The changing farm economy has forced many farmers in Kentucky to diversify into non-traditional crops and livestock systems. This trend has in turn led many of these farmers to look for ways to add value to their crop and animal production by taking it through one or more stages of processing prior to the point of sale. Some farmers have built on-farm processing facilities, but many are reluctant or unable to invest in expensive equipment for relatively low volumes of production. This project developed several alternatives, and identified some of the problems and barriers farmers planning to pursue such strategies might encounter. These include complying with health regulations, food safety, labeling, marketing and business plans, and access to capital.
The primary objective of this project was to equip Extension agents and other ag professionals to assist farmers interested in adding value to farm products through processing. Our goal was to familiarize workshop participants with the various levels of small-scale processing facilities, which range from the single-use on-farm permitted kitchen to the shared-use commercial incubator kitchen. We wanted to identify examples of existing facilities and their operators and allow agents and farmers to learn from the experiences gained in the process of establishing and operating them. We planned to include some of these operators in the training design. The successful operation of a food related business can be very complex, requiring a knowledge of the chemistry of food processing, the various laws and regulations involved in food processing, and the challenge of marketing and business planning. We designed our training to be comprehensive, acquainting our participants with a working knowledge of the importance of all these factors.
Education & Outreach Initiatives
Our project workshops attracted a wide variety of participants, including county Agriculture agents, Family and Consumer Science agents, Horticulture agents, farmers, local economic development officials, local politicians, and farmers’ market members. Our presenters included several farmers who have developed on-farm processing facilities for their own production, one farmer who was then constructing an on-farm shared-use kitchen (now completed), the founder and operator of a multi-state incubator facility (ACE-Net, Athens, Ohio), a national expert on the design, construction, and operation of incubator kitchen facilities (Cameron Wold), Kentucky State Health Department officials, several local food facility inspectors, Kentucky Department of Agriculture marketing specialists, and business planners from the Small Business Development Center.
We conducted two separate workshops, one dedicated to larger scale, shared-use kitchens, the other to on-farm processing, in Winchester and Maysville, Kentucky, respectively. The Maysville workshop included a tour of an on-farm processing facility located in an adjacent county. Several people attended both. We had a total attendance of 52 people. In addition, we presented information on both types of kitchens at a Kentucky State University Third Thursday workshop with 73 participants.
The advertising and publicity for these meetings generated a lot of interest from individuals and groups either unable to attend or who learned about the project and the training after the fact. We subsequently met with groups planning facilities in Bath, Kenton, Casey, Madison, Pulaski, Bourbon, Wolfe, Woodford aand several other counties. Some of these counties are going forward planning various levels of processing facilities. In an indirect result of the interest generated by our project, a group was successful in introducing and passing though the Kentucky state legislature a bill (HB 391) establishing guidelines and training for the operation of home processing facilities. The UKCES is conducting trainings in various parts of the state which will allow attendees to be permitted by the state to process home-grown products in a home kitchen and then sell under certain controlled condtions.
This project generated a lot of interest, both among farmers and from Extension agents and other agricultural professionals. We also continue to get occasional requests for information from local economic development interests. Several Kentucky counties have or are planning to construct new office facilities which will include a commercially equipped and permitted kitchen. Several farmers have constructed kitchen facilities, and at least one has built on a scale that will permit multiple users. Also, several counties are pursuing the possibility of using Tobacco Reinvestment funds to build regional processing facilities.
House Bill 391, which authorizes home processing facilities and regulation of home production for sale at on-farm markets, farmers’ markets and other direct to consumer sales, also aauthorizes University of Kentucky Extension personnel to conduct trainings leading to certification. People who attended our training sessions were involved in designing and implementing those regulations. The introduction and passage of this new law stemmed very directly from the interest in small scale processing uncovered aand encouraged by our workshop presentations.
The lessons learned in this project are necessarily specific to Kentucky in terms of laws and regulations, but most of the information is readily transferrable to the rest of the region. Certainly the ability to add value through processing and the need to have a viable business and marketing plan are universal. More research specific to the laws of individual states would be necessary in order to adapt the food safety aspect of the project.