FARMERS AREN'T JUST FARMING ANYMORE
by Kara Keeton, Director of Communications for the Governor's Office of Agricultural Policy, and Martha Jackson
Kentucky's ag entrepreneurs are producers who have dared to change the way they do business.
McDowell Farms Salsa
Belinda Fay (center) and Carla McDowell (right) of Mason County have
fast become known as the Salsa Sisters, but their product is a family
endeavor that also includes their father, Carl McCormick.
Carla McDowell and Belinda Fay of Mason County, siblings who are fast becoming known as the Salsa Sisters, have taken a family recipe and turned it into red gold.
McDowell and Fay began making salsa about five years ago as gifts for family and friends. Despite a drought in the summer of 2003, the Salsa Sisters had a bounty crop of tomatoes, so they made more and more salsa.
By the end of the summer, things started to happen.
In August, they were in the first class to certify home-based food processors. It was taught by Sandra Bastin, food and nutrition extension specialist in the College of Agriculture.
McDowell Farms Salsa was born. They started selling at festivals across the state, and they tinkered with the recipe so they could offer salsa in varying degrees of hotness.
"We could not keep up with the demand. We were flabbergasted at the response," Fay said.
In April 2004, McDowell and Fay received a $56,000 forgivable loan in Agricultural Development Funds to assist with purchasing processing equipment and construction costs for a commercial kitchen.
The Salsa Sisters turned to UK again for help with the kitchen. In previous years, all tomatoes used in the salsa were raised by McDowell and Fay. Now, as production begins to climb to a potential 16,000 jars a season, they will buy produce from other farmers, including those in surrounding counties.
Little Kentucky Smokehouse
Jimmy and Linda Baird's Little Kentucky Smokehouse in Union County produces boneless, deli hams and a "Kentucky Fresh" ham.
and Linda Baird have taken their small
family-owned business in Union County and made it a national company
that sells boneless, deli hams through a distributor to some of the
largest grocery chains in the United States.
"It takes a tremendous amount of faith and determination," said Linda Baird of their success.
The Bairds are the first to admit that a big part of that success
is due to the help of organizations and
people across the state. In September 2002, Little Kentucky Smokehouse
received a $950,000 forgivable loan in Agricultural Development Funds
to help finance construction of a multi-million dollar meat processing
The Bairds wanted to produce ham products that were source-verifi ed, quality controlled, vacuum bagged, pasteurized, labeled, and bar coded and would meet national and international trade standards.
That plant is now producing 7 to 8 million hams annually in three varieties.
In the summer of 2003, an additional $1,000,000 forgivable loan in
Ag Development Funds was awarded to Little
Kentucky Smokehouse to expand its plant.
The plant has doubled production capacity and allowed development of a "Kentucky Fresh" product. Premium prices go to all Kentucky producers who provide the product for this line.
Researchers in the UK College of Agriculture have worked with the Little Kentucky Smokehouse to develop its products and test equipment. "The working relationship between UK and Little Kentucky Smokehouse has been a win-win situation for both of us," said Benji Mikel, associate extension professor.
Roundstone Native Seed
Randy Seymour's interest in native warm-season grasses began more
than 10 years ago. It was then Seymour
discovered remnant stands of the grasses on the 1,800-acre Hart County
farm he owns with his son John.
John Seymour (left) Randy Seymour (right)
In what began as an effort to restore the native heritage of their own land and encouraged by the Nature Conservancy, the Seymours founded Roundstone Native Seed. The company is now a major producer of native warm-season grasses in the Southeast.
John Seymour has designed and built much of the company's equipment. A $177,600 grant from the Agricultural Development Fund in 2002 helped the Seymours expand their operation by providing funding for special harvesting and cleaning equipment and storage facilities. Roundstone's gross sales have doubled every year since it was founded, and the Seymours expect sales to reach $1.25 million for 2004-2005.
More than 30 other cooperating farm operations across the state help produce Roundstone's seed and also reap income from the enterprise.
Much of that seed is purchased for conservation and wildlife habitat programs, both government-sponsored and those run by private organizations.
The Seymours work with the College of Agriculture to compare quality
and yield of different varieties of native grasses for forage production
and to study the benefits of using native warm-season forages to complement
Kentucky's Choice Homegrown Beef
Jeff Settles is a third-generation tobacco farmer in Washington County who is now making more money producing cattle than tobacco. He is also helping other farmers learn to do the same.
Jeff Settles (left) Rick Greenwell (right)
Settles, three other Washington County cattle producers, and St. Catharine Farm near Springfield produce Kentucky's Choice Homegrown Beef, a venture that follows two decades of selling beef straight to freezer in private sales.
As Settles puts it, the antibiotic- and hormone-free Kentucky's Choice
Homegrown Beef is "bred, born, raised, and finished in Washington
include St. Catharine College and Kentucky
Heritage Meats, a wholesale/retail outlet in Louisville.
"People were interested in buying from someone they knew," Settles said.
Settles also has worked as a regional facilitator for the Kentucky Beef Network since it was established in 2001 with money from the Agricultural Development Fund (ADF). He helps cattle producers understand all the tools and techniques available to help them produce a high-quality, profitable product.
Settles relies on both county extension agents and extension specialists for information and on-site expertise. "We complement each other," Settles said.
In Washington County, for example, Settles has worked closely with Rick Greenwell, Washington County's extension agent for agriculture and natural resources, to develop a program that incorporates access to ADF model programs for beef production.
So far, over $170 million in Agricultural Development Fund money has gone to help farmers make the transition from a tobacco economy. This is just the beginning. Kentucky has a momentous opportunity to build a stronger and more vibrant agricultural economy. With the tobacco buyout, more financial resources now are available to producers, bolstering the ADF and College resources already in place to help them diversify.