LOUISVILLE, Ky. — One of the most anticipated events each year as part of the Kentucky State Fair is the Kentucky Farm Bureau (KFB) Country Ham Breakfast and Auction. This year didn’t disappoint, with another record-breaking sale.
For the 51st time, invited guests and elected officials made their way to the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center’s South Wing to enjoy a traditional all-Kentucky breakfast, complete with the star of the show, country ham – 450 pounds of it, to be exact.
This year nearly 1,600 attendees packed the banquet area to hear a few speeches, eat a big meal and see the fair’s Grand Champion Ham go on the auction block as it has done every year since 1964. While the breakfast is a big part of the event, it’s the ham auction that is really what it’s all about.
This year the high bid set a record – and did so in grand fashion – at $2 million. Joe Cain, director of the KFB Commodity Division, said it’s important to remember every penny of the bid goes to charity, and this event brings out some of the most charitable organizations in the state.
"There is no part of the money that goes to KFB, the Kentucky Ham Producers Association or to the producer of the championship ham," he said. "It all goes to the charity of that bidder’s choice."
This year’s record bid actually came from two organizations: Republic Bank and Trust Co. and Hermitage Farms in conjunction with Bridgeman Foods. By the pound, it would mean that winning ham produced by Broadbent’s B&B Foods of Kuttawa was worth about $125,865 per pound.
"A lot of people are thinking they are buying a ham for $2 million, but they are making a $2 million commitment to charities in and around Kentucky," said Cain. "The ham is the vehicle; it’s the item that facilitates the auction for charity."
He thinks many other states are envious of the event in Kentucky not just because of the popularity of the breakfast, but because of the kinds of activities for charities that are within the state, as well.
"I’m proud to share this moment with the Bridgeman and Hermitage Farm folks," said Steve Trager of Republic Bank. "It’s $2 million. Now we can do some really good things in the community, and that’s what it’s all about."
Steve Wilson of Hermitage Farms said it was a wonderful opportunity to be able to double the ability to give to the community.
"I think the ham is a wonderful symbol of the bounty of the agricultural products in Kentucky; a good symbol of charity and sharing food," he added.
As the auction began, it became clear the bid was going to be high, as a few other bidders joined in at first. But when it got down to just two, the crowd sensed something special was about to happen. Upon announcement of the winning bid, the crowd jumped to their feet in loud applause and cheers.
"In the years that I’ve been coming to the ham breakfast, that was probably the most excitement that I have seen in a long while," said Cain. "We had some really good bidders and that helps, too."
While Republic and Hermitage were the top bidders and have participated for a number of years, Cain noted many other companies have joined in the event for many years. Since its beginning, the auction has helped raise more than $8.85 million for charitable causes, but Cain said those are just the winning bids.
The other organizations that bid and don’t win still have that money budgeted for charity, so much more is going to community causes.
"For these companies that come, these are not new dollars, but dollars they’ve already had budgeted for charitable work. They choose to make that donation known by buying into the country ham," he said. "They are very generous in the community and the state."
Cain said the breakfast is also an event that brings the farming community together with the urban community with a little bit of politics, because a lot of folks running for political office attend. It’s a great place for them to be seen and speak with a lot of people, he said.
This year the big political race in the state belongs to longtime Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and his Democrat opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky’s Secretary of State. Both were present, as was Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, who recently announced his run for governor; Gov. Steve Beshear; and a host of other local, state and national lawmakers.
Cain said work for next year has already started and he has spoken with organizations that want to get involved and help with all kinds of charities.
"It’s an amazingly successful day when we can place the spotlight on Kentucky’s deep agricultural roots and help bring about a multimillion-dollar donation to local charities," he said.