Popular Hands-On Training Draws Thousands to Learn New Strategies
|Lawrence Jenkins demonstrates sorghum processing with small, portable equipment, part of Kentucky State Universitys workshops to improve practices among owners of small farms. |
Photo by John Cosby Jr.
In Kentucky, where the rolling hills sustain the worlds finest thoroughbreds but are home to some of the countrys worst poverty, Kentucky State University (KSU) is trying to improve life for area farmers. An ongoing series of educational events, heavily reliant upon agricultural demonstrations, has introduced thousands of Kentuckians to profit-making, sustainable farming techniques.
The brainchild of KSUs Marion Simon who feels that the best way to understand agricultural research is to see it working on the ground, not in a seminar or presentation the Third Thursday training program has become a hugely popular way to train Kentucky extension agents, paraprofessionals and farmers in the gamut of sustainable agriculture techniques.
Simon and others have brought about 2,500 people through the universitys research farm in six years, up to 400 per field day, to see demonstrations of aquaculture, apiary production, organic fruit and vegetable production, sustainable forestry, grain storage, goat production, warm-season grass demonstrations and composting to name just a few topics. In essence, Simon took the old adage, seeing is believing, and opened KSUs research center to hordes hungry for information.
The Third Thursday program is funded in part by SARE and is now being copied at Tennessee State University as the Third Tuesday training program.
The KSU research farm was designed to have group walks around the research projects. That way, agents and small farm assistants can actually see things growing and be able to recognize them, Simon said.
The farm workshops were attended by ag educators eager for information about profitable, environmentally sound alternative production systems they could pass on to their farmer clients. As the word spread, farmers asked to come. Then, extension educators from other states began making the trip to see if they could replicate the idea.
Were working with small farmers, many of whom are at poverty-level, Simon said. These are farmers we know we have not seen at extension meetings, ones with marginal land, capital and education. Kentucky is notorious for people who dont read and write well. Less than 30 percent of people in some counties have finished high school.
While the Third Thursdays served as a conduit of information for many of those farmers, others benefit from working with KSU small farmer assistants, or paraprofessionals, who work one-on-one with farmers in their counties. In documenting their successes, KSU Third Thursday leaders cited the following:
After numerous presentations about the use of cover crops, compost, manure and green manures to improve the soil, more than 30 farmers have adopted such systems.
After a 1997 field day, five farmers constructed unheated greenhouses, then returned to teach workshops to discuss their experiences. All have expanded their green houses.
Ten farm families who regularly attend KSU workshops developed a joint community supported agriculture (CSA) operation and now raise organic vegetables. Using some of the training about marketing they learned at Third Thursday, the group developed a logo and purchased a van for distribution.
A group of farmers and food-aware non-farmers who met at Third Thursday formed a non-profit group, Partners for Family Farms (PFF), to sustain family farms and rural communities by linking urban consumers and farmers. The group also informs the public at large about the benefits of purchasing local family farm products. To help open new markets for meat products, PFF obtained grants from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, Heifer International and SARE to build a mobile processing unit for small, independent Kentucky farmers.
The informality of the KSU farm workshops adds to the welcoming atmosphere, said Simon, who once asked a visiting presenter to take off his jacket and tie before addressing the group. As a result, Third Thursday attracts diverse ethnic groups, women and young mothers who bring children.
The Third Thursday meetings draw farmers and ag professionals from the highest income and education levels to the lowest, Simon said. Together, they share their ideas and experiences to help further our sustainable agriculture efforts.
Small-scale, low-income Kentucky farmers
|Educating Team |
Kentucky State University
|Challenges Addressed |
Distrust of government services
|Connection Strategies |
Training and supporting ag professionals and program assistants
Welcoming atmosphere for small-scale farmers
|Teaching Methods |