New ideas, innovations spring from a fertile soil
This ain’t your grandparents’ farm. Kentucky farmers are growing new roots, exploring ways to reinvent and revitalize the family farm. Here are some of the ways they are developing innovative products and services.
Harris Family Farms
“There’s so many opportunities for you to make a living on the farm,” says Krista Harris, owner, along with her husband, Keith, of Harris Family Farms near Benton. “You’ve just got to think out of the box in order to be successful now days.”
Harris Family Farms certainly is doing that, with cattle and tobacco, as well as seasonal produce— strawberries, tomatoes and over 100 acres of watermelon—all grown by the couple and their eight children. Consumer-members of West Kentucky RECC, the Harris family provides plenty of other farm-fresh products, too.
Last year, oldest daughter, Jordan, grew 550 hanging flower baskets. “They were all gone by Mother’s Day. She was totally sold out,” Krista says, calling it their busiest year ever.
In 2020, business blossomed when daughters Rachel, 20, and Hope, 17, began selling cut flower bouquets. Krista says, “People bought them in droves.” From there, the two started Build a Bouquet, teaching customers to make their own professional-looking arrangements.
Harris Family Farms also partnered with Bidwell Family Farm last year to launch Harvest Crate, a weekly delivery service offering farm-fresh products of the customer’s choosing, including beef, pork and even salmon caught in Alaska by a local fisherman.
Harvest Crate’s seasonal produce is grown by area farmers. “It’s fresh and you know what you’re getting, and you know who grew it,” explains Krista. The orders, in reusable crates, are delivered within a 30-mile range, though this year they hope to expand that radius.
For those looking for new ways to market their farm, Krista advises diversifying with different niches. “You’ve got to really be creative,” she says.
Southern Muhlenberg County is home to Rosewood Farms. Since 2014, owners Nathan and Shelley Lovell, along with their children, 14-year-old Mason, and Audrey, 12, have provided farm-fresh products at their local farmers market. While they primarily grow apples, peaches, strawberries and seasonal produce on their 240-acre farm, the Lovells, consumer-members of Pennyrile RECC, are finding innovative ways to grow and market their products.
For example, they’ve added different peach and apple varieties to their orchard. Nathan also has begun planting apple trees on a high-density trellis system. “It helps to support the trunk, and you can pick fruit sooner,” explains Shelley. Before COVID-19 hit, the Lovells bought a deep fryer and sold homemade apple pies at area events.
The family also is finding new products to complement the farming operation. Nathan grew up on a cattle farm, so the Lovells had an interest in livestock production. They found their niche when they recently began raising hair sheep.
Unlike wool sheep that require shearing, hair sheep shed their coats. Because the herd grazes rotationally, they help maintain the pastureland, resulting in a relatively low-cost farming addition. While raising livestock is a lot of work, Shelley says, “At the end of the day, it complements our farm very well to have a herd of sheep.”
Another new Rosewood Farms product? Sorghum, made from sorghum cane grown on their farm. It can be used in barbeque sauce, as a molasses substitute in recipes or slathered over warm biscuits.
In the future, the Lovells hope to offer a sorghum pressing agritourism event and perhaps eventually a Rosewood Farms storefront. “If you’re farming nowadays,” says Shelley, “you’re trying to think of ways to diversify your farm.”
Brothers Taylor and Travis Cooper grew up on their Winchester area family farm, raising cattle and tobacco. As adults, the Coopers, consumer-members of Clark Energy Cooperative, looked for ways to make weeding more efficient—saving time while increasing their farming operation’s profit. After transitioning to hemp farming, they got the idea for the Hemp Hawk.
This innovative weed control implement easily hooks behind a tractor, accommodating one to eight rows. “It’s a better way of cultivating,” Travis explains. “Help is hard to find. It doesn’t take as many people to manage a crop.”
In fact, the two-row machine can replace eight to 10 daily workers. According to Travis, average savings amounts to $450 per acre.
“Farming is tough,” he says. “There’s not much margin. If you can buy a piece of equipment and save money and it pay for itself, that’s a win-win for the farmer.”
The Coopers’ invention has been sold across the United States and even in Australia. Approximately 70% of their sales comes from farmers raising crops like organic squash, chili peppers, pumpkins, tomatoes, tobacco and more.
When it comes to farming today, Travis says exploring new ideas is important to increase profit margins. He adds, “If you keep doing the same things, you’ll always have the same outcome.”
Once primarily a dairy farm, Jericho Farmhouse in Henry County is seeing changes on the 450-acre, four-generation family farm. Owned by the Coombs family since 1961, current owners Guy and Ginger Coombs and their son and daughter-in-law, Curtis and Carilynn, recently expanded into other markets, like beef cattle.
“We did dairy for all those years, so now we’re learning something new,” says Ginger. As they transition from “dairy mode,” she adds, “Neighbors with successful beef farms are helping us get our feet under us.”
In 2019, Jericho Farmhouse started another sweet, new venture—ice cream. The Coombses purchased a trailer, enabling them to go mobile with their yummy dessert. They attended a variety of events, such as birthday parties and festivals. With COVID-19 restrictions, the family once again explored new ways to market their products. The solution?
“We set the trailer up on the edge of the farm on a little corner, and we sold ice cream right there. We did pretty good,” explains Ginger. Customers enjoyed ice cream flavors ranging from cookies n cream to the popular banana pudding. Keeping it local, the Coombses, consumer-members of Shelby Energy Cooperative, used seasonal produce, like strawberries and peaches from nearby farmers, plus cookies from area bakeries.
This summer, Jericho Farmhouse plans to open a new storefront to sell their farm-raised beef and homemade ice cream, as well as neighboring farmers’ locally grown products. Eventually, the family plans to offer agriculture tours.
Ginger says the main goal of the innovations is to preserve the family’s farm so their grandchildren can grow up there. Reflecting on a lifetime devoted to farming, she says, “It hasn’t always been easy. But we’ve been happy.”