Louisville, Kentucky: More Than Horses, Baseball Bats and Fried Chicken

With the tools residents need to become more self-sufficient — plus forward-thinking energy policies — this isn’t the Louisville you thought you knew.

| February/March 2011

  • Louisville Slugger
    Louisville hit a homer with its local food and energy-efficiency initiatives. 
  • 15Thousand Farmers
    The organization 15Thousand Farmers helps Louisville residents grow more of their own food.

  • Louisville Slugger
  • 15Thousand Farmers

Kentucky’s largest city — home of the Kentucky Derby, the University of Louisville and Kentucky Fried Chicken — is hardly off the beaten track. But what’s less known is that, in recent years, Louisville, Ky., has quietly emerged as a major center of cultural diversity and sustainable development.

“It’s a small town with a huge heart, and it’s also a really culturally diverse place,” says Valerie Kausen, who moved to the city from California three years ago with her spiritual healing practice.

The diverse Old Louisville neighborhood has one of the country’s largest collections of restored Victorian homes, and it also boasts an extensive system of pedestrian-only streets. Recent development projects show additional promise. Film producer Gill Holland, Louisville Magazine’s 2009 “Person of the Year,” has purchased tracts in the downtown area and is helping to reinvent the neighborhood as an arts district built on sustainable development. Holland’s neighborhood centerpiece is The Green Building, a 15,000-square-foot converted dry goods store that houses a café, gallery and office spaces, and is Louisville’s first LEED Platinum green building project.

What’s even more impressive about Louisville is the organization 15Thousand Farmers. Co-founded by Kausen, along with residents Gary Heine and Steve Vice, the organization defines home food gardeners as “farmers” and builds community by bringing “home farmers” together to share advice and harvests.

As the organization’s name suggests, 15Thousand Farmers aims to add 15,000 farmers to Louisville by 2015. The group recruits new farmers by providing a simple approach based on the square-foot gardening model. The idea is taking off. Kausen reports that in its first five months, the organization has signed 1,000 new farmers.

“A lot of new people are inspired by the simplicity of what we’re offering,” she says. “And even with one 4-by-4-foot box, they’re learning a lot. If nothing else, they’re learning how much work it takes to grow food, and they appreciate the beautiful farmers market food that they’re buying.”

Eric Bee
2/3/2011 6:01:42 AM

While you're right about the growing local food and environmental movements in Louisville, we still have a long way to go before we can be called "a pedestrian-friendly town." In fact, I live in one of the neighborhoods you cite as having an "extensive collection of pedestrian-only streets," and can't think of a single one. We do, however, have an active and growing car-free movement made up of cyclists, pedestrians, and transit-riders. Louisville just finished up a massive, city-wide sidewalk improvement project funded by the Recovery Act. And city leaders have long-term policy to improve pedestrian safety. So, while we cannot yet claim the title of a pedestrian-friendly city, the road (or sidewalk?) to get there has been paved.

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