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Exploring the future is aim for Kentucky women in ag
Kentucky Correspondent

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Rooted in Tradition - Exploring the Future was the theme for the seventh annual Kentucky Women in Agriculture (KWIA) conference last week in Louisville. More than 120 women and men from across Kentucky came together for education and entertainment as they focused on farm issues impacting the state.

“We’ve had a very successful conference this year,” said Terri Gilbert, president of KWIA. “We have had many first-year attendees and overall a great group of participants.”

Donya Lester, an Indiana farm wife and executive secretary of the Purdue Agricultural Alumni Assoc., kicked off the conference with a talk on her experiences in the agriculture community and as the wife of a full-time farmer.

“Don’t be afraid to do things differently,” Lester stressed to the participants.

For the past 20 years Lester has done things her way as she worked in what she calls her “true calling,” advancing agriculture programs in the land-grant university system. She has done everything from fundraising to student recruitment, and now she runs the oldest and, arguably the most active, agricultural alumni organization in the country.

Her humorous and inspirational talk about her farming experiences touched on what many of the participants involved in agriculture have realized as they explore new markets, the importance of consumer education.

“Consumers do not need to know where their food comes from,” said Lester to a surprised crowd.

“We need them to know where their food comes from.”

Agriculture Adventures: Kentucky gave a lunch presentation showing how Kentucky’s agriculture community is working to take the message of “where our food comes from” into the schools.

Sponsored by commodity groups in the state, this Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA) traveling school program gives school children an education on agriculture and the food they eat. Chef Parmesan and Derby the horse host a silly and educational Lunch Room Live program in which they take children through the process of growing the ingredients to make pizza.

Kids take part in the program by assisting Chef Parmesan with activities during the performance, such as grinding wheat into flour. The program also includes videos from Kentucky family farms and agriculture processing operations, along with hands-on experiments and activities to help kids make that connection between the farm and the table.

This focus on consumer education and marketing was a theme that carried on throughout the conference.

Thursday’s schedule offered participants an array of sessions, which included topics such as marketing, agritourism and media. Roundtables took place on Friday morning giving participants the opportunity to talk one-on-one with successful entrepreneurs who have struggled and overcome issues such as marketing direct to the consumer.

The highlight of the conference was the 2006 Taste of Kentucky reception.

This evening reception brought together Kentucky Proud vendors to showcase the uniquely Kentucky products that are available.

As a Kentucky dulcimer band played softly in the background, conference participants and consumers mingled and enjoyed tasting the meats, sauces, salsas, sweets, seafood, cheeses, wine and much more offered at the reception.

KDA had a special booth at the reception, highlighting Kentucky Proud products available throughout the year. Volunteer chefs created appetizers and a selection of entrées to showcase the range of seasonal products in Kentucky.

“We wanted to show how to fit Kentucky Proud products into your life, to show you could have an all Kentucky meal anytime in the season,” explained Janet Eaton of the KDA. “We had fun creating it, and the people attending had fun.”

This year the reception’s focus was not only to showcase the array of Kentucky Proud products, but to also give vendors a chance to reach new markets with their products. So along with the tasting, vendors had products on hand to sell.

“This year we really promoted the Taste of Kentucky to the community, and we had a great turnout of non-conference participants,” said Gilbert, in explaining the large turnout at the reception. “I saw many people leaving with a shopping bag in hand, so we hope the vendors were as pleased as we were with the event.”

This farm news was published in the Nov. 8, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.