Community Food Security and Marketing Capacity Development in Kentucky

Final Report for ES97-026

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 1997: $79,970.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2000
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $143,500.00
Region: Southern
State: Kentucky
Principal Investigator:
Karen Armstrong-Cummings
Commodity Growers Cooperative
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Project Information


As agriculture moves toward industrial-level production processes, small farms lose their economic viability, and rural communities suffer. The need for innovative programs to generate and supplement farm income is particularly great in Kentucky, where agriculture has an annual economic impact of more than $12 billion. Highly dependent on tobacco income, Kentucky is characterized by small family farms, and 80 percent of the state’s farms gross less than $40,000 a year.

In order to promote prosperous family farms, sustainable agriculture and strong rural communities, Kentucky farmers need access to market development, training and product diversification. With the support of the SSARE PDP grant, CGC and its partners have been able to develop markets for family farm products and build support for a local, sustainable food system – important steps in Kentucky’s efforts to build a sustainable future for its agricultural community.

Project Objectives:

1. To build community capacity for managing and expanding local farmers markets and public markets.

2. To organize community food councils and conduct community food access assessments.

3. To train community organizations to expand on and replicate the highly successful Harvest Festivals.

4. To ensure access to marketing and organizational assistance for farmers, by providing training to extension agents, farmers, small business assistance programs and others who can assist farmer associations in community food issues, market development planning, building access to capital, and organizational management for farmer associations.

Education & Outreach Initiatives


Commodity Growers Cooperative wrote and published the report “Building Bridges – Growing Community: Emerging Alliances for Community-Based Farm Product Marketing in Kentucky,” which summarized the first year of work supported by this SSARE grant. The report is posted on the Commodity Growers website - - and was distributed to the Extension Offices of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Service, members of the Commodity Growers advisory board and various farm groups throughout the Burley Tobacco Region.

Throughout the grant period, Commodity Growers worked with media representatives throughout Kentucky to educate the general public about community marketing and food security issues. More than 30 articles appeared in daily and weekly papers throughout the state as a result of these media efforts. As many farmers have limited funds available to market their products, the media work of Commodity Growers served as a valuable advertising medium for farm products and community-based marketing initiatives.

Outcomes and impacts:
Outcomes and Accomplishments

(by objective)

Capacity building for managing and expanding local farmers markets and public markets

In 1996, the Commodity Growers Cooperative and several cosponsors conducted a Public Markets Conference. Discussions at the conference highlighted the need for increasing the links between urban and rural communities and teaching urban consumers about the importance of a local, sustainable food system. As a result, CGC then established a public markets work group for the Lexington area that, in-turn, created a support organization called the Friends of the Lexington Farmers Market. CGC provided organizational support and management for the group, developed a fundraising plan, and provided training for board development and organizational growth.

The funding from the SARE grant enabled CGC to expand its work with public markets from 1997 to 1999 and follow-up with its initial work with the Friends of the Lexington Farmers Market. This work produced a diversity of trainings and workshop, each addressing the need for capacity building for managing and expanding local farmers markets and public markets.

Throughout 1997-1999, staff from Commodity Growers and Partners for Family Farms continued to work with the Friends of the Lexington Farmers Market (FFM). FFM organized at least one special event a month to be held at the Lexington Farmers Market from May to October. An example of these events is the “Chef Days at the Market,” a marketing event organized by FFM that puts local chefs in touch with local food producers. This and other special events worked to increase the consumer turnout to the markets – on the days of the special events farmers at the market reported that their sales doubled. By introducing local farmers to local chefs, events such as “Chef Days at the Market,” also create new markets for farmers as many of the local chefs then begin to buy local produce directly from the farmer.

Sue Weant and Susan Harkins of Partners for Family Farms conducted trainings on community marketing and public markets in Henry and Powell County. These trainings resulted in the establishment of farmers markets in both counties, and these markets continue to be active today. Susan Harkins also conducted a training in Rowan County to establish a network of consumers interested in purchasing produce from local farmers. This network of consumers has served to improve the connection between local food producers and consumers.

Commodity Growers worked with the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Office to develop a guidebook on starting and expanding farmers markets. Previous drafts of this report have been used in multiple trainings and workshops. A final draft is currently in review with the UK Cooperative Extension Office.

Commodity Growers organized a Kentucky Farmers Direct Marketing Conference in 1998 and 1999 that featured workshops on agri-tourism, value-added farm products, the direct marketing of livestock and poultry and other areas of farm marketing. Specific sessions focused on the organization and expansion of farmers markets. The individuals who attended these sessions then returned to their communities to share their newly learned skills with other farmers in their area.

In follow-up to the conference, CGC has learned that all of the farmers who attended the conference continue to maintain successful farm operations. Family farms are “going out of business” in Kentucky at a un-precedented rate. Considering the current state of Kentucky’s agricultural economy, the fact that all of the conference attendees still continue to farm is a significant accomplishment. Of course, the success of these farmers cannot be solely attributed to the Kentucky Farmers Direct Marketing Conference. While the level of the conference’s impact on these farmers’ success can be debated, however, one outcome is certain. The conference succeeded in establishing a network of Kentucky farmers dedicated to sustainable family farming. By sharing ideas and lessons learned from diversification, farmers can serve as a valuable resource to each other in the diversification process.

Organizing community food councils and conducting community food access assessments

Through the SSARE project, Commodity Growers has spearheaded several efforts to train communities about food security and to organize food security coalitions in Kentucky. CGC organized workshops on community food security in Lexington, Louisville and Frankfort. CGC and PPF staff worked with Mark Winnie of the Community Food Security Coalition to plan and implement these workshops.

Working in Louisville, Commodity Growers assisted the University of Louisville and the Jefferson County Cooperative Extension Office in organizing a council to educate farmers, extension agents, farm market managers, civic leaders, and urban leaders about the importance of urban gardening, farmers market needs, and having access to locally produced food.

Working in Lexington, Commodity Growers organized a series of community discussions on “Sustaining Kentucky Communities: Food Systems and Small Farms” and worked with several Fayette County organizations to develop a proposal for a food security planning project for that area.

Commodity Growers also hosted a meeting on community food security in Frankfort at the Old State Capitol. Over 50 people attended the event and it received media attention from several local newspapers. Speakers included Wendell Berry, a farmer and writer from Henry County; Hank Graddy IV, an attorney representing the Sierra Club in its fight against large hog farms in Western Kentucky; Mark Winnie, Community Food Security Coalition; Carolyn Oldfield, Thoroughbred Resource and Development Council; and Karen Armstrong-Cummings, Managing Director, Commodity Growers Cooperative Association. The meeting focused on the need for a sustainable local food system as an alternative to large agribusiness, and it explored ways for local citizens and organizations to address the food security needs of their communities. Several follow-up discussions on community food security in the Frankfort area resulted from this meeting.

In addition, Commodity Growers conducted a food security training session for Kentucky’s Agricultural Advancement Council, a statewide leadership and policy development group established by the University of Kentucky and the Kellogg Agricultural Leadership for Sustainability project.

Training community organizations to expand on and replicate the highly successful Harvest Festivals

Partners for Family Farms, through funding from the SARE grant, organized Harvest Festivals in Lexington and Louisville in 1997 and 1998 to showcase local chefs’ preparation of Kentucky farm products. Approximately 25 chefs, caterers, or restaurants were paired with 25 farmers to demonstrate the quality, freshness, and nutritional value of locally grown produce. The Harvest Festivals serve to create new markets for farmers by directly connecting them with local chefs and consumers.

Both events were successful each year, attracting the support of several cosponsors, the participation of several thousand people, and extensive media coverage. The Belvedere Harvest Festival alone, held in Louisville, attracted crowds of over 7,500 in both 1997 and 1998. The Lexington and Louisville Harvest Festivals continue, with the Lexington Harvest Festival scheduled for July of this year.

Following up on the Harvest Festivals events, several programs were developed to illustrate strategies for other communities to use in developing such festivals. Sue Weant with PPF worked in Woodford County to establish an annual “Harvest Day” at the Woodford Farmers Market, a smaller version of the Lexington and Louisville Harvest Festivals. Under the direction of Karen Armstrong-Cummings, CGC organized the first ever Mountain Agriculture Festival in Eastern Kentucky to showcase agricultural products from farmers throughout Eastern Kentucky.

Partners’ staff also conducted a session at the Kentucky Farmers Direct Marketing conference on Entertainment Farming, emphasizing the role that Harvest Festivals can play in bringing together tourism interests, farmers, and chefs as well as local musicians and entertainers. The director of Natural Bridge State Resort Park attended the session and subsequently worked with CGC and other partners to sponsor a weekend at the park with a Harvest Festival theme.

Ensuring access to marketing and organizational assistance for farmers

Commodity Growers provided market development training and assistance through several projects focused specifically on helping farmers develop business and marketing plans. These often were combined with direct marketing assistance to farmers that included:

• Information and materials.
• Special events and help publicizing direct marketing opportunities
• Research and reports on farmers’ and buyers’ interests related to direct farm-product marketing.
• Training and technical assistance projects.

A Commodity Growers survey of Kentucky fruit and vegetable growers found farmers interested in:

• A statewide direct marketing association or network to provide information about direct marketing, access to farmers from other regions, and materials from federal and state agencies that regulate, inspect, fund or support direct marketing.
• Specific training on pricing, business plans, and marketing methods.
• Training and information about forming cooperatives.

Project Outcomes


The original objectives of this SSARE PDP grant are as follows:

  1. To build community capacity for managing and expanding local farmers markets and public markets;
  2. To organize community food councils and conduct community food access assessments;
  3. To train community organizations to expand on and replicate the highly successfully Harvest Festivals; and
  4. To ensure access to marketing and organizational assistance for farmers, by providing training to extension agents, farmers, small business assistance programs and others who can assist farmers associations in community food issues, market development planning, building access to capital, and organizational management for farmer associations.

In accomplishing these goals, CGC and its partners tried to work closely with existing agencies, organizations and institutions supporting Kentucky agriculture – building strong partnerships and always, recognizing the importance of cooperation and alliances. Through the work of this grant and through relationships with key agricultural institutions, CGC and its partners have learned several lessons about community food security and market capacity development in Kentucky.

Lessons Learned

  1. Change in Kentucky’s agricultural institutions comes slow and requires consistent and sustained pressure.
    •  Work with the UK Cooperative Extension Service found that some of county and area extension agents were not open to new trainings or very receptive to working with outside agencies. For some agents, this was due to lack of time and resources; for others in seemed more a lack of interest.
    • Community food security and local market development are new strategies in agriculture for many Kentucky farmers and farm groups. It is often difficult to engage these people and organizations in new, and untested, ways of thinking.
  2. Change requires strong leadership and collaboration.
    • In all of the projects supported by this grant, an essential component of success was strong leadership. Because all of these initiatives in community food security and local market development are new, farmers and farm groups need leaders willing to venture into new territory.
    • A major barrier to success was the many “turf battles” that exist between major farm groups in Kentucky. Instead of working together, the major agricultural groups often fight amongst themselves, which reduces their effectiveness and leads to more un-coordinated projects that only “re-invent the wheel.”
    • In addition to resistance among farm organizations, some groups also resisted the involvement of “non-farm” participants. These non-traditional partnerships take time and commitment on everyone’s part.
  3. The need for agricultural assistance far outweighs existing resources.
    • Most farmers and farm groups are already overworked. They have limited time to devote to new initiatives such as those supported by this grant.
    • The interest in local market development and community food security is growing. Farmers and consumers showed great interesting the marketing and food security issues supported by this grant.
  4.  Farmers face real and specific bottlenecks and barriers in new marketing initiatives.
    • Farmers repeatedly cite “lack of access to consistent markets” as the primary barrier to their success.
    • Many local, state and federal regulations impede the development of a local marketing infrastructure.

Based on these lessons learned, CGC and its partners make several recommendations for the future.

Recommendations for the Future

  1. Existing agricultural institutions must continue (and expand) their involvement in community food security and local marketing initiatives.
    For example, the UK Cooperative Extension Service and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture could assign lead staff to organize the 2001 Direct Marketing Conference for Kentucky. In the past this event has been organized by CGC.
  2. The many partners involved in this SSARE PDP grant process should continue to collaborate and provide leadership in Kentucky agriculture.
    This grant process established valuable working relationships between several agricultural groups in Kentucky, namely CGC, Partners for Family Farms, the Kentucky League of Cities, the Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative, UK Cooperative Extension Service, and Kentucky State University Cooperative Extension Service. These organizations must continue to work together. Possible project for the future might include a joint proposal to the State Board that will administer the Phase I funds of the Master Tobacco Settlement Agreement.
  3. The networks and collaborative efforts started with this grant should be expanded to include more farm and non-farm organizations.
    The groups already involved in this grant should recruit more farm and non-farm organizations to join their work on local market development and community food security. Collaboration and networking increase the effectiveness of all parties involve because they can prevent individual groups from “re-inventing the wheel,” spread word of the latest developments in Kentucky agriculture, and enables farmers and farm groups to pool their scarce resources and thereby improve their effectiveness.
  4. The Kentucky League of Cities’ role strengthened the partnership and vastly improved understanding of city and towns’ leadership in the changing agricultural economy. The state, regional and national organizations of urban leaders should strengthen this partnership.

Potential Contributions

The community marketing and food security initiatives supported by this grant have produced diverse and noticeable impacts throughout the Kentucky agricultural community. 

Through the SSARE grant, CGC and its partners have been able to spearhead new connections in sustainable agriculture that many thought unlikely, and the projects supported by this grant have opened doors for many grassroots farm entrepreneurs to realize their dreams. The impacts are measurable: 

  • New farmers markets and community-based marketing ventures in counties all over Kentucky;
  • Consumers in Lexington and Louisville now championing a permanent public market for their communities;
  • Increased participation by Kentucky farmers in the Annual Conference of the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG). (In 2000, over 50 Kentucky delegates attended the Conference.) 
  • The establishment of a "Governor's Commission on Family Farms," with Kentucky being the only state in the nation to take such an action; 
  • The establishment of the KY Network for Sustainable Agriculture, an informal network of diverse organizations and individuals throughout the state that work to advance sustainable agriculture;
  • Dozens of farmer/extension agent teams with capital and training to create new businesses; and
  • Increased media coverage of family farming and sustainable agriculture issues in Kentucky. 

While CGC and its partners are not the only ones working to create these “seeds of change,” it is clear that the CGC’s work with community food security and community marketing played an essential role in these advancements in sustainable agriculture. The projects in community marketing and food security raised awareness among farmers, consumers, and agricultural leaders throughout the state, creating a climate more conducive to advancements in sustainable agriculture.

The University of Kentucky now funds a full-time position to coordinate issues of food security in Kentucky, leading to the recent creation of the Kentucky Coalition of Food Security, which is sponsored by the University of Kentucky. The Kentucky Direct Marketing Network formed as an outgrowth of the Kentucky Direct Marketing Conference that was supported with this grant. The Network continues to keep participants of the conference in-touch and sharing ideas in community marketing and community food security. The Kentucky Department of Agriculture established an office of Direct Marketing to assist farmers and farm groups through out the state with their marketing ventures and a Value-Added Grants program that funds farmers working to develop value-added products from their farm’s production. In total the KY Dept. of Ag. has created six full-time positions over the past four years to address farm-marketing needs. 

The Kentucky League of Cities features an article on farm and city connections in every issue of its statewide magazine, City. This well-known magazine, distributed to over 10,000 readers, recently included an article by CGC’s Managing Director on community food security and the need for urban and rural connections.

Trainee Adoption

At each of the trainings farmers were given evaluation forms to offer comments and suggestions on the workshops attended. The overall feedback from the participants in the trainings was highly favorable and farmers repeatedly said that the “hands-on” and practical training offered by CGC and its partners provided them with real skills that could be used to improve their farm operations.

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.