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An Abandoned Kentucky Tobacco Factory Is Transforming Into A Massive Local Food Hub

A food desert in Louisville will soon become one of the biggest havens for local food in the country.

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.

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“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 with industrial 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.


The hub is also designed to help support local food in a city that’s known for its foodies. A commercial kitchen will help support new food startups. Farmers will be able to sell their entire crop at the hub–either to restaurants, at a farmers market outside, or to an industrial food processor or an on-site juicery. Scraps can go to an on-site food bank or into the biodigester.

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It’s meant to be an efficient way for producers to do business and a way to prevent waste. “It’s kind of a whole sustainable chain,” Shigematsu says.

The FoodPort will be completed next year.

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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