|By TIM THORNBERRY
FRANKFORT, Ky. — As Kentucky farmers transition from a tobacco-dependent farm economy to a more diversified one, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture is attempting to help farmers market new products.
One of the KDA’s most successful marketing efforts has been the Kentucky Proud program which has provided numerous avenues for producers to get their goods directly to the public. It got its start through funding by the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board, which was created by the 2000 General Assembly. The Board serves to distribute 50 percent of the state monies received from the Master Settlement Agreement for the purpose of agricultural development in the state.
Kentucky Proud is designed to showcase Kentucky products made or produced by Kentuckians and has been received well by the producers across the state to the tune of more than 500 participants.
With everything from blackberry jam to produce of all kinds to traditional country ham, the program has helped place a multitude of value-added products into venues that include large retail grocers to hometown farmers’ markets.
Producers have been able to place their products in retail stores such as Kroger; Slone’s Signature Markets in Lexington and Morehead; E.W. James and Sons in Lexington; Paul’s, Doll’s and A Taste of Kentucky in Louisville, and Remke Markets in northern Kentucky. They have also had access to events such as the Kentucky State Fair, the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Crafted-the Market, which is held annually in Louisville and features 300 exhibitors offering crafts, two-dimensional visual art, food products, books & music, children’s craft activities and cultural entertainment.
KDA Spokesman Bill Clary said the program is beginning to catch hold in the farming community.
“The Kentucky Proud program says so much about what the state is all about,” he said. “We’re very committed to using it as a tool for rural economic development. People are really starting to get into this.”
Sisters Belinda Fay and Carla McDowell of McDowell Farms Salsa serve as an example of how the program has made a difference in their transition from a family tobacco farm to their current titles of the “Salsa Sisters.”
The two opened a commercial kitchen in 2004 to broaden their love of making salsa by way of an Ag Development Board grant. It was then they became involved with the Kentucky Proud program that has helped to take them into markets that were unobtainable before.
“The program has brought us to events we normally would not have attended which have led to other opportunities,” Fay said. “We participated at last year’s Kentucky Derby Breakfast where we were interview by a television crew. Last week we got a call from a station in California that wants to visit us and film what we are doing in our business. That TV crew was from Sacramento. It does fuel your business to be a part of this program.”
“Kentucky Proud has allowed us to network with other producers and learn new things,” said McDowell. “The program helps a lot to get our product out and the people at KDA are constantly providing us with those opportunities.”
Weisenberger Mills is another participant in the program, only with a little more time in business than most of the others.
“Our business got started in 1863 making flour and corn meal from local grain,” said co-owner Mac Weisenberger. “We moved to our present location (Midway, Ky.) in the 1880s and our present-day facility was built in 1913.
Even with longevity on their side, the company has benefited from the marketing strength of Kentucky Proud.
“The program has gotten our foot in the door of retailers we might not have otherwise been able to get into,” said Weisenberger. “We don’t have the manpower to knock on doors so the program has been like an extra person.”
With such a marketing tool at hand, state producers are finding more and more ways to market their products becoming less and less dependent on tobacco. To learn more about the program or how to become a Kentucky Proud participant visit their website at www.kyproud.com
This farm news was published in the February 8, 2006 issue of Farm World.