tuesday as part of its first Knight Cities Challenge.

The foundation split $5 million among 32 projects it thinks can attract talent, improve economic opportunity and increase civic engagement in 12 of the 26 cities where the Knight ­brothers once owned newspapers, ­including the Lexington Herald-Leader. Winners were chosen from 125 finalists culled from 7,000 proposals.

The goal of the NoLi CDC project is to make locally grown food more available in the low-income neighborhood, which has been experiencing a renaissance in recent years with an influx of young, entrepreneurial and community-minded residents.

The market also would provide stalls and shared ­infrastructure for “makers” and other entrepreneurs in the neighborhood who want to start businesses, said Richard Young and Kris Nonn, the NoLi CDC’s two staff members.

The NoLi CDC has shown the potential for a public market in the neighborhood by sponsoring a monthly Night Market on the lower block of Bryan Avenue, between West Loudon and North Limestone.

Several thousand people came out to each of the festival-like markets last year, and about half the merchants and vendors were from the neighborhood. The first Night Market of 2015 will be 7 to 10 p.m. Friday.

Bahia Ramos, a program director with the Miami-based Knight Foundation, said she “really had a blast” when she attended a Night Market last year.

“There was such a diverse cross-section of people, and a genuine outpouring of good energy and creativity,” she said. “We wanted to be a catalyst to help grow that out.”

The NoLi CDC’s focus has been creating entrepreneurial opportunities for people to live and work in the North Limestone corridor.

Another of its projects is the York Street “makers spaces” — renovated 1920s shotgun houses where makers can live and work. That project, which is applying for a new type of city zoning, received a major grant last year from ArtPlace America, which focuses on encouraging “creative placemaking” in communities.

NoLi CDC hopes to put its public market and food hub in a huge Art Deco building on West Loudon Avenue, a block from the Night Market site. The only problem is that it doesn’t own the vacant building, which has nearly 104,000 square feet on 2.4 acres.

Built in 1928, it was the headquarters of Southeast Greyhound Lines until 1960. The building is now owned by the Lexington Transit Authority, which wanted to demolish it for a new headquarters. Lextran later decided to build a facility nearby, and the old building has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Lextran officials wrote a letter supporting the NoLi CDC’s grant application. Lextran plans to solicit sealed bids for the building within six months, spokeswoman Jill Barnett said

Acquiring and then renovating the building, which will cost several million dollars, are some of the challenges to be overcome, Young and Nonn said. But the Knight grant will give them working capital to get the project started.

Multi-tenant public markets have been very successful in many cities, Young said, noting such examples as Findlay Market in Cincinnati and Mercado La Paloma in Los Angeles.

“A lot of times you hear people talk about starting a business as ‘taking the plunge,'” Nonn said. “This would mitigate the risk associated with that” by providing shared facilities, a shopper base and other support services.

Theoretically, these projects would allow a neighborhood resident to start a business in his or her home, graduate to a market stall and eventually grow enough to have a shop in the neighborhood.

Young and Nonn worked closely with Ashton Potter, the city’s new local food coordinator, to make plans for the public market to also serve as an aggregation, processing and sales point for Central Kentucky farmers. It would include a commercial kitchen that entrepreneurs could rent to test or produce food products.

“This building that is going to be coming up for sale can go to a use that is incredibly beneficial for the neighborhood,” Young said. “Lifting the access barrier to entrepreneurial activity is something that’s really important.”

Helping rural Kentuckians help their communities

December 12, 2011

Danny Maggard was 6 or 7 years old when his father took him up a mountain ridge to help him dig a dozen dogwood seedlings. They replanted those small sticks along the driveway to their home near Hazard.

“It’s something I didn’t think much about then,” said Maggard, 57, an executive with Kentucky River Properties. “Now, in the springtime, I admire those huge dogwoods every time I drive up that driveway. They’re gorgeous trees.”

Maggard uses that memory to explain the potential he sees in the Community Foundation of Hazard and Perry County, on whose board he sits. The foundation was created in 2009 to raise local money for community-improvement projects related to health care, education, housing, the environment and the arts.

The foundation and three other organizations are now taking that model to 11 other counties in the region through the new Appalachian Rural Development Philanthropy Initiative.

Last month, the federal Appalachian Regional Commission awarded a $1 million grant to the foundation, the Brush Fork Institute, the Foundation for the Tri-State in Ashland and the Center for Rural Development in Somerset. They will use the money to start community foundations in Bell, Clay, Elliott, Knott, Knox, Lawrence, Letcher, Lewis, Magoffin, Martin and Whitley counties.

The goal is to tap into local resources and focus them in meaningful ways. Last year, the General Assembly approved legislation giving tax credits to people who made permanent gifts to community foundations.

“It’s something that has always been in urban areas, but it hasn’t been in rural areas as much,” said Mack Baker, a Hazard insurance agent who also serves on the community foundation’s board.

There are now about 700 community foundations across the country. Many are in big cities, but others have seen big success in states such as Iowa and Montana, which are dominated by small towns and rural areas.

Since 1967, the seven-county Blue Grass Community Foundation has been a vehicle for creating 250 charitable funds that have awarded $17 million in grants to support community-improvement projects in Central Kentucky.

The new Appalachian Rural Development Philanthropy Initiative faces a special challenge. Those 11 counties are some of the poorest in America. Where will the money come from?

The non-profit Kentucky Philanthropy Initiative published a study last year that estimated Kentuckians’ wealth at $311 billion. The study estimated the amount of that wealth that will transfer from one generation to the next at $72 billion over the next 10 years and $173 billion over the next 20 years. If just 5 percent of that transferring wealth were donated to community foundations, the impact could be huge: $8.7 billion over 20 years.

Even in some rural counties, the numbers can be significant, according to the study. Perry County’s wealth transfer over the next decade is estimated at $410 million. If just 5 percent of that went to the community foundation, it could create endowments generating more than $1 million a year in income forever that could be used for local improvement projects.

“It’s a pretty common thing for people who were raised in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky to have a warm place in their heart for the area,” Baker said. “It’s just a matter of educating people to tell them what we’re all about.”

In just three years of fund-raising and grant-making, the Community Foundation of Hazard and Perry County has had an impact, Baker said. Grants so far have focused on health care and the arts. Among the foundation’s fund-raising and awareness events was a 5K run/walk in October called Run for the Hills.

Maggard thinks the early success of Hazard’s community foundation can be replicated to some degree throughout the region. “I think it’s got unlimited potential,” he said. “When you think of philanthropists, you think of Rockefellers. But philanthropy can be for everyone.”

The result, he said, could be addressing some of rural Kentucky’s longstanding problems with local direction and money, rather than always looking for help from the government or outsiders.

“I want things to be better in the future, and this is one way of getting there,” Maggard said. “It’s not about doing this for us, but for our kids and grandkids and great-grandkids.”

Readers’ advice on lessons from WEG

October 27, 2010

What were the hits and misses of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games? What can we learn from the experience?

That is what I asked readers last week, and more than three dozen sent thoughtful, detailed responses.

Almost everyone thought the Games were a success, and there were several ideas for the future.

Everyone agreed that the competitions were amazing, the Kentucky Horse Park venues excellent and the LexTran shuttles outstanding. Kentuckians were praised as friendly and hospitable hosts.

“It was an amazing experience — the people, the state, the athletes — we took home lifetime memories,” wrote Hillary Hulen of Medford, Ore. “My niece is even considering a Kentucky college as a result of this trip.”

Kudos went to the International Museum of the Horse’s Gift From the Desert exhibit, and the Kentucky Experience and Alltech Experience pavilions. Alltech’s drew special praise for its science exhibits, kids’ activities and designer Deirdre Lyons’ inclusion of Kentucky artists.

Alltech employees received praise from people familiar with how they helped shore up weaknesses in the Games organization. And several readers thanked the company for bringing 64,000 local schoolchildren to the Games.

What could have been done better? Readers complained that many people were kept away by high ticket prices. Stands were often filled at the last minute with discounted and even free tickets, and that angered spectators who had paid full price.

Everyone thought the food was overpriced and mediocre. “There should have been a greater emphasis on local food and regional specialties,” wrote Sarah Gaddis of Frankfort. “I agree that Papa John’s (pizza) is both local and tasty, but we could have done better.”

There should have been more maps and signs at the Kentucky Horse Park. Jane Jacobs of Georgetown had a great idea: Every person who bought a ticket should have received a “daily sheet” with a map and a schedule of events that day.

Games volunteers did a great job of shuttling elderly and disabled people around in golf carts, and a few tractor-pulled wagons were added, but readers thought more public shuttles were needed between venues. And there should have been a drop-off point at the front gate.

The biggest complaint, by far, was about price-gouging by some hotels and car-rental companies. A modest price increase was expected, but when visitors are charged several hundred dollars a night for a room at a budget motel, that’s just greed.

Readers had some good ideas about how Lexington can build on the Games’ legacy. The Kentucky Horse Park now has some of the world’s best equestrian facilities — built at great public expense — and care must be taken to maintain and use them for long-term economic payoff.

LexTran was widely praised for excellent performance and getting thousands of locals on a bus for the first time. Several readers mentioned that Keeneland should partner with LexTran for a similar shuttle service, reducing the need to turn Keeneland’s lovely meadows into vast parking lots during racing meets.

“What about a Legacy Horse Trail at the Kentucky Horse Park?” suggested Cynthia Day of Lexington. “It would be great for citizens and visitors alike to be able to actually ride a horse. Perhaps volunteers could assist in the development, building and maintaining a horse trail system at the park.”

The Games showed what can be accomplished with good public-private partnerships, readers said, especially when led by local business dynamos such as Jim Host, the Games’ first chairman, and Alltech president Pearse Lyons.

Several readers suggested that Lyons would make a good governor, mayor or University of Kentucky president. He might not be interested in any of those jobs, but his vision, energy and ability to get things done make him Lexington’s top go-to guy for civic projects.

I thought Lexington developer Tom Padgett had the best idea of all: “The Games gave us a set of goals and, most important, a deadline. Perhaps the city and Commerce Lexington need to come together to establish a list of 10 things that need to be accomplished over the next five years, with various timetables. They should span a variety of categories, from the arts to infrastructure.”

Now What, Lexington? Figure it out April 17

March 2, 2010

Want to explore the latest ideas for making cities successful? Plan to attend the Creative Cities Summit in Lexington, April 7-9.

Want to discuss how those ideas could be applied to Lexington? Mark April 17 on your calendar.

That’s when a companion session called Now What, Lexington? will be held at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning.

Unlike the Creative Cities Summit, there are no big-name speakers and no admission charge. Everyone is welcome to attend — or to lead a session, if they wish, on any topic that interests others enough to participate.

Now What, Lexington? isn’t a conference; it’s an “un-conference,” said Ben Self, a Lexington technology entrepreneur who is helping to organize the event. To sign up, go to

“Our goal is to take the excitement, ideas and momentum from the Creative Cities Summit and spark some action from it,” Self said.

There is no agenda for Now What, Lexington?, just five or six rooms available for breakout discussions during seven 45-minute blocks between 9 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. The only request of session leaders is that the groups discuss action steps, not just ideas.

For example, Self wants to lead a discussion on what citizens and neighborhoods could do to self-organize and take up some of the slack of cuts — and possible future cuts — in city government services.

Now What, Lexington? is being organized by a new group called ProgressLex, which hopes to advocate for a variety of urban Lexington issues the way The Fayette Alliance does for land-use issues, said the group’s chairman, Dan Rowland, a University of Kentucky history professor.

Rowland said Lexington has many organizations that do good work, and ProgressLex hopes to bring them together to be more effective. He envisions a bipartisan online community of as many as 30,000 people focusing on issues ranging from good urban design and historic preservation to ­social justice and government transparency.

He said Now What, Lexington? seemed like the perfect launch event for ProgressLex, because it is focused on putting new ideas into action to improve Lexington’s quality of life.

Phil Holoubek, a downtown developer who is one of the main organizers of the Creative Cities Summit, said Now What, Lexington? is a perfect companion event. That’s because the summit is aimed toward ideas for cities generally — and attracting attention to Lexington as a place where good ideas are discussed. Now What, Lexington? could help get some of those ideas put into action.

“We really need both types of events to move ­Lexington forward,” ­Holoubek said.

This two-step approach — gathering ideas, then discussing an action plan for Lexington — offers a good model for Commerce Lexington’s annual Leadership Visit.

Each May, more than 200 local business and civic leaders spend three days together in another city, networking and gathering ideas to bring home to Lexington. This year’s trip, to Pittsburgh, promises to be one of the most useful of these visits, because it is being taken with Greater Louisville Inc.

Kentucky’s two largest cities need a closer working relationship, and this is a good step in that direction.

Although past ­Commerce Lexington trips have eventually led to some action in Lexington, a frequent criticism is that more could be done. In a letter to the editor recently, former Urban County Council member Dick DeCamp suggested that Commerce Lexington’s trips be scaled back to every two or three years, with time in between devoted to meetings focused on applying ideas already gathered.

That’s a sensible approach. At the least, Commerce Lexington could take a cue from the Creative Cities Summit and Now What, Lexington? and schedule public follow-up sessions after the Pittsburgh trip. Those sessions would be good places to discuss how ideas generated in Pittsburgh — and relationships made with Louisvillians — could be put to good use.

Speaking of ideas: One of America’s most successful mayors — Joseph P. Riley Jr. of Charleston, S.C. — speaks Wednesday at 6 p.m. in the Downtown Public Library. Riley, Charleston’s mayor since 1975, has been a key player in growing the city’s economy while preserving its historic buildings and decreasing crime. The free program is sponsored by The Fayette Alliance and UK’s Gaines Center for the Humanities.