Since farmer friendly legislation opened the avenue for farmers to sell valued added food products from their home if the predominant ingredient was grown, harvested and processed on the farm, the Value Added Microprocessor Project has trained 81 agency professionals and 193 farmers. Agency professionals now have the knowledge and skills to provide homebased microprocessors and other value added training, as well as technical assistance, and homebased microprocessors have the necessary knowledge and skills to produce safe home processed products to sell at farmers markets according to legislative rules. Additional trainings were developed as a result of a survey needs for commercial sale beyond the farmers markets. Others states are exploring adopting the program because it increases economic returns, strengthens the community farm-to-table link, reduces waste, and saves valuable natural resources.
Learning outcomes met during the project include:
*Agency professionals have knowledge and skills to provide homebased microprocessor and other value added training as well as technical assistance;
*Homebased microprocessors have the necessary knowledge and skills to produce safe home processed products and sell at farmers markets according to legislative rules;
*Farmers were surveyed as to additional value added training they deemed necessary from the University of Kentucky and results led to Kitchen to Market workshops;
*Commercial food manufacturers will have the necessary knowledge and skills to oversee the production of safe commercially prepared foods by the end of the year when appropriate activities are implemented.
Historically, tobacco has been the foundation for many of rural Kentucky’s farm profits. However legal and political challenges have prompted farmers to explore avenues of broadening their market opportunities. House Bill 391 is farmer friendly legislation that enables farmers to produce safe value added fruit or vegetable products from their home and then sell from farmers markets. The Value Added Microprocessor Project has allowed training to occur leading to the sale of safe, quality value added foods at farmers markets.
Education & Outreach Initiatives
Using a train the trainer model, a microprocessor certification program was developed, implemented, evaluated and revised. Area professionals and interested farmers participated in the Homebased Microprocessor Workshops held across the state of Kentucky. PowerPoint presentation with script, publications, exams, evaluations, supplemental materials and equipment, and interactive activities provided the avenue for instruction in homebased food processing. The target audience included farmers involved in farmers markets and Cooperative Extension Agents interested in training future interested farmers in their county.
The success of the program was documented through the following activities:
*The number of trainings and participants indicate the level of interest in the program and that the workshop was implemented;
*Pretest and exam scores indicate the level of knowledge gained by participants;
Behavioral changes were assessed through the following activities:
*The number of annual certifications through the health department;
*The number of quality results of health department inspections for good manufacturing practices;
*The accuracy of process schedules submitted;
*A survey of farmers sought to find the need for additional value added training in food processing on a commercial level.
Outreach and Publications
*Workshop publications include: HB 391 Summary; Farmers Market Food Safety and Sanitation; Home Canning Basics; Microbiology of Home Canned Foods; and Acidified Foods.
*Common Ground, Spring 2005 highlighted the Value Added Microprocessor Project in “Cracking Health Codes”.
*University of Kentucky Roundup provided the environment for a taste-testing tour of value added products produced by current homebased processors and microprocessors.
*Numerous exclusives and news stories appeared across the state in local and regional newspapers.
*Brochure publications include: Homebased Processing & Microprocessing and Kitchen to Market.
*Three research abstracts were presented at the American Farm Bureau National Convention; American Dietetic Association Annual Convention; and Society for Nutrition Education Annual Conference.
*Two invited presentations, a tri-state Farm Marketing Conference and SARE National Conference highlight the program at a national level.
*A total of 81 agency professionals and 193 farmers received technical expertise and knowledge from 22 Homebased Microprocessor Workshops. The workshops were presented in a variety of locations so everyone had access to the training.
*Preliminary data analyzed from exams indicated there was a large increase in knowledge among participants. 100% of farmers indicated they will follow safe processing procedures according to approved process schedules and legislative rules. Preliminary compliance data indicates that a large percentage of farmers are in fact processing correctly.
*Of 193 trained farmers, 14% (27) are selling value added products at farmers markets. This number is expected to increase close to 50% by the end of the growing season based on the number of farmers submitting process schedules for approval.
*Individual process schedules approved include 268, with only four not approved.
*A Kitchen to Market Workshop was developed as a result of a farmer-led survey. The daylong interactive workshop explored all issues involved in starting a commercial food processing business beyond the farmers market. Twenty-seven farmers and 34 agency professionals from across the stated attended.
*A hands-on canning workshop was developed and presented to interested community members. 100% of the participants indicate they have the necessary knowledge and technical skills to follow safe processing methods using USDA-recommended recipes.
Linda Ison, owner of Crosswind Llama and Herb Farm in Crestwood saw her profits double the past two years. It’s not because she selling more llamas and herbs, the mainstay of her 16-year-old farm. Linda attributes her success to herbed French bread and home canned hot pepper jam and asparagus spears. These are just a few of the 18 value added products she’s selling at farmers market as a result of house bill 391 and being trained as a homebased microprocessor.
Bobby Giles, owner of Honey Tree Farm has expanded his product line from honey to include 15 microprocessed value added products and is considering going commercial because of the success of several products. In addition to the University of Kentucky Homebased Microprocessor Workshop, he also attended From Kitchen to Market, hoping to gain the entrepreneurial knowledge needed to successfully launch a full product line.
Among the first trained microprocessor were the McDowell sisters. Perfecting their grandmother’s recipe, they began selling salsa across the state at every farmers market and festival they could. After the sale of 10,000 jars at $5.00 per pint, they were awarded a State Board of Agriculture grant for $50,000 to renovate their basement into the permitted kitchen needed to sell commercially. After success in regional markets, they are currently entering into an agreement with Walmart.
These are just a few of the examples of how this program has allowed for increased profitability. In addition, these farmers are having fun selling food products they are proud of; they’re participating in community endeavors while increasing the visibility of local farmers market; and drawing a new audience for the purchase of value added locally-grown products.
*Tennessee rewrote their food code to allow farmers the sale of jams and jellies made at home using locally produced fruits and vegetables.
*Arkansas state Department of Agriculture, Health Department, Economic Development Department and Farmers Market Association invited me to present materials of the program and plan to adopt a similar program by March 2007.
*Other states have inquired about the program.
This summer, working with the Department of Agriculture and Health Department, visits to 25 of 98 farmers markets across the state will be made. Plans are to document marketing efforts through photographs, check compliance issues, and collect profitability data from farmers involved in the project. Currently, discussion of a Better Process Control School at the University of Kentucky, possibly with other university partners, is underway. Financial assistance from legislators will be the next activity to support the program educationally.