By BOB RIGGS
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The week beginning Nov. 4 was big for agribusiness meetings in Louisville; hotels outside the many gates of the Kentucky Fairgrounds and Convention Center were book for the North American International Livestock Exposition, the North American Championship Rodeo, the Kentucky Agriculture Summit and the 13th Annual Kentucky Women in Agriculture (KWIA) conference.
KWIA provides and promotes educational opportunities to learn about important issues surrounding agriculture. Its goal is to educate members on policy, legislative processes and issues that concern agribusiness.
Sharon Furches, a grain farmer in Calloway County, is president of KWIA and a volunteer leader at Kentucky Farm Bureau where her husband, Tripp, works. Furches is one of the KWIA women who spoke at the Kentucky Ag Summit, as well.
“Some of the morning meetings will be talking about how to get women involved and getting our voice heard,” she said the night before the conference. “We always try to give them the confidence to tell our story, and to help other people to understand what it is the women do in the ag industry.”
Helena Pitcock, a manager with the USDA Farm Service Agency in Glasgow and one of the conference chairs, said, “Our conference offers a wonderful networking opportunity for our attendees. They are here to meet other women who have experienced the same hardships and successes in their farming enterprises, and to gain knowledge that helps them in pursuing their dreams.”
One of the opening-day speakers was Kim Holmberg, a vice president of Journal Communications and editor of FFA New Horizons magazine. She said, “We are in a unique time for American agriculture. We have a great opportunity before us to share with others about our farms, our families and the food that we produce every day.
“It’s sometimes the unexpected, often unintended, moments, where we make the biggest difference.”
The KWIA also collected nonperishable food items for the Kentucky Assoc. of Food Banks at the hotel to help feed hungry families.
One KWIA member who benefited from last year’s annual meeting was Mary Courtney, a farmer and mother near the city of Bagdad in Shelby County. The Courtneys raise tobacco, soybeans and corn, as well as 25 acres of vegetables they manage and market as a community supported agriculture (CSA) operation.
Furches said Courtney connected last year with some food bank people and was able to go across the state to encourage producers to get in touch with their local food banks so excess, unsalable food would not go to waste. “Mary really was instrumental in connecting it right to the farmer,” Furches said.
“It is a wonderful organization that embraces what we as farm women do, allows networking with others who do what we do. It is an inspiring group of women with a common idea for improving today’s agriculture for tomorrow’s farmers and eaters,” Courtney said.
Educational lecture sessions for the 120-plus women who attended this year’s symposium ranged from “Making Your Voices Heard” and “Risk Management” to “Farm to Market,” and even to a health segment with a yoga instructor and pharmacist who discussed stress and hormone balance.
There were also roundtable discussions throughout the day on “Applying for Financial Aide is Easy,” “Food Banks,” “Beginning Farmers,” “Kentucky Farmers Care” and “Benefits of KY Forest Management.”
Another highlight of the conference was the Taste of Kentucky Proud dinner at the hotel on the second day. Pitcock said the dinner is a social event where members sample dishes all made with products that bear the state’s Department of Agriculture promotional Kentucky Proud seal.