by Malia Guyer-Stevens, Slow Food USA Editorial Intern
Photos by Shauntrice Martin
As we begin to come together this summer to cook, eat and celebrate, Slow Food Bluegrass in Louisville, Kentucky is hosting their second annual Ark of Taste Dinner. The dinner, prepared by local chefs, and featuring ingredients both locally sourced and from the Ark of Taste catalogue, is a fundraiser event for Black Market KY, a local market with an incredible mission.
Black Market KY, a Black-owned grocery created by and for the west side community of Louisville, Kentucky, came about over the last year to address two looming issues in the area. One is a national issue, with deep historic roots: food apartheid. The other was the unannounced closure of the neighborhood Krogers last June, which, despite its persistent inadequate supply of fresh produce and other supply issues, was still the only grocery store in the area. It’s temporary closure was in response to the nearby peaceful vigil following the shooting of barbeque owner, David McAtee, and it was a blow to at neighborhood that already struggled with adequate food access.
The two issues are deeply entwined, the closure being the outcome of the larger systemic issues of food apartheid – a term made popular by food activist, Karen Washington, to describe the sytemic issues addressing our food systems. Black Market’s mission is to fight food apartheid, which means not only recognizing the social inequalities in thier city, but acting on them to make change. The term, food apartheid, is a more accurate way to describe what is often called a food desert. The lack of grocery stores is not through natural causes, but rather part of a larger system of systemic racial discrimination. For the area that Slow Food Bluegrass is a part of, including Louisville and southern Indiana, it is estimated that over 600,000 people have insufficient access to fresh food. Low income and communities of color are particularly affected by this, and the area where Black Market is has an average of one major grocery store for 25,000 people.
At the helm of Black Market has been the local food activist and abolitionist, Shauntrice Martin, who developed the volunteer movement #FeedtheWest as a way to bring food to the community directly impacted by Kroger’s closure.
The day the grocery store closed she noticed people who were finding the doors closed and had nowhere else to turn to buy food. She began approaching them and offered to help get them food or transportation, setting in motion what would eventually turn into opening a whole new grocery store.
“We collected some things that day,” she recounts. “And then that evening I put together spreadsheets, and things for volunteers to sign up for people to donate food and money and for residents to get the free food.”
In Martin’s words, over the next day or two: “It blew up.” Overnight she not only had hundreds of requests for food, but hundreds of people showing up to volunteer and over $10,000 raised.
This past year the #FeedtheWest network has taken a two pronged approach to fighting food apartheid in thier community. Wth the support of Black Lives Matter Louisville and the organization Change Today Change Tomorrow, who help manage the finances and organize volunteers, #FeedtheWest has turned to protesting Krogers in an attempt to get better quality food and make them more responsive to the community that they serve. Despite over a year of protests, including a hunger strike that Martin participated in, they’ve only recently convinced the market to start supplying organic food.
Fighting this large, billion dollar company is not going to make adequate and efficient change that the area needs. Creating a new space, and system of accessing food on their own terms, was the only alternative.
Today, Black Market has a storefront and an online food delivery system. They source at least 80% of their food from local Black farmers and food producers with the help of organizations such as Black Soil Kentucky, and the other 20% is at least from the immediate area. They’ve been able to tap into a large network of Black farmers, and developed relationships with them to connect them directly to their community and customers.
While food from local and small scale farms usually comes at a higher premium, and the neighborhood’s median income is $19,000, how to keep things affordable is an important part of their work. To do this they have not only raised funds to offset the cost of the food for customers, but there is an opt-in price for customers with higher incomes to pay a higher price, allowing others to pay less.
In some ways, this is a model that Slow Food Bluegrass takes to their events and fundraisers. The Ark of Taste dinner, hosted in the local naïve Restaurant, is serving food from Black Market and from local farms, with a higher cost per person. They are very aware that this is less accessible, and will be hosting another event later this fall that is more open to a younger crowd.
“So much of what we do is really bringing people together, and having conversations, and building community,” says Ann Cutis, the chapter’s President. “Not just for Slow Food Bluegrass and Slow Food USA, but just build our local community and bring together those foodies and people who are involved in the food system from various points of view, to just have good conversation.”
Later this summer, Black Market will undergo a change as well, as Martin steps back from leading the Black Market. She will be donating it to members of the community who have been closely involved in running the store, to help distribute resources and create opportunities for wealth distribution that previously were difficult to come by.
Meeting the needs of the community is central to the work of both Black Market and Slow Food Bluegrass in their own ways. The last time SFB hosted an Ark of Taste Dinner was shortly before the pandemic shut everything down, in early 2020, and the perspective of the chapter has changed a bit in the following months. The events, fundraisers, and grants that they focused on as a chapter had been going well, but they were becoming more aware that they needed to refocus to support the efforts of food leaders already working in their communities.
The Ark of Taste dinner is a response to a changing landscape, and shifting their focus from primarily supporting school gardens, to supporting local food activists in all aspects of our food systems. 20% of the proceeds will go to the Black Market, and many of the ingredients – such as the zucchini in a Bison posole dish – come directly from the market.
Slow Food Bluegrass is contributing $1,233.19 to Black Market KY from their sold out Ark of Taste dinner. They will also donate proceeds toward two garden grants: Americana Community Center and Change Today, Change Tomorrow.
Find more ways to support Black Market here.