Creating a Specialty Crop Sustainable Production Community of Practice for Kentucky Agriculture Professionals

Final report for SPDP21-05

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2021: $77,733.00
Projected End Date: 06/30/2023
Grant Recipients: Kentucky Horticulture Council; University of Kentucky; Organic Association of Kentucky
Region: Southern
State: Kentucky
Principal Investigator:
Cindy Finneseth, PhD
Kentucky Horticulture Council
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Project Information


Creating a Specialty Crop Sustainable Production Community of Practice for Kentucky Agriculture Professionals is a partnership between the Kentucky Horticulture Council, the Organic Association of Kentucky, and the University of Kentucky collaborating with other organizations that support Kentucky producers. This project addresses agriculture professionals’ knowledge and resource gaps relative to sustainable production of specialty crops and creates a Community of Practice (CoP). This project will be introduced and available to all Kentucky Extension staff members and other ag professionals who support growers across the Commonwealth, including USDA field staff and other technical service providers. Participants will develop expertise on sustainable practices suitable for specialty crop production and increased awareness of available resources, resulting in amplified impact within the Kentucky technical support network. Through synchronous and asynchronous training as well as an educational resource repository, project participants will be trained and empowered to train growers in selecting and managing cost-effective sustainable production practices. Additionally, participants will build inter-organizational relationships for reciprocal grower referral and access to services. Ag professionals will increase knowledge about sustainable production practices and improve knowledge of grower resources after each training session and report working with growers to implement sustainable production practices. Sustained outcomes of the project include agents being better prepared to serve local growers resulting in pervasive economic, environmental, and quality of life benefits. At the project conclusion, a thriving CoP will exist, allowing agents and technical service providers to continually expand their areas of expertise, improve technical skills, and learn from peers’ experiences.

Project Objectives:

The Creating a Specialty Crop Sustainable Production Community of Practice for Kentucky Agriculture Professionals project trains and empowers Kentucky agriculture professionals to train farmers in selecting and implementing sustainable production practices. This two-year project offers professional development opportunities using synchronous and asynchronous learning activities in addition to developing and curating educational resources in a central repository.

The primary target audience is Extension Agents from the University of Kentucky and Kentucky State University, the 1862 and 1890 land grant universities, respectively, in the state. The secondary target audience is agriculture professionals from federal and state agencies (i.e. USDA NRCS field staff) and non-profit agricultural organizations. The end beneficiaries of the project are Kentucky farmers, the majority of whom operate smaller-scale, highly-diversified operations. 

A diverse, multidisciplinary team of subject matter experts and farmers will collaborate to develop and deliver curriculum, using a “train the trainer” model. Project participants will receive knowledge, hands-on experience, resources, and educational tools they can use at the county and farm level to help producers select, adopt, and optimize sustainable production practices for economic, environmental, and quality of life benefits. A subset of ag professional will participate in a Community of Practice (CoP), amplifying the capacity, knowledge base, and access to relevant resources in Kentucky.

Objective 1: Develop curricula, farm tours, and educational resources including modules, fact sheets, and a decision-making tool to train Kentucky’s Cooperative Extension Agents and ag professionals on sustainable agriculture management programs suitable for common Kentucky production systems. Curricula topics and farm tour focus areas will be honed based on initial assessment of project participants' needs and, in combination with farmer and KY’s SARE Coordinator’s input, will include foundational topics such as sustainable management strategies for soil health, disease, pest and weed management, crop specific production practices, information on certification programs, and conservation programs. Project resources and other curated materials will be available on UK Center for Crop Diversification’s website (, which is a well-known resource for ag professionals and growers with high engagement (159,000+ views in 2019 and 91,000+ views Jan-Mar, 2020). Resources housed in this respected and convenient repository will increase awareness of management programs suitable for organic and conventional farms and provide critical knowledge needed to understand and recommend appropriate sustainable agriculture production practices that will improve farming operations. 

Objective 2: Train an estimated 400 Kentucky agriculture professionals (working as Cooperative Extension Service Agents, USDA NRCS field personnel, non-profit agricultural organization staff, and other technical assistance providers) using the developed curricula and resources. Over the two years, participants will engage directly with subject matter experts and farmers and learn through 6 webinars, 4 farm tours, 4 agent trainings, and 8 Community of Practice meetings as well as accessing fact sheets and other web-based resources.  These professional development trainings are designed to increase participants’ knowledge, tool kits, and capacity to support farmers interested in adopting and advancing sustainable production practices. Sessions will be 1 hour or more in length, offer Continuing Education Units (CEUs), and qualify for professional development hours with partner institutions. At the conclusion of each training session, participants will be able to answer questions on sustainable management practices with at least an 80% proficiency. As a result of these trainings, participants will understand positive on-farm impacts of sustainable agriculture practices, report having a more favorable attitude towards the management strategies, report being more confident in recommending and supporting farmers using these practices, and report an increase in making farmer referrals to relevant certification programs and conservation programs.

Objective 3: The project will impact at least 800 farmers as the ag professionals participating in the project actively incorporate sustainable agriculture content into farmer trainings, outreach activities, and on-farm consultations. At least 400 farmers will commit to adopting sustainable practices including some combination of cover cropping, crop rotation, integrated pest management, reduced tillage, reduced nonrenewable resources inputs, increasing biodiversity, and managing the land with whole systems thinking. 

Educational activity and resource availability will be communicated by the project team and the project collaborator network through email, listservs, social media channels, newsletters, at events, and through personal contact. The combined efforts of this project will improve the overall knowledge of sustainable agriculture practices among ag professionals in Kentucky. Expanded abilities to locate technical resources, identify and share appropriate sustainable management strategies, and facilitate referrals to other agencies and organizations will be highly beneficial to farmers and technical advisors. Achieving these objectives will boost agent capacity and promote environmental and economic advances by Kentucky farmers, extending well beyond the life of the project.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Megan Clark (Educator)
  • Paul Dengel - Producer
  • Kristi Durbin - Producer (Educator)
  • Sonya Keith (Educator)
  • Dr. Shawn Lucas (Educator and Researcher)
  • Dr. Rachel Rudolph (Researcher)


Educational approach:

The project uses synchronous and asynchronous delivery of content to ag professionals.

Webinars have been used to deliver topical information on sustainable practices live and in a recorded format.

Community of Practice sessions have been used to facilitate conversations among ag professionals on a pre-selected sustainability topic.

Virtual Farm tours have been used to introduce ag professions to sustainable practices being used on farms.

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Community of Practice Sessions

To provide education through topical sessions for agriculture professionals to better support growers to whom they provide advice, guidance and recommendations to increase adoption of sustainable practices.


Seven Community of Practice (CoP) sessions were organized to engage ag professionals with a passion for sustainable ag topics and who are interested in strengthening their sustainable agriculture knowledge base with end goal of improving information shared with and implemented by growers. Material was presented and discussion led by subject matter expert based on topics determined by an interest survey and identified needs.

NRCS: When and How We Can Help Farmers Address Resource Concerns. On Tuesday, November 16, 2021 the Kentucky Horticulture Council (KHC), the Organic Association of Kentucky (OAK) and the University of Kentucky Center for Crop Diversification (UK CCD) hosted a Zoom webinar for Kentucky agricultural professionals featuring Sonya Keith, Assistant State Conservationist with the Kentucky state office of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The meeting kicked off with a welcome from Cindy Finneseth, Executive Director of KHC, followed by the speaker introduction by Brooke Gentile, Executive Director of OAK.

NRCS: When and How We Can Help Farmers Address Resource Concerns covered a brief history and overview of NRCS, on-farm concerns addressed by NRCS programs (soil health, water quality and quantity, wildlife habitat, and easements), technical and financial assistance programs and eligibility requirements. Specific programs highlighted included Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), and the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) and included specific examples of popular projects in Kentucky. Ms. Keith also covered the details of how growers can get assistance from local service centers. A robust Q&A session with highly engaged participants moderated by Brooke Gentile followed the presentation.

Links were provided to participants during and following the presentation including:

Quick video about what NRCS does:

Detailed video about NRCS:

Web Soil Survey:

County NRCS offices (under Find Your Local Service Center): 

Conservation Practice Standards & Support Documents:

University of Kentucky (UK) and Kentucky State University (KSU) Cooperative Extension Service personnel were invited to participate in the webinar and join the Sustainability Community of Practice. Professional development credit was offered to UK/KSU participants, with 16 Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) agents and Extension Associates (EAs) registering for the training. Other ag professionals supporting Kentucky specialty crop growers were invited to attend to webinar to learn more about NRCS programs and represented the Kentucky Horticulture Council, the Kentucky Center for Ag and Rural Development, Grow Appalachia, and the Organic Association of Kentucky.  In total, 26 ag professionals participated in the training.

Crop Insurance for Ag Professionals 9/27/2022. Specialty crop growers historically have very low participation in crop insurance programs. This webinar focused on helping ag professionals better understand risk management in crop production and different programs suitable for Kentucky farms. It also included answers to questions that growers frequently have. Recording:

When and How We Can Help Farmers with Cover Crop Systems 10/11/2022. Webinar description: Are farmers in your network interested in cover crops for field or high tunnel systems? Are there aspects of cover cropping knowledge you could improve? Join this training with Dr. Rachel Rudolph, UK Vegetable Specialist, to learn about benefits of cover crops to cut fertilizer costs, reduce the need for herbicides and other pesticides, improve yields by enhancing soil health, prevent soil erosion, conserve soil moisture, protect water quality, and help safeguard personal health. Serve an important role in connecting farmers with this useful practice. Learn how to recommend cover crops as a conservation and production best management practice. Recording:

IPM for Ag Professionals 11/29/2022. This webinar focused on aspects of Integrated Pest Management that ag professionals could use as a refresher on IPM principles and practices. It also included new IPM recommendations to better serve the farmers of Kentucky. The webinar featured Dr. Jonathan Larson, UK Entomology Specialist, to build ag professional capacity to better recommend sustainable IPM practices to farmers in their networks. Recording:

Using the New NRCS Website & Soils Tools 1/17/2023. This webinar focused on recent updates and changes to the NRCS website and provided a refresher on the soil tools available on the website. Guests Justin Pius and Steve Blanford from NRCS showed ag professionals how to help farmers navigate the website to find resources and use tools to learn more out their soils. Recording

Water Management Plans for Sustainable Production 3/2/2023. This webinar focused on aspects of farm water management for ag professionals. It included pointers on how to help farmers with water management issues and featured UK Extension Water Quality Specialist Dr. Amanda Gumbert. She covered tips to help ag professionals talk to farmers about water management plans with sustainability in mind. Recording:

 An Introduction to Organic Certification for Ag Professionals 5/15/2023. Shelby Wheeler from MOSA Certified Organic ( led a session for ag professionals on the basics of Organic Certification. Shelby helped the participants get more familiar with organic certification programs for Kentucky farmers and what we can do to help the farmers we work with. The session included lots of questions. Recording:

Outcomes and impacts:

Participants reported learning new information about practices and indicated an intention to share this information with local growers.

Organic Association of Kentucky Virtual Conference

Provide high quality information to Kentuckians and neighbors active in community food systems to build a local, resilient and healthy food system. The primary focus of OAK Conference programming is on-farm production systems, techniques and practices to advance the sustainable agriculture movement.


OAK hosted a virtual conference January 27-29, attended by more than 250 farmers, researchers, nonprofit professionals, federal and state agency partners, allied service providers and conscious consumers working collectively to build a local, resilient and healthy food system. Eighteen sessions focused on sustainable practices and combined with the place-based connection to our Kentucky farms, soil and communities provided excellent opportunities for ag professionals to grow their knowledge while focused on community, conservation and conscious choice-making. Fifty-three individual ag professionals attended the virtual sessions.

Outcomes and impacts:

Through session surveys, attendees reported immediate gain of knowledge, with intentions of implementing learnings after the conference.

Organic Transition Trainer Workshop

Provide an intensive 5-day training program for ag professionals interested in becoming Organic Transition Trainers.


Fifteen ag professional participated in the training to become Organic Transition Trainers who will assist Kentucky farmers who are interested in transitioning to USDA-certified organic production. Trainers are specialists in organic and sustainable practices and are available for one-on-one consultations, providing a personal level of service and technical assistance on-site, at the farmer’s convenience and can assist with:   

  • Developing farm transition plans

  • Filling out the Organic System Plan
  • Navigating regulations around organic certification

  • Recordkeeping, maps, buffers and other specific requirements 

  • Practical details about organic crop, livestock, grain, and dairy production

  • Fundamental principles of organic agriculture

  • Marketing opportunities

Outcomes and impacts:

Program participants completed an end-of-training assessment to demonstrate knowledge gained and committed to working directly with farmers to improve practices and advance organic certification in Kentucky. A toolkit for creating and hosting an Organic Transition Trainer Workshop has been created to be shared with a national audience. In draft form currently and will be submitted to USDA NOP October 2022.

Farmer Field Days

Bring ag professionals onto working farms to see sustainable practices in action.


Modern Heritage Farm Field Day. Twenty-eight ag professionals participated in a field day on Modern Heritage Farm in Glendale, KY. Modern Heritage Farm is a small-scale vegetable, fruit, and livestock farm located in central Kentucky. The farm mission is to grow organic, nutrient-dense food that improves health. The growers focus on land stewardship and farm on a human-scale using low-tech methods and partner with nature in creating healthy soil biology. Participants were able to observe and ask questions about the producers' on-farm practices include organic, regenerative, and biodynamic land stewardship practices in growing a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, herbs, flowers, poultry, and eggs. 

Cost-Effective Measures for Improving Produce Quality and Extending Shelf-Life UK Organic Farming Unit, Lexington, KY (May 5, 2022). ​This field day at the UK’s Horticulture Research Farm was a day of education, demonstration, and discussion around affordable ways to improve and maintain produce quality. The content focused on preharvest, harvest, and postharvest management decisions that can extend the shelf life of fruits and vegetables, including: Temperature and Humidity Control; Varietal Selection; Harvest Techniques and Equipment to Reduce Damage; Washing, Packing, Curing and Cooling; Produce Food Safety; Using Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). Bryan Brady, Extension Associate for UK's Food Connection, guided the discussion, and Kristi Durbin, UK's CSA Manager, highlighted the on-farm practices. 

From Arugula to Zucchini - Diversified Organic Production on a Mid-sized Market Farm Rootbound Farm, Crestwood, KY (June 24, 2022). Rootbound Farm, a certified organic farm in Oldham County, direct markets organic pastured chicken, eggs, lamb and veggies. Rootbound delights in opportunities that allow them to connect with their community including a 700-member CSA program, nonprofit partnerships, local restaurants, and farmers markets.  This field day focused on multiple aspects of their vegetable production including greenhouse, transplant and field production. With over 30 different crops in the ground in early summer, attendees had the opportunity to view different production systems Rootbound utilizes for direct-seeded and transplanted crops - including plasticulture and bare ground production, drip irrigation, transplant and cultivation equipment, and pest management strategies.  Participants visited the pack shed and talked about post-harvest handling, storage, and marketing and distribution strategies. We also explored how the chickens and sheep are rotated through the pastures to close the fertility loop on Rootbound Farm. 

Intensive Cover Crop Methods for No-till Production of Staple Crops and Vegetables Salamander Springs Farm, Berea, KY (July 26, 2022). ​Imagine a system with high weed suppression, nearly non-existent erosion, thriving biodiversity, increasing soil carbon and organic matter…  a farm with minimal off-farm inputs and healthy, nutrient-dense crops.  The no-till systems at Salamander Springs Farm are built around year-round intensive cover cropping.  This field day was designed to learn more about Susana Lein’s diverse grain, dried bean, forage and vegetable production developed over the last few decades and influenced by the seminal work of Japanese rice farmer Masanobu Fukuoka, and Mayan polyculture cornfield practices she learned in Latin America. 

Flowers, Herbs, and Vegetables: Growing a Backyard Garden into a Small-Scale Farm Business Mountain Girl Provision Company, Greenup, KY (August 4, 2022). ​For nearly 25 years, Kristi Ruggles has grown herbs, flowers and vegetables for her family in Greenup County. As her garden grew, her interest in growing as naturally as possible also grew, leading Kristi to dig deeper into sustainable agriculture and organic practices. As her family demands lessen, Kristi is shifting her backyard gardening towards small-scale, local production for profit. This field day allowed us to hear Kristi’s path exploring markets and sourcing materials in a rural area, broadening her crops and products and expanding her infrastructure. We toured her high tunnel, raised beds and gardens; learned her tips and tricks of cut flower and herb production; discussed the merits and drawbacks of organic certification for small-scale growers and explored the benefits of pollinator plantings. 

No-Till Organic Market Gardening Rough Draft Farmstead, Lawrenceburg, KY (September 13, 2022). ​This field day focused on a discussion of no-till market gardening at Rough Draft Farmstead where we saw the many different techniques and styles of no and low tillage production that can be implemented in our region. From cover cropping to mulching, living pathways and small-scale composting, Rough Draft Farmstead was an excellent place to get an in-depth look at options available to improve soil health on a production scale. 

Multi-Species Cover Cropping, Integrated Grazing and Soil Health in Row Crop Production Beiler Farm, Trenton, KY (October 4, 2022). ​For nearly 20 years, John Beiler and his family have managed their 200 acres of hay, corn, and dairy cattle production. In the past decade, they have steadily increased their use of 7-15 species in their cover crop mixes, intentional grazing of their fields in a 3-year rotation, and a focus on healthy and carbon-rich soils across their certified organic farm.  This field day included a walk through the Beilers’ “carpeted fields,” learning their cover crop mixes and interplanting successes, and hearing from their collaborator Chad Parmley of MicroSoil Enhancers. 

Growing Under Cover on a Market Vegetable Farm Pavel's Garden, Crestwood, KY (April 13, 2023). Pavel’s Garden is a 4-acre diversified market farm and CSA in Crestwood, managed by Pavel and Katie Ovechkin. Using cover crops and natural mulches, minimal tillage, crop rotations, intercropping, and biodynamic methods, they grow a broad diversity of plants to ensure a thriving ecosystem in their soil and an abundant offering for their customers. On leased land in Oldham County, their 1.5-acre market garden uses 6 caterpillar tunnels and a high tunnel for year-round crop production and weather protection. At this field day, Pavel and Katie highlighted what they have learned about growing under cover in 15 years of farming (10 years at this current location), including: Low-cost caterpillar tunnel structures and design modifications; Challenges, benefits, and uses of caterpillar tunnels; Bed preparation and soil fertility; Intercropping, rotations, and crop selection; Trellising systems and tools; and Pest and disease pressures and strategies. Participants walked around Pavel’s Garden with Pavel and Krista Jacobsen, agroecologist and sustainable agriculture professor from the University of Kentucky learning more about sustainable ag practices.

Pastured Livestock for Soil Health, Faul Family Riverside Farm, Sulphur, KY (May 9, 2023). The focus of Faul Family Riverside Farm in Henry County has always been on regenerating their farm through sustainable practices, using animals to rejuvenate their pastures and increase their soil fertility for land, livestock, and human health. Andre Faul and his family have used these soil-forward approaches for their pastured livestock operation since starting their farm in 2017. After a couple of years scaling up the diversity and number of their animals, they’ve settled into their current work of refining their systems and markets and promoting their on-farm events. This field day focused on the Faul family’s regenerative practices and livestock infrastructure, including: Broiler chickens and turkeys, from brooder to pasture; Heritage-breed pastured pigs; and Pasture-raised sheep and cows. Beyond the grass-based livestock, Andre also shared his saltwater shrimp operation and farm-based events such as public tours, farm-to-fork dinners, and hosting private events in their on-farm event barn. The field day including walking and a hay wagon ride to explore the Farm. 

Integrating Sustainability in a Solar Farmhouse and Organic Market Garden Cedar Ring Greens, Frankfort (June 20, 2023). For nearly two decades, Cedar Ring Greens farm in Frankfort has operated with a commitment to sustainability, which includes improving the health of the land, encouraging biodiversity, working for food justice, and powering their home and farm with the sun. This field day included a tour of the home and market gardens of Cedar Ring Greens with Andy McDonald and Mehera Baugher. Andy shared their use of solar energy on the farm, along with their barn, packing shed, site-built walk-in cooler, and two small greenhouses they designed. He also walked participants through sustainable components of the on-farm home that he and Connie Lemley renovated using passive solar design, solar electric and solar hot water, a composting toilet and greywater systems. Mehera shared the farm’s certified organic market gardens, highlighting the minimal till systems of bed prep, seeding and harvesting used in their diverse vegetable production; covered crop protection with row covers and tunnels; cover cropping in rotations for soil health; and hedgerows for pollinator biodiversity.

Outcomes and impacts:

Participants reported learning new information about practices and indicated an intention to share this information with local growers.

General Sustainable Practices Webinars

To provide general audiences with topical information to increase adoption of sustainable practices.


General Webinars

Five general webinars on sustainable ag topics were organized to share information and practices with farmers, ag professionals and others who are interested in strengthening their sustainable agriculture knowledge base with end goal of using the information to implement on-farm practices. Topics were selected from interests and needs identified by Kentucky ag professionals participating in the Community of Practice (CoP).


Principles of Sustainable Agriculture Practices with No-Till Growers 3/23/2023

This webinar featured Jackson Rolett from No-Till Growers and focused on implementing appropriate no-tillage, cover cropping and mulching practices in small-scall market gardens. Recording:


Soil Health Webinar with Dr. Shawn Lucas 4/1/2023

This webinar featured Dr. Shawn Lucas from Kentucky State University discussing how soil health and sustainable practices contribute to soil health. Recording:


Farm design and layout with Steve Higgins 4/24/2023

Good farm design and layout is critical to optimizing production and making good use of available on-farm resources. This webinar featured Dr. Steve Higgins, UK Extension Specialist and covered principles of good farm design. Recording:


Beneficial Insects and Sustainable IPM with Janet Meyer 5/11/2023

Janet Meyer from Berea College Horticulture Farm joined us to talk about beneficial insects and sustainable IPM practices. Berea College's organic production practices have established perpetual beneficial populations in their environment, so Janet explained their strategies and how farmers can implement some of those practices. Recording:

Outcomes and impacts:

Participants reported learning new information about practices and indicated an intention to adopt practices on their farms.

Educational & Outreach Activities

3 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
19 Online trainings
1 Tours
10 Webinars / talks / presentations
10 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

174 Extension
16 Researchers
57 Nonprofit
62 Agency
42 Ag service providers (other or unspecified)
312 Farmers/ranchers
18 Others

Learning Outcomes

147 Participants gained or increased knowledge, skills and/or attitudes about sustainable agriculture topics, practices, strategies, approaches
119 Ag professionals intend to use knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness learned

Project Outcomes

2 Grants received that built upon this project
18 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

In Y1, we have focused on building an appreciation for sustainable practices and knowledge base within ag professionals. When we can get ag professionals to the trainings, nearly all event attendees report learning about the featured practice. We have been successful in strengthening and expanding the network of ag professionals with an interest in sustainable practices, enabling them to connect and easily find information to learn and share with the farmers with whom they work. These connections will continue after the project ends.

In Y2, we focused on delivering educational sessions to ag professionals and farmers as well as cultivating the Community of Practice. While live participation in virtual sessions was adequate, the after session views of content was higher than anticipated. Field days were particularly successful, with highly engaged audiences learning directly from farmers. Participant feedback reinforced the importance of farmer-to-farmer knowledge transfer. The CoP sessions had a different composition of ag professionals each time which expanded networks in an amazing way. 


Best practices/strategies for getting busy ag professionals who work directly with farmers to attend trainings - our team has struggled with engaging professionals who are lukewarm or disinterested in sustainable practices. It seems we continue to reach the same people (who tend to already be knowledgeable advocates) and our impact would be greater if we could expand that sphere of contacts.  

The external evaluator's comments are attached to the report (SSARE_COP_Eval). This was an extremely valuable addition to our project and reinforced the need for the project and highlighted the benefits of the activities. Feedback from stakeholders and participants gave us several ideas for future projects.


Information Products

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.