By TIM THORNBERRY
FRANKFORT, Ky. — Making good on his promise to grow the Kentucky Proud marketing program, state Agriculture Commissioner James Comer recently announced a new initiative to get more state-produced goods off the farm and into consumer hands by way of Kentucky’s college campuses.
Comer officially kicked off an event April 15 with the announcement at Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) of the new Farm to Campus program. Along with EKU President Doug Whitlock, State Rep. Rita Smart (D-Richmond), Jacob Garrison, a member of the EKU student Green Crew sustainability group, and officials with Kentucky Proud, he marked the opening of a kiosk and display at the campus bookstore featuring Kentucky Proud products.
Comer said campus shoppers throughout the state should watch for more displays like the one at EKU.
“We’re going to work with all the colleges and universities in Kentucky to get more Kentucky Proud products on the shelf, in the bookstores, in special Kentucky Proud sections like you have here, and also to get more Kentucky Proud products in the cafeteria,” he said.
Comer added the program will work to educate students on sustainability, something EKU has already been doing. “It’s very fitting that we announce this initiative … at EKU because you have so many good students who are into sustainability,” he said.
“You have so many teachers and professors who are committed to educating students about agriculture and training future leaders in agriculture in rural Kentucky.”
Comer also spoke of the positive aspects of purchasing local foods from a health and economic standpoint, as well as from an environmental perspective. “Not only are you buying food that is fresher and healthier, and not only are you keeping your money in your local economies, but you are reducing the carbon footprint when you do that,” he said. “And that is a big part of sustainability.”
He noted by investing in local foods, local economies grow and jobs are created.
“Our state is not growing at the rate it should to be able to pay for the No. 1 service we provide in Kentucky, and that’s public education – so we’ve got to do more to generate economic development, and I believe Kentucky Proud can do that,” he said.
“It’s keeping money in our local communities; it’s helping farmers and small businesses get started, and increasing their markets. We’re going to do everything that we can to help see that that happens.”
According to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA), under the Farm to Campus program, it will partner with EKU and other Kentucky colleges and universities to help with their buy-local efforts. Over the next two years, the department will target college campuses to put more shelf-stable Kentucky Proud products in their bookstores and gift shops, and more farm-fresh Kentucky Proud products in cafeterias and foodservice systems.
Whitlock said this initiative is the right thing to do for the Kentucky agricultural community, and for EKU students. EKU Executive Chef Todd Pagan said he is trying to use more Kentucky Proud raw commodities such as meat and produce. The school’s dairy products already come from Kentucky Proud vendor Borden Dairy in London, Ky.
As part of the Farm to Campus initiative, KDA will work with student and university sustainability groups such as Green Crew on Kentucky Proud buy-local efforts in Richmond and other college towns.
“This is really kind of a milestone for our university. To teach students how to be more sustainable in life – where better than on a campus to do that?” asked Garrison. “By adopting sustainable choices, whether it be through food purchases, recycling, whatever, I think we’re certainly making an impact.”
For more information about the Kentucky Proud program, go to www.kyproud.com