Developing a Training Program in Sustainable Vegetable Production for Agricultural Professionals in Kentucky and Tennessee

Final Report for ES10-101

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2010: $59,532.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Region: Southern
State: Kentucky
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Timothy Coolong
University of Kentucky
Expand All

Project Information


The University of Kentucky (UK), University of Tennessee (UT), and Kentucky State University (KSU) collaborated to provide training in sustainable vegetable production for agriculture professionals. The long-term goal was to increase sustainably farmed and certified organic vegetable acreage in Tennessee and Kentucky. The immediate goal was to deliver lecture based and experiential training in sustainable vegetable farming to Cooperative Extension Service (CES), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) personnel and other agriculture professionals. This was achieved through hands-on workshops held at the University of Tennessee Organic Research Farm, University of Kentucky Organic Farming Research and Education Unit and Kentucky State University's Third Thursday program. A regional farm tour, highlighting successful sustainable farmers in Kentucky and Tennessee took place in the fall of 2011 to complement the hands-on field training. The effectiveness of the trainings were evaluated using surveys and adjustments made during the program as necessary. Websites were developed containing training information, videos and production information for organic farming. DVDs were also developed based on a day-long multistate training held in Nasvhville, TN in January 2011.

Project Objectives:

Objectives as stated in funded grant:

• March-April 2010. Prior to receiving funding project coordinators will leverage CES travel funds to meet together with state SARE coordinators from each state, Extension personnel (including CES administration), Departments of Agriculture, and successful organic and conventional farmers. Active members from state grower organizations (KY Vegetable Growers Association, TN Fruit and Vegetable Association, etc.) will also be asked to participate.

PIs Coolong, Bomford and Wzselaki met with SARE coordinators in their respective states as well as appropriate CES administration in April 2010. Informal advisory group meetings have been held in conjunction with growers associations in both states as well.

• April-June 2010. Collaborators will develop materials in support of a curriculum. The curriculum will utilize previously developed texts (Growing Cover Crops Profitably, Sustainable Vegetable Production: From Start-up to Market, etc.), as well as newly developed information dealing with specific issues relevant to each state.

Completed in June 2010. Texts and information coordinated for day-long training sessions.

• June and September 2010. A day-long training lecture (morning) and in-field (afternoon) in organic vegetable farming will be held at University Research Farms for the Universities of Kentucky and Tennessee. This will build upon previous trainings conducted by PIs Coolong, Wszelaki and Williams.

Two hands-on trainings were held at the University of Kentucky Organic Farming Research and Education Unit and the University of Tennessee Organic Farm in June and August of 2011, respectively. Approximately 65 agricultural professionals attended these trainings.Two in-field trainings were held in KY and TN in 2010 with and additional two trainings held in 2011/2012 to complete this objective. On September 6, 2011 an in-field training was held at the University of Kentucky Horticulture Research farm from 9 am to 2 pm. This training covered equipment use on diversified vegetable farms, irrigation and fertility management, high tunnel production, weed, disease and insect management in organic production systems. An additional training was held on April 26, 2012 at the University of Tennessee Organic Research Farm. This training covered high tunnel research, tomato grafting for organic producers, fruit production, small scale composting, small scale water collection, heirloom seed collection, Brown Marmorated Stink Bug management for organic farmers, interactions between seeding rates and weed control in organic field and forage crops and reduced-tillage organic vegetables. Approximately 10 Extension professionals attended this training.

• April-September 2011. Hands-on field training will be delivered in conjunction with the Third Thursday program at Kentucky State University (PI Bomford)

Trainings were held at the in conjunction with the KSU Third Thursday Program culminating and in organic vegetable production focused field day on July 21, 2012. Topics at this field day included cover crop selection and mowing, roller-crimping, spading implements, high tunnel production and mulching of crops. Tractors and implements were used in the field to demonstrate these technologies. A large mix of Extension Professionals and growers were present. In addition, a day-long organic production training was held on September 27, 2012 mixing field-based topics with lecture topics. The audience was a mix of agricultural professionals from the KY Department of Agriculture and Cooperative Extension Programs. Topics included developing pest management strategies for your organic farm plan, managing soil additions (compost, straw mulch, etc.), becoming certified as an organic grower, and rotational planning.

Below is a list of workshops and presentations conducted by KSU PI Michael Bomford in conjunction with this project:
• August Third Thursday - Backyard organic gardens, 8/19/10.
• July Third Thursday – Organic Soil Fertility and Weed Management, 07/21/11.
• August Third Thursday – Organic Gardening, 08/16/11.
• Organic “Train the Trainer” program, Sept. 27 & 28, 2011.
• Organic Farmers – To Be or Not To Be (with Mac Stone, Larry Brandenburg and Alison Wiediger). Healthy Foods, Local Farms Conference, Louisville KY, 10/15/11.
• General Organic Track Moderator. Organic Association of Kentucky Conference: Cultivating Organics in the Commonwealth. Bowling Green KY, 03/02/12.
• Organic Gardening. Growing Appalachia Conference, Prestonsburg KY, 4/14/2012.
• Season Extension. Growing Appalachia Conference, Prestonsburg KY, 4/14/2012.

Presentations (*Slides archived at
• Michael Ward, Michael Bomford, and Tony Silvernail. Effectiveness of Row Covers Against Late Frost in Unheated High Tunnels. Kentucky Academy of Science Meeting, Bowling Green KY, 11/13/10
• Michael Bomford and Brian Geier. Heirloom Tomatoes. Fairview Produce Auction, Christian County KY, 1/26/11.
• Michael Bomford. Organic Pest Management. Russell County (KY) Extension Office. 2/15/11.
• Tony Silvernail and Michael Ward. Organic Seed Starting. Third Thursday Thing, Frankfort KY. 2/17/11.
• Michael Ward, Michael Bomford, Tony Silvernail, and Jon Cambron. Effects of Row Covers on High Tunnel Soil Temperature. Association of Research Directors Conference, Atlanta GA, 4/10/11.
• Michael Ward and Michael Bomford. Effect of Row Covers on High Tunnel Temperatures and Yield in Spring. Kentucky State University Earth Day Festival, Frankfort KY, 4/22/11.
• Michael Bomford. It's Organic... But is it Sustainable? (Prezi). Third Thursday Thing - Organic Weed & Fertility Management, Frankfort KY, 07/21/11.
• Michael Bomford. High Tunnel Production. Sustainable Commercial Urban Farm Incubator Workshop, Cincinnati OH, 09-03-11.
• Michael Bomford, Tim Coolong, and Tony Silvernail. A Hands-on Demonstration of the Organic Certification Process Using the KSU Farm as a Teaching Example. Organic ‘Train the Trainer’ seminar, Frankfort KY, 09/27/11.
• Michael Ward and Michael Bomford. Row Covers Moderate Diurnal Temperature Flux in High Tunnels. International Symposium on High Tunnel Horticultural Crop Production State College PA, 10/17/11.
• Joni Thompson, Michael Bomford, Jon Cambron, Michael Ward, Anthony Silvernail, Cristen Flewellen, and Christopher Gaines. Effects of plastic and hay mulches on soil temperature and moisture in organic heirloom tomato production. Kentucky Academy of Science Meeting, Murray KY, 11/05/11.
• Michael Bomford. Reducing Energy Costs on Vegetable Farms. Indiana Horticultural Congress, Indianapolis IN, 01/18/12.
• Michael Bomford. Organic/Sustainable Vegetable Production in High Tunnels, Including Economics. Indiana Horticultural Congress, Indianapolis IN, 01/19/12.
• Joni Nelson, Michael Bomford, Jon Cambron, Michael Ward, Anthony Silvernail, and Cristen Flewellen. Effects of Plastic and Hay Mulches on Soil Temperature and Moisture in Organic Heirloom Tomato Production (Poster). Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Conference, Little Rock AR, 01/21/12.
• Michael Bomford. Organic Sweet Sorghum and Edamame Soybean Production and Processing. Virginia Association of Biological Farmers, Richmond VA, 02/10/12.
• Michael Bomford. High Tunnels for Organic Production. Third Thursday Program, Frankfort KY, 02/16/12.

• Summer cover crop demonstration planting, Kentucky State University Research and Demonstration Farm, 2011-12.
• Vegetable mulch trials, Kentucky State University Research and Demonstration Farm, 2011-12.
• Organic high tunnel demonstration and row cover trials, Kentucky State University Research and Demonstration Farm, 2010-12.

• January/February 2011. An in depth, multi-state, 1.5-day training will take place for Extension personnel in both states. Nashville, Tennessee is strategically located to so that agriculture professional to potentially attract more participants for Western Kentucky and Tennessee.

In January of 2011 a multistate training was conducted in Nashville, TN with participants from KY and TN. Due to feedback from agents from earlier trainings the 1.5 day schedule was modified to a single day schedule.There were 34 extension agents signed up for this training from KY and TN and several more came to the training without preregistering. Although the training was intended for agriculture agents, growers were allowed to attend. Approximately 100-150 growers were attending various sessions at any given time.
uly 2010. Interested parties (up to 8 participants from each state) will be invited for a regional tour of successful organic farms in the Southeast U.S. This tour will serve to allow agriculture professionals to learn production techniques from successful farms and bring that knowledge back to their constituents.

Due to delays in the original funding this objective was completed in September 20-22nd, 2011. This three-day tour had 19 participants as well as PIs Coolong, Williams and Wszelaki. Seven sustainable farming operations were visited in KY and TN. The purpose of this tour was to demonstrate various ways in which growers have diversified their farms to enhance the long-term sustainability of their operations. The intent was that agents could then use this information in their own counties when working with farmers who would like to diversify. The following farms were visited: Elmwood Stockfarm, Georgetown, KY; O’Daniels Organics with Joe O’Daniel and Paul Wiediger, Bowling Green, KY; Kenny’s Farmhouse Cheese, Austin, KY; EcoGardens CSA, Scottsville, KY; Windy Acres Farm, Orlinda, TN; Delvin Farms, College Grove, TN; and Skipping Rock Dairy, Philadelphia, TN. All of the attendees felt that they learned quite a bit about a wide variety of agricultural practices including dairy ( value added: cheese), beef, poultry, grain, fruit and vegetable production.

• Podcasts with lectures corresponding to specific trainings and interviews with growers from the farm tour will be uploaded and made available via the project website.

This objective was altered. In lieu of creating podcasts, the Departments of Agricultural Communications from the University of Tennessee and Kentucky assisted in creating a two-DVD set filmed during the day-long organic training session held at the Tennessee Horticulture Expo in January 2011. Each DVD contains three chapters with presentations covering the following: tomato grafting (Cary Rivard, KSU), building your soil for organic farms (David Butler, UT), working with less fossil fuels (Michael Bomford, KSU), organic weed management (Mark Williams, UK), becoming organically certified (Michael Fitzgerald, KDA) and planning your vegetable rotations around cover crops and composting (Daniel Parson, Parson Produce). DVDs have been distributed to each county office in KY and TN.

• October 2010. Begin developing a website for delivery of material after the grant period has ended. Currently developed websites, The UT Organic and Sustainable Crop Production Website ( and the KY Sustainable Vegetable Production Program (, will be heavily modified but used as a template for this purpose.

Websites were modified at UT to include more organic production information; while an entirely new site was developed at UK ( to meet the needs of the target audience. Several powerpoint lectures were developed for this training program and placed on the websites for Extension professionals to use when necessary. These sites will allow for the information developed during this project to be used after this project is completed.


The objectives for this project were to expose Extension professionals to sustainable and organic vegetable production information through a combination of lecture and experiential-based learning opportunities. Collaborations between the Universities of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Kentucky State University allowed for the PIs to reach a broad, but similar audience. All of our goals and objectives were met during the course of this project. After completion of this project we feel that those Extension professionals that attended the trainings are better prepared to address questions and concerns from vegetable producers focusing on organic production. In addition, the PI has observed a noticeable change in the attitudes of some, though not all, agents regarding the feasibility of organic vegetable production.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Dr. Ricardo Bessin
  • Dr. Michael Bomford
  • Dr. Timothy Coolong
  • Dr. Kenneth Seebold
  • Dr. Mark Williams
  • Dr. Annette Wszelaki

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Developing a Training Program in Sustainable Vegetable Production for Agricultural Professionals in Kentucky and Tennessee


Approaches and Methods

Three land grant universities, The University of Kentucky, Kentucky State University and The University of Tennessee collaborated to provide four (two per state) day long experiential learning opportunities for agriculture professionals. The trainings were offered at the UKOFREU and the UT Organic Farm and were held twice to ensure that as many agriculture professionals can attend as possible. This training consisted of a morning of lecture followed by an afternoon of hands-on experience with the topics that were covered that morning.

The efficiency of the hands-on training was be evaluated by giving trainees evaluation forms and requiring them to take a short test at the end of the training and four months after the training to determine how well they retained the information presented.

Websites were developed to provide an outlet for information utilized and developed as part of this project. The website will enable distribution of these resources after this training program will have ended. Instead of contracting with a web-design company, an undergraduate student in the UK Sustainable Agriculture program with web experience was hired to help design the website.

Workshops were also be developed during the spring and summer of 2010 to be presented at the Third Thursday program at Kentucky State University by Dr. Michael Bomford. These monthly workshops are designed to present practical, sustainable production practices in a variety of topic areas.

During September 2011, a three day trip to successful organic farms in the Kentucky and Tennessee was conducted.

In January 2011 a 1-day two-state training was be conducted in Nashville, TN. Nashville. This training was lecture based, and will included more detailed discussion on topics listed previously for the hands-on trainings, as well as other related issues, such as organic certification and marketing. The expanded time for this training will allowed us to bring in a successful organic farmer to discuss his production and business practices with the audience. The entire training was videotaped and put onto a 2-DVD set for this project. The presentations from this DVD collection will be made available online via a youtube page at

Outreach and Publications

Our primary publications are the DVD that was compiled based on the multi-state training in Nashville, TN and presentations that have been uploaded to websites for agents to use in trainings. In addition several texts that the PI team viewed as critical to for Extension professionals were compiled in training packets and supplied to those agents who attended trainings. The publications which included "Steel in the Field." and "Managing Cover Crops Profitably" among several others are used frequently by the agents who have them. This funding helped equip Extension professionals with the tools they need to help growers in their counties. Other outreach efforts include additional production information that will be housed on websites either developed or revised based on funding from this program.

Outcomes and impacts:

Short term outcomes were that Extension professionals in both states are now better prepared to work with vegetable growers interested in organic production. The immediate impact of the efforts are that every county in KY and TN have been equipped with resources that were made available through this program that should help Extension professionals work with clientele wanting to grow vegetables organically. Extension professionals attending tours and trainings now have a better knowledge of sustainable and organic production practices. In Tennessee all counties were provided with a sustainable agriculture lending library consisting of SARE publications, Canadian Organic Grower publications and Growing for Market resources. In 2011 an Organic Vegetable Production Field Day was put on by an agent that had attended a previous organic training. Although outside speakers were brought in it demonstrates that this program is having an impact on agent attitudes. Post training surveys also indicate that attendees have learned more about production practices related to sustainable agriculture and vegetables. Agents attending the field tour increased their knowledge of sustainable and organic systems

For many agents we feel that the trainings have exposed them different methods of producing vegetables. Most that would have attended now understand the systems based approach to production that is required for one to move to an organic production system. I feel that we have driven the point that we need to take a systems approach with growers and not one of input replacement.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

We accomplished providing training to over 150 Extension professionals participants at UK,UT, and KSU events. An additional 150 growers participated in the events although they were not the target audience. The PI group was able to better educate Extension professionals about organic production for growers in KY and TN. The most important accomplishment was the noted change in many of the Extension professionals that attended the trainings. In 2009 many of the participants were very uncomfortable with organic production for vegetables in KY and TN. Through repeated training opportunities the PI group feels (based on 1 on 1 interaction) that a majority of those who attended trainings feel more comfortable discussing organic options with their clientele and know where the appropriate resources are when they need assistance. Although some remain skeptical, a recent field day held at the University of Kentucky Horticulture Research Farm heavily featured organic production systems and had nearly 200 attendees from across Kentucky. The attendees were a mix of growers and agents. Many of the Extension professionals attending the field day had been through trainings held as part of this grant. Prior to this training program attendance would not have been nearly as good. Thus we feel that we accomplished a goal to make Extension professionals more confident and comfortable with working with organic production systems.


Potential Contributions

The contributions of this project should be multi-fold. For those who attended the three-day tour of farms, they should be able to work with growers in their counties who want to diversify and recommend alternatives that they saw working in "real-world" environments. The PI team also has concluded that this project has contributed to the support network for organic vegetable farmers in KY and TN.

Future Recommendations

Future recommendations based on feedback and attendance are that multiple workshops are required for most attendees to begin to feel comfortable with the subject matter. Based on post and subsequent pre-test surveys, those participants who attend two or more trainings perform much better than one-time attendees. Therefore in future programs the PI group would focus on a smaller group of individuals, but provide repeated trainings to that group. However, the goal of this project was to bring as many individuals "up to speed" on organic production as possible in KY and TN. We feel we accomplished that goal.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.