What if one small business could solve many of our food-system problems? The nutrition problem. The waste problem. The farm-profit problem. When Millard Long started KHI Foods, a small-batch specialty foods processor in Burlington, KY, in 2006, he wasn’t thinking about any of these challenges—yet his business model seemed to be an answer to each of them.
Long, a beekeeper, was ramping up his honey business when colony collapse disorder, an issue killing bee populations across the country, claimed his hives. (Read more in “How Are the Bees?” on page 38.) Having just invested in a brand-new processing facility and, suddenly, no bees to make honey, he had to think quickly. He met a farmer composting literally tons of tomatoes and thought, “They are beautiful; people can eat those!” And KHI was born.
Over the past 11 years, KHI’s staff of four has turned more than 753,670 pounds of local produce—mainly tomatoes and peppers, but also summer and winter squash and sweet potatoes—into salsas, hot sauces, barbecue sauces, and more, providing farmers a competitive income for their excess and turning out delicious value-added products that are local and healthy. KHI buys produce in season from area growers, then quick-freezes and stores it for year-round use.
While it makes custom products for farmers, food brands (like Pompilio’s Italian restaurant), and fundraisers, KHI is passionate about getting its own recipes—which are low in sodium, minimally processed, and free of high-fructose corn syrup—onto the lunch plates of school children.
“We made the effort to start working with the school system—that’s how our low-sodium hot sauce [made with a variety of local peppers] came about,” Long says. Now he supplies 12 products, including pasta sauce, soup, and vegetarian chili, for seven schools in Ohio and Kentucky.
“The more we can get into the schools and institutions, the more we can buy and produce,” Long says. It’s a win-win for the farmers and the kids.
7455 East Bend Rd., Burlington, KY
Julie publishes Edible Ohio Valley with her family. After 15 years in the world of commercial photography, her lens is now focused on recording the sustainability movement in the Midwest. A graduate of UC’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning, she’s a partner and co-founder of The Fairview Agency, a multidisciplinary creative firm.