By TIM THORNBERRY
MT. STERLING, Ky. — What was once a familiar scene, of canning homegrown vegetables from the garden to feast on through the winter, has become an industry all its own in Kentucky.
This is thanks to legislation that passed nearly a decade ago and the diverse farming operations created through investments from organizations like the Kentucky Agricultural Development Fund (KADF).
Today, “home processing” has generated countless products created from homegrown commodities and revenue streams that have kept families on the farm.
That legislation allowed producers to process in their own kitchens under certain regulations. This opened the door to a variety of value-added products that have become a staple in the local foods movement and turned some farms into tourism destinations.
House Bill 391 stated: “Products produced under this program may be marketed at the following locations: farmers’ markets listed with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA), Certified Roadside Stands listed with Kentucky Farm Bureau or from the processor’s farm … Farmers or individuals who wish to process foods to sell or market to other locations, such as restaurants and grocery stores, will need to obtain a ‘commercial’ permit from the Kentucky Food Safety Branch to operate.”
In the last 10 years the number of products has grown immensely, along with the number of venues in which to sell those products. Sharon Spencer, the farmers’ market marketing specialist with the KDA, said there are more than 600 registered home processors in the state.
“That’s a really good number, and there are more and more folks getting into it,” she said. “There are people that are looking at how to take products not selling at their markets and, instead of feeding them to the hogs or trashing the products, donate them to someone or take them and turn those into a value-added product and sell them.”
Spencer added many of the producers realize they have many products going to waste and want to turn it into something of value. Tomatoes are a good example of produce that can go unused simply because of the way it looks, but can easily be turned into something like salsa.
“We’ve got a lot of people, especially on our agritourism stops, looking into how they are going to take their products a step further. They want to prevent the waste and see if they can market their products in other ways,” she said.
Spencer also expects the value-added market to continue to grow as more farmers participate and because of the help the Kentucky Proud marketing program provides in getting these products into new marketing venues.
Bramble Ridge Orchard in Montgomery County is indicative of an old family farm that has turned into an agritourism destination, using the Kentucky Proud program to market the many products from the orchard’s varieties of apples and peaches.
Terry and Cindy Peake own and operate the orchard. Cindy Peake said the farm is home to 3,000 apple and 300 peach trees. There are 15 varieties of apples in the orchard, which happens to be the only totally dwarf orchard in the state.
Another unusual fact about Bramble Ridge is the Peakes do not come from a farming background but, rather, got in after purchasing the farm from an aunt and uncle and taking apples from existing trees to the local farmers’ market.
“We thought maybe we should put in more trees and this would be fun to do,” Peake said. “I guess through divine intervention, 12 standard trees we were going to put on a little side lot became 3,000 dwarf trees in a matter of about six weeks.”
That “divine intervention” has led the Peakes, with the help of the local extension office, the state horticulture society and others in the orchard business who have been “so willing to share their experience and expertise.”
Besides the apples that are sold at retail markets and to local school districts, some products that come from the farm include apple butter, apple relish, dried apples, apples made into cider and apple cider vinegar, which is aged in old bourbon barrels.
Peake said thanks to a grant from the KADF, they have been able to install a certified kitchen to help in the production process. This year has been tough because of a continuing bad economy and bad weather that included a spring freeze which took some of their produce. But Peake is enthusiastic when it comes to the farm and what they create.
“There are those who just love good, fresh, locally grown and processed products and we have a good following,” she said. “We are just caretakers here and we do our best so that when all the conditions are favorable, we have a good product to give to the public, and they appreciate it.”
Like many others in the business, the Peakes have benefited from the growth of the local foods movement and the state initiatives that have pointed consumers in the direction of home processors all across the state. To find more value-added products in Kentucky, go to www.kyagr.com/buyky/index.aspx