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Monday, December 10, 2012

Judy Clabes: The Kentuckians who care about our food supply at least deserve appreciation

The First Friday breakfast forum and networking event hosted by the University of Kentucky Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Working Group – academic-speak for folks who care a lot about our food supply – is an educational experience at its best. And the food isn’t bad either.

In fact, at the most recent event, the breakfast included pancakes made from scratch from Kentucky farm ingredients and yummy fresh, crisp bacon. And fresh it was – from five rare breeds of pigs raised in cooperation with Berea College, processed by UK Ag folks and cured by Kentucky’s famous Broadbent Farms. Ready for the plate in about three days.

Many of us have no notion what it really takes to assure a plentiful, safe and healthy food supply. Many of our kids think their bacon comes from Kroger and chicken comes from McDonald’s. Many of us give little thought to the issue of corporate farming vs. family farming. Or to GMOs (Genetically Modified Organism – or genetically altered food) vs. organic vs. homegrown vs. Kentucky Proud products (not all of which are Kentucky grown, really). We may not read food labels or give a thought to the health consequences of corn fructose or “fat-free vs. low-calorie” or the color additives to our kids’ drinks.

What we want is readily available, affordable food options at the grocery of our choice when we pop in there instead of taking the kids to the drive-through.

But we should learn to appreciate at least the folks like those at the UK College of Agriculture who do give a lot of thought to protecting our food supply, care about sustainability and availability of it, and help farmers throughout Kentucky make the most of the plot of land they have.

I was reminded of all these things at a full-house early morning (a time familiar to farmers) gathering of faculty, staff, local producers and advocates for enduring agriculture and food systems at First Friday recently. It is free and open to the public, by the way. The next one is the first Friday in February. Mark your calendar and check for details here.

Consider what the Kentucky farmers who spoke at this forum represent:

Deborah Hill is an emeritus forestry extension professor at UK. She says maple syrup production isn’t just for New Englanders anymore. High-quality syrup can be produced in Kentucky because of the different maple varieties capable of producing a sap high in sugar. There are opportunities for woodland owners to become sap suppliers, creating income-producing options. PURE MAPLE SYRUP is made solely from boiled-down sugar maple sap. No other ingredients are added. There is, in fact, a Kentucky Maple Syrup Festival at Federal Grove near Bowling Green. The third annual festival was held in February this year.

Abigail Keam is a native Kentuckian, now living in Fayette County, a mystery writer and beekeeper. She has numerous honey awards at the Kentucky State Fair, is a member of the Lexington Farmers Market and the Kentucky Guild of Arts and Craftsmen and past president of the Lexington Art League. She is passionate about the environment necessary for beekeeping and about the legitimate modern-day threat to bees. Keep those dandelions and honeysuckle and that clover, folks, or incur the wrath of Abigail. Check out Abigail’s blog.

Danny Ray Townsend of Townsend Sorghum Mill in Jeffersonville grows a variety of sorghum on 50 acres, following a 100-year family tradition. His love of sorghum is part of his heritage and his memories of rushing home from school as a young boy, anxious to take in the smell of the sugar house, are fresh and vivid. “It’s great to be a farmer and to be able to grow sorghum,” he says. A “fascinating plant,” sorghum can grow anywhere, doesn’t require much water,and is inexpensive to put in the ground. Moreover, nothing goes to waste as there is a use for every single bit of it – for food, fiber and fuel. It can produce up to 100 gallons an acre. It is a nutritional natural sweetner.

These smart and dedicated people care about what they do, understand the “sustainable” aspects of it and are doing their part to assure the rest of us have nutritious food options. There are thousands more like them in Kentucky and across the country who do the same, day in and day out, working hard and learning new ways to be more productive without doing harm to the product.

The rest of us could surely learn a little more about all this – and show a little appreciation.

You might also be interested in reading ‘Beeconomy’ author Kentucky’s Tammy Horn examines relationship between women and bees and Jim Embry, born to social activism, focuses today on food equity and sustainability.

Judy Clabes is editor and publisher of KyForward.



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