UK claims pride in Kentucky Proud with Farm-to-Fork

Ella Wilkie

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UK has boasted Kentucky pride over things like bluegrass and basketball for a very long time, but now it can claim it has Kentucky Proud meal options.

UK’s Food Connection, a $5 million food education center in The 90, has brought the Farm-to-Fork process — a new way to produce and distribute local food — to campus and the community.

“Farm-to-Fork is a nice way to talk about a broader movement,” said Lilian Brislen, the Food Connection’s Executive Director. “The idea is that if we can make shorter supply chains … there will be greater diversity of products available to us.”

Brislen said the Food Connection’s outreach program would bring special projects and enrichment opportunities to students of existing courses.

UK’s Director of Strategic Analysis, Melody Flowers, said The Food Connection’s goal is for all food and beverage purchases of local and Kentucky Proud items on campus to grow to 20 to 25 percent in the next 15 years.

The idea of Farm-to-Fork is not as simple as local food showing up at the doorstep. According to Flowers, there are  many obstacles in the way.

Flowers said a food system doesn’t only require the right connections with business partners and farmers — there is also the issue of ensuring the safety, quality and transportation of these foods.

The Food Connection can only do so much in the Farm-to-Fork process, so UK Dining handles the business management side of things. UK Dining is working on building partnerships between the private sector and produce distributors so farmers can more easily connect with them.

“We want to do business with farmers but, like (Flowers) said, there are lots of roadblocks to get through,” said M.K. Cole, the Senior Operations Director for UK Dining.

“There’s a big difference between selling to a farmer’s market and selling to a university,” Flowers said.

UK Dining has done special food-oriented events for students in the past and, with the incorporation of more Farm-to-Fork meal options, these events will soon focus on Kentucky Proud and local food.

Cole said UK Dining plans to have these special events at least once per month, and it’s better to have farmers there to serve food and talk to the students about the Farm-to-Fork process.

The Farm-to-Fork method is something those who work with the Food Connection and UK Dining hope to see succeed in the coming months — not only at UK but also within the community.

“(Farm-to-Fork) will provide a significant and positive impact here in Kentucky, for Kentucky farmers, for local Kentucky entrepreneurs and business owners,” Flowers said. “It’s a matter of getting up and running, and the sky’s the limit.”