Growing up, Carla Gerding always knew where she would spend her weekends. Each Saturday, her parents would drive the entire family from their home in Louisville to the farm in Henry County where Carla’s grandparents and great-grandparents lived. She developed such strong memories there that the Gerdings now own the farm, and Carla says she would “do anything to keep the family farm.”
Today, few urban children have those kinds of memories and far fewer grow up living on a farm. That is more than a demographic trend to Gerding and others in her close-knit Henry County community. It is a wake-up call to save a way of life, a call that rings just as loud in south-central Kentucky where urban sprawl nearly rivals that in the central part of the state.
Not surprisingly, farmers in these areas decided to take action and have created annual events that not only celebrate agriculture and the rural way of life, but also draw city folks by the thousands to their world and to a greater appreciation of what rural life means to everyone.
Henry County Harvest Showcase
It was 2000, and tobacco bases had been slashed by 65 percent from what they had been just a few years prior. For many farmers, tobacco had paid the bills and without it, uncertainty and fear had taken root faster than any weed.
It all started in Henry County when John Logan Brent, a farmer and now Henry County judge executive, “threw out an idea.” “Let’s have a harvest festival,” John said to Ed Nelson, a local farmer.
“No, let’s have a harvest showcase,” suggested Ed. So together they pitched the idea and the Henry County Harvest Showcase was born.
“Agriculture, hence the word culture, is something engrained in people’s lives in Henry County,” Brent says, “and when it struggles, everybody struggles. So we want to raise awareness and give our farmers a little hope that there are people out there that want to see them succeed and want their products.”
Gerding also recalls the undercurrents that fueled the idea.
“We felt like our entire culture and existence was sort of unnoticed and underappreciated,” she says. “We decided to form an event that would showcase what people in agriculture were doing right here in our county, and how many various types of things were actually being produced here that our own people weren’t even aware of. In a way, it was also to bolster our own spirits about who we are and what we are doing on a day-to day-basis.”
In a matter of months, a volunteer committee sprang up and soon they had created a one-of-a-kind event called the Henry County Harvest Showcase.
Now on the last Saturday in July, the Henry County Fairgrounds overflow with homegrown food, agricultural businesses, traditional children’s games, crafts, friendly contests, and perhaps most importantly—pride. Admission is free, as are all the games and contests. You only have to pay for the food and the crafts you can’t resist.
“This year again, the hallmark of the event will be lunch at the Farmer’s Market,” Brent says. “We will have everything from fresh sweet corn and green beans, to hamburgers, rib-eye steaks, and pork chops, to homemade cantaloupe ice cream.” Gerding’s favorite is the grilled vegetable sandwich.
And there is a lot more than food.
“We probably have around 100 farmers and ag-related businesses and craftspeople showcasing their products,” Brent says. “We usually have some good country music. There are horseshoe pitching contents, an antique tractor show, a hayride all day, and children’s games.”
There are also just-for-fun events such as a liar’s contest (with plenty of contestants), a husband calling, and a tug of war. The main criterion is that the products and the fun be homegrown in Henry County. There isn’t a funnel cake or license plate stand in sight.
“I challenge anyone to go anywhere and have this much fun at no cost,” Brent says.
Pride of Kentucky Showcase
Fun on the farm is also the centerpiece of the Pride of Kentucky Showcase, a 10-county collaboration held in Bowling Green each year.
Joanna Coles, Warren County Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources, is part of a team that expanded a successful food-based event called Taste of Kentucky into the Showcase. Held in the fall the past two years, in 2006 the event is moving to the spring.
Once again, some 40 vendors will offer games, cooking demonstrations, pony rides, tours, and in Coles’ words, “anything fun on the farm.”
A few examples: a tour of Chaney’s Dairy Barn allows children to see how cows are milked, learn about their diet, and then enjoy the ice cream that comes from their milk. Kids can also make candles from beeswax, rope a steer, hunt for eggs in a henhouse egg hunt, dig for vegetables, play barnyard bingo, and go for a hayride.
Those are activities most children don’t get to participate in today, according to Coles.
“With each generation, children have fewer and fewer encounters with agriculture and family farms. They get to have fun and learn a little about the farming life. It is very rewarding.”
The reward for farmers comes as word spreads about their products from the exposure they receive at the event, which offers farmers an opportunity to showcase their products, network, and find out about other agribusinesses in the area. It also provides an opportunity for farmers to get into what is being called agri-tourism—in simple terms, bringing non-farmers onto the farm for activities that benefit farmers and visitors alike.
“We hope to create an awareness of agri-tourism,” says Coles. “We want everyone to have an understanding of the rural lifestyle, and hope to make the farmer more money in the long run through networking.”
They are doing just that, according to Kara Keeton, communications director with the Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy, an office established in 1998 to serve as a liaison to the agriculture community.
Keeton says the Pride of Kentucky Showcase is considered a very successful event, and the Cave Region Agri-tourism Inc.—one of the major sponsors behind the event—is unique because it is a regional effort to promote agri-tourism.
“The agri-tourism industry in the state is growing, and we are seeing an interest from farmers across the state in how to develop businesses on their farms,” Keeton says. “Many of our farmers are looking for ways to diversify their operations, and one way is agri-tourism.”
However, such long-term objectives are not on the minds of the children who are busy patting a baby farm animal at the Pride of Kentucky Showcase or riding on a bale of hay at the Henry County Harvest Festival. They are just having old-fashioned fun. When the event is in full swing, Gerding isn’t thinking about such lofty matters either. She is simply enjoying yet another reason she finds rural life so satisfying.
“For me, the best part is seeing our whole county come together,” she says. “Everyone is laughing and eating and admiring. It really makes for a sense of community that you don’t find anymore.”
JOIN IN THE FUN
Henry County Harvest Showcase
Date: Saturday, July 30
Times: 10 a.m.—4 p.m.
For more info: John Logan Brent (502) 845-5707
Pride of Kentucky Showcase
Date: May 4, 2006
Times: noon—8 p.m.
For more info: Kathy Jump (270) 586-4484
MORE AG FESTIVALS
The Henry County Harvest Showcase and Pride of Kentucky Showcase are unique events, according to agriculture experts at the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, and the Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy.
There are, however, many other festivals with an agricultural tie or that include agricultural products as an important feature. For a complete list of festivals in Kentucky, go to www.kyfestivals.com.
AGRIBUSINESS IN KENTUCKY
Behind all the fun of the Henry County Harvest Showcase and the Pride of Kentucky Showcase is serious business—the business of maintaining a lifestyle and helping farmers survive in today’s market. To learn more about agribusiness in Kentucky, go to www.10000trails.com.
KEYWORD EXCLUSIVE: AGRI-TOURISM COMPETITIVE AWARDS PROGRAM
For information on this year’s awards program for producers who venture into Kentucky’s agri-tourism industry, click here: ag awards