By BOB RIGGS
LEXINGTON, Ky. — A dedicated and diverse group of agriculture industry organizations came together under the umbrella of the Kentucky Fruit and Vegetable Conference and Trade Show.
Various private member organizations including the Kentucky Vegetable Growers Assoc., the Kentucky State Horticulture Society, the Organic Assoc. of Kentucky and a couple of grape and wine trade groups. These farmer groups came in cooperation with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Kentucky State University, and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA) to conduct business and stay abreast of advances in their industry.
But a newer farm marketing group was present, too. A Kentucky Farmers’ Market Assoc. trade booth was there soliciting members for the first time. The KFMA is an organization made up mostly of farmers who sell their product consumer direct at farmers markets or on-site farm stores.
KFMA President Sandra Corlett said the association is simply a group of unpaid volunteer farmers who attend and sell at farmer’s markets. The group’s second president ever, Corlett explained the final goal of the KFMA.
She said many Kentucky farmers used to grow tobacco. The purpose of KFMA is to help these farmers obtain public money so that they can move into other kinds of production. The size of the KFMA has fallen recently, and they came this year to recruit new members.
“We were trying to let other direct marketing farmers know that we exist, said Corlett.”
Corlett lamented that tobacco farmers used to sell at the market warehouse.
“Now what’s happening is the direct marketer of produce has to do everything, and we are trying to help with the marketing part,” she said.
Corlett said KFMA, which was initiated by the KDA, still gets help from KDA and the UK college of agriculture, too.
“It was a great conference and there was a lot of interest,” said Timothy Woods an agriculture extension educator at UK.
He said there were many standing-room-only training sessions – including his topic which was fresh food sampling at farmers’ markets.
Woods and another agriculture economics professor, Miranda Hileman, co-authored a guidebook in 2012 titled Best Practices for Farmer’s Market Produce Sampling. The pair did research on 3,400 market visitors in several states and drew their final conclusions from the data gathered.
Woods said the guidebook was published to help farmers and market managers to understand and to gauge the benefits of and the best methods of providing food samples safely and profitably to farmers market patrons.
Woods also described the Kentucky Farmers’ Market Assoc. as a kind of umbrella organization of independent farm market vendors led by a board comprised of association members. He noted that he, too, is on the board, but as an agriculture extension advisor.
The KFMA, Woods said, has done a good job of getting outside grants for projects such as one helping to implement an EBT Debit card program that many farmers’ markets are adding.
They also distribute annual best farmer awards sponsored by groups such as the Farm Credit Services people to KFMA members to help support progress among direct marketers.
President Corlett said the KFMA is working a project that would provide a series of mini grants of amounts of $500 or less. Although, not much money, the grants would go to benefit farm markets of three, five or six farmers. It would go to help all of the farmers instead an individual farm.