A PROFILE IN GIVING: It’s All About Local
Becca and Ben Self are an energetic, unstoppable force for good in Lexington.
Becca established FoodChain in 2011 in the former Rainbo Bread Factory building on West Sixth Street. Earlier that same year, Ben established West Sixth Brewing at the same location. The two MIT graduates, who married in 2000 and are the parents of 5-year-old twins, exemplify synergy at its best.
FoodChain’s mission is to forge connections between community and fresh food through education and demonstration of sustainable food systems. Step one was constructing a 7,000-gallon indoor aquaponics system—the first in Kentucky. The system allows FoodChain to grow food using just 5% of the water needed by conventional production and yields fresh greens and fish year-round. This is particularly important as the neighborhood is a food desert, with no grocery store nearby, leaving residents with few options for fresh ingredients.
But beyond its innovative production of fresh fish and fresh greens, FoodChain is, first and foremost, about education. With help from the Knight Foundation Fund at BGCF, FoodChain opened a teaching and processing kitchen in 2017 that allows its neighbors to sample and learn how to make use of healthy, sustainable foods. FoodChain provides regular tours and programs and hosts monthly community home-cooked meals. And, it has helped 40 area schools establish classroom aquaponic systems as part of their science curriculums.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, FoodChain has pivoted to use partnerships, its infrastructure and its knowledge about the local food sector to prepare meals for families living in the margins, including children who relied on school lunches. Unemployed food service professionals receive payment to prepare hot meals for distribution.
“While it’s been heartbreaking and overwhelming to see the needs in our community rise so exponentially during this crisis, it’s been a gift to contribute using FoodChain’s assets,” said Becca.
West Sixth Brewing does more than brew the best local beer around. Ben Self elaborates:
“West Sixth Brewing was founded with the goal of not just making great beer but having a positive impact on the communities it is a part of. We measure that in three ways: supporting the great work that is going on in community nonprofits, making environmentally friendly choices whenever possible and building the best place to work in Lexington.”
From its inception, West Sixth has committed 6% of its annual profits to giving back. Every year, however, it has far surpassed this bar, giving over $160,000 last year alone.
But the synergy doesn’t stop there. Together, Ben and Becca have established two charitable funds at BGCF.
The Self Family Fund at BGCF provides support to local nonprofits and helps Ben and Becca organize their charitable giving. “There are so many groups doing such great work in Lexington, and we hope to help whenever we can,” said Becca. She added that since she and Ben are entrepreneurs themselves, they love to support the great work and creativity of small groups that share their values.
West Sixth Brewing has recently established the West Sixth for a Cause Foundation with the goal of unifying and amplifying its charitable work. This brings together the company’s giving programs under one umbrella, improving its efforts and inspiring local and national partnerships.