An Abandoned Kentucky Tobacco Factory Is Transforming into a Massive Local Food Hub

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A factory in Louisville, Kentucky, made chewing tobacco for over a century before folding in 2009. Now the abandoned site is a symbol of how the city is changing: The 24-acre brownfield will soon become one of the largest hubs for local food in the U.S.

"The idea is that you can actually show the whole cycle of the food chain," explains Shohei Shigematsu, partner at the architecture firm OMA, which led the design of the West Louisville FoodPort. A typical food hub is only a place to aggregate and distribute food, but the developers—a nonprofit called Seed Capital Kentucky—wanted to make the FoodPort something that people in the neighborhood would want to visit, as well as an incubator for local food startups. It even has a demonstration farm and a power plant that runs on compost.

The hub will include an urban farm, the smaller demonstration farm, a community kitchen, classrooms, a food library, and retail stores, along withindustrial processing, storage, and distribution. A $20 million methane plant on one end of the site will turn food scraps into power.

All of this will happen inside an area that's classified as a "food desert" by the USDA. The project is designed to help reconnect the community with local, healthy eating choices.

"We're thinking about the future," says Shigematsu. "Since modernization, there has been more and more distance between farmers and consumers. No one knows where your food is coming from, how it's cooked, how it's aggregated, how it's distributed. Because people are coming back to cities, and cities are expanding, we think there needs to be a merger of production of food and urban life."

Outside, the site is designed to draw the community in. It sits at the border of three low-income neighborhoods. "Because it sits at the border, it's trying to stitch the neighborhoods together—almost literally, with a zig-zag shape—by creating open spaces," Shigematsu says. The open spaces include a farmers market, a food truck plaza, the urban farm, and edible gardens.

This story was originally published on Fast Company.


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