From jams and jellies, salsas and wines, to pumpkin patches and Christmas tree farms; from socks and teddy bears made from alpaca fur, to chocolates and other sweet treats made with locally sourced ingredients—there is a lot of pride going into products in Kentucky. And that satisfaction for a job very well done is backed by a label and a logo, not to mention the program that was created by state law more than a decade ago.
The name designates agricultural products grown, processed, or manufactured in Kentucky and gives Kentucky Proud members the right and privilege to identify their products as such. This is farm to table, fur to footwear—even corn to legal moonshine in the case of Limestone Branch Distillery—at its best.
“The state law was intentionally inclusive of not just producers, but also processors and manufacturers,” says Roger Snell, Farm-to-Retail liaison and Kentucky Proud grant administrator for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. “Purnell’s Sausage is a wonderful Kentucky Proud member in Simpsonville with customers all over the United States. But their daily demand for pork exceeds our daily hog production. They buy as much as they possibly can from Kentucky farm families, but they need even more. That’s why the state law was broad enough to allow them to participate.”
According to Snell, the program’s financial support comes from the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board, which is administered by the Governor’s Office of Agriculture Policy. Their funds are sourced from the tobacco litigation settlement.
“Our goal is to increase net income for Kentucky’s family farms and also help them find new markets and opportunities as alternatives to tobacco,” he explains.
Warm and fuzzy
Although never tobacco land as long as he’s owned it, Inter-County Energy Cooperative member Tim Auch’s Serenity Farms, www.alpacasatserenityfarm.com, are in the business of raising alpacas and turning their sheared fur into lightweight, moisture-wicking socks. The farm in Raywick is for the breeding, boarding, and sale of alpacas, and is where the retail shop is based. The St. Joe farm is where the alpaca fiber is processed and is home to a lot of male alpacas.
“After I retired from the automotive industry, I knew I needed to have something to do,” says Auch. In 2006 he set out on a six-month, cross-country odyssey to investigate the viability of alpacas before buying six female critters and beginning to create a fiber farm.
“At the same time, I had to develop a plan to get the fiber made into clothing items. As luck would have it, my soon-to-be-partner, Flaggy Meadow Fiber Works (DBA Royalty Fiber Farm), moved its farm and fiber mill from Maine to Springfield. We decided to focus on socks utilizing the fiber from our farms, which qualified us as Kentucky Proud members.”
A member for several years, Auch says the program has helped him with his advertising and helps promote the overall concept of buying products made in the U.S.A.
“It’s one more added tool to stimulate sales,” he says, noting that some customers seek him out because of his Kentucky Proud affiliation. “Kentuckians want to support the Kentucky Proud concept.”
The socks are made of 30 to 40 percent alpaca fiber, plus a wool product, nylon, and silver thread (an antimicrobial). Auch notes he averages about five to six pounds of fiber per alpaca per year, which, taking in variables like size, roughly translates to about 12 pairs of socks per pound. The fiber is made into yarn in Pennsylvania; the socks are then made in North Carolina from the yarn.
Customers from all over the country, but especially Kentucky, are snapping them up. Because the socks are moisture-wicking and therefore keep feet dry, they are a hit with hunters, hikers, bikers, golfers, and skiers. They keep feet cool in warm weather and warm in the cold.
“They’re lighter weight than wool and ‘temperature-neutral,'” says Auch. “Once you put them on, they’re so comfortable you don’t realize you’re wearing an alpaca sock.”
Kentucky vegan proud
“When I say I’m a Kentucky Proud member, it gets me in the door,” says Anita Fernander of Lexington, a program member for about two years.
The founder of Anita’s Vegan Treats, a vegan/vegetarian at various points throughout her life, was inspired to make the sweet treats because of the odd aftertaste that typifies many vegan desserts.
“Cookies in particular have that aftertaste, and are often dry or lack flavor,” says Fernander, who also holds a full-time job as an associate professor at the University of Kentucky. “I got so many compliments on my cookies—and people didn’t realize they were vegan until I told them—that I thought I had a great product to market.”
Fernander’s best-selling item is her Vegan Oat Nut Chocolate Chip cookie. Chock-full of dairy-free organic dark chocolate morsels, the cookies sell for $12.75 per half dozen and $24 per dozen and can be purchased through the Anita’s Vegan Treats Web site, www.anitasvegantreats.com, or at Lexington shop Coffea.
Baking takes place in a commercial kitchen at the Jessamine County Cooperative Extension office in Nicholasville, where Fernander whips up about 50 cookies a week, including her Gourmet Vegan Nut Oats & Raisin cookie. She also makes Vegan Whole Wheat Rolls and is currently testing other recipes.
“These other recipes aren’t perfected yet, so they aren’t ready to go to market.”
Flour and oats for the products come from long-time Kentucky Proud member Weisenberger Mill, www.weisenberger.com, a family-owned business in operation since 1865 on South Elkhorn Creek near Midway in southern Scott County.
Weisenberger Mill prides itself on being “the bakers choice” and has grown over the years to now provide 70 items in various sizes, with flour for any baking purpose, complete mixes for many popular end products, and breading blends for chicken, fish, meats, and vegetables. You can order products direct or find their products in many retail locations throughout Kentucky.
“Promoting the use of Kentucky-grown food is good for all Kentuckians,” says Philip Weisenberger, who is among the sixth generation working at the mill. “It’s good for the farmers and good for the consumers. People are paying more attention to where their food comes from, and for them to have an easy way of identifying Kentucky-produced products is great.”
In fact, the majority of Anita’s Vegan Treats customers are in Kentucky. Most have found Fernander through word-of-mouth and her own marketing. Some have found her through the Kentucky Proud member Web site.
“A bride recently purchased products for her wedding reception for attendees who were vegan after seeing my product there,” she says.
For the future, Fernander plans to focus on building her business.
“My goal is to be able to devote myself to and support my family through the business one day.”
Teen vegetable entrepreneur
Seventeen-year-old Garrison Thompson, whose family are members of Owen Electric Cooperative, expects to make $115,000 to $120,000 this summer. Teen cockiness? Perhaps. But this Kentucky Proud member has the experience and know-how to put his mouth where his money is.
Last year, Thompson planted vegetables on his grandparents’ land in Stamping Ground: squash, tomatoes, bell peppers, sweet corn, green beans, onions, potatoes, and more. Using dad Chris’ contacts from his years farming vegetables, Garrison got his foot in the door and produce on the shelves at Kroger stores in Lexington, Frankfort, Richmond, and his hometown of Georgetown.
At the peak of summer sales, Thompson sold about 800 pounds of produce per store per day.
“I probably did that for about three and a half to four weeks,” he says.
But that’s not all. The Scott County High School junior kept the books, made deliveries, even put on presentations to continue growing his business. (This summer, his produce will also be in the Frankfort and Georgetown Walmarts.) Thompson also hired helpers, paying family and friends to harvest and haul.
“But I don’t see myself as a boss,” he is quick to point out. “When I hire someone, I go out and work the same as them.”
By season’s end, Thompson had made $50,000. After expenses and paying back a loan to his dad, the entrepreneur had netted $8,000, half of which went into his college fund—he’s planning to attend the University of Kentucky to study agriculture business, marketing, or engineering—the other half to a car he uses for himself and the business.
“Kentucky Proud is amazing. Whenever we need money for advertising and boxes, we can get a grant through Kentucky Proud,” he says. “They’re so good at promoting, we don’t have to.”
Besides his net earnings, Thompson took three valuable lessons away from last year’s experience—ones he feels will help him succeed in 2013.
“I learned some people aren’t going to work and you’ve got to get rid of them and it’s going to cost you money,” he says. “I learned you’ve got to have everything set up. It won’t work if you don’t have a plan.”
The other lesson?
“If you put a Kentucky Proud sticker on it, people buy it. They buy it because they know what they’re buying was grown locally and by someone who lives with them and knows what they need. It’s not from California or Mexico. Even if it costs a little bit more, they’ll pay it because it’s worth it to get locally grown.”
Supporting the cause
For Martha Davis, a member of Big Sandy RECC and co-owner of The Hardware Inc. in Hueysville, stocking her shelves with made-in-Kentucky products, including those of Kentucky Proud members, it’s all about supporting the Bluegrass.
“My theory is, ain’t nobody gonna take care of Kentucky if we don’t take care of it ourselves,” says the self-described little ole country girl. “Anything I can do to generate money here and keep money here, I’m happy to do it.”
Shoppers at Davis’ general store will find Kentucky cookbooks and books written by Kentucky authors and about its places and people, including the Hatfields and the McCoys. She carries flooring made in Kentucky, knives engraved by a Kentucky artisan, plants grown in local greenhouses, and flowers from local farms. She also sells hardware, automotive parts, and livestock feed.
And she stocks Kentucky Proud members Ale-8-One in the summertime, Ruth Hunt Candy, and Candleberry Candles.
“I have men come in all the time and tell me, ‘I can come here and get my horse feed, a piece for my commode, and my woman a box of candy.’
“I try to buy (and sell) everything local as much as I can.”
GET KENTUCKY PROUD
Want Kentucky Proud products where you live and eat? Just ask.
“Retailers and restaurants are very responsive to their customers and just one consumer has far more power to help our farm families than they might think,” says Roger Snell, Farm-to-Retail liaison and Kentucky Proud grant administrator for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, noting that having this kind of power typically surprises the average consumer.
“No matter how big the retailer, the power of one consumer is very real when they ask where the Kentucky Proud products are. The earliest days of this program sparked when individual consumers went to their local produce manager and asked where the Kentucky sweet corn was.”
In fact, Snell says Kentucky’s Commissioner of Agriculture James Comer is very specific about his goals of making sure consumers can find Kentucky Proud products in more locations.
“He wants to be sure we do everything possible to expand the markets and opportunities for our farm families. The commissioner also is forward-looking in how urban agriculture can tie to our farm communities, exploring with city and urban officials the ways to tie our farm products to schools, manufacturers, and processors.”
Learn more about the Kentucky Proud program online at www.KyProud.com. Kentucky Proud maintains a list of members as well as the retail outlets across the state where you can buy Kentucky Proud products, including farmers’ markets, roadside markets, health food stores, gift shops, bakeries, even a trading post. Click on Restaurants to locate those that serve Kentucky Proud food. Dozens and dozens of restaurants all over the state are also Kentucky Proud members and are included on their Web site. Or click on the Consumers link, and go to “Visit the Kentucky Proud Country Store” to search for retailers by product, company, county, or city. You can also find Kentucky Proud products on the shelves at many big-box stores, including Kroger, Remke Market, Walmart, and Liquor Barn.
Kentucky State Parks have been active partners in the Kentucky Proud program since 2004. All 17 state resort parks seek out local farmers and other food producers to offer fresh vegetables and meats to guests. In fact, in 2012, Kentucky State Parks purchased more than $436,000 in Kentucky Proud products for its restaurants and cafeterias.
“The Kentucky State Parks want to support local farmers and food producers because we want our guests to have fresh, local food when they dine with us,” says Parks Commissioner Elaine Walker. “We frequently have guests ask us about the source of our food and we’re glad to be able to refer them to a local farmer or producer near the park.”
KEYWORD EXCLUSIVE: Kentucky Proud gets even friendlier
To read about a new northern Kentucky 10,000-square-foot indoor market—featuring Kentucky Proud and other Kentucky-grown and -made products, a variety of merchants, and a diner, along with an outdoor farmers’ market—scheduled to open in May, go to “Friendly Market”.
Kentucky State Park gift shops also sell Kentucky Proud items, including salsas, jellies, jams, barbecue sauce, relish, honey, and cobbler mix.