Community Food Security and Marketing Capacity Development in Kentucky
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.
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.
Accomplishments by Objective
1.) 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.
2.) 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.
3.) 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, 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; training on pricing, business plans, and marketing methods; training and information about forming cooperatives.