August 3, 2000 | By: Mark Eclov

The traditional uncertainties of weather and fluctuating crop prices – plus dramatically lower burley tobacco quotas – are putting more Kentucky farm families at risk.

Raising new forms of crops and livestock, finding new markets for old and new products, and adding value to a current crop are some of the ways that Kentucky Cooperative Extension agents from the Mammoth Cave and Lincoln Trail areas believe the current trend can be reversed.

A "Farm to Table Connection" Conference, scheduled for the University Plaza/Warren County Convention Center in Bowling Green October 5 and 6, will introduce all these concepts, and more, to both farmers and the consuming public.

The conference, jointly sponsored by the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture's Cooperative Extension Service and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, is part of a long-range educational effort geared to help Kentucky farmers meet the challenges of the new century.

"The Farm to Table Connection Conference will offer consumers the chance to learn more about a variety of farm enterprises," said Janet Johnson, Allen County Extension agent for family and consumer sciences. "They'll also learn what is in it for them, and why it's so important to support regional Kentucky farm products."

Farm producers will also have the opportunity to learn from other producers who are successfully using different or unusual enterprises to diversify their traditional operations. The conference also will provide time for consumers and producers to find out more about a long list of speciality products that are starting to make their appearance in local grocery shelves, farmer's markets, and restaurants across the area.

The first day of the conference will include breakout sessions geared toward consumer interests. A "Taste of Kentucky" food tasting event for the general public and conference attendees will be held the evening of October 5 from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m.

The second day will include 15-minute roundtable discussions on more than two dozen different issues ranging from the nuts-and-bolts of organic farming to creating your own web site.

"One of the most important benefits of this conference is for producers and potential producers to speak to those who are already growing and raising these alternative, non-traditional livestock and crop enterprises and ask them how to get started and what are the pitfalls," said Matt John, Edmonson County extension agent for agriculture and natural resources.

Many of the sessions will be hosted by farmers who have successfully grown, marketed or used new types of farm products. An example is the Wiedigers of Au Naturel Farm.

Alison and Paul Wiediger are certified organic growers from Edmonson County. They grow a diverse range of crops that includes organic vegetables and cut flowers, and also raise grass-finished beef and lamb, and free-range chickens. The Wiedigers are among a long list of attending producers who can answer many of the day-to-day issues that come with any new farm enterprise.

"The exciting thing is that this conference will give small farmers a place to go and they can explore many different venues for diversification," said Alison Wiedeger. "It is extremely valuable to exchange information. You can read all the books you want, but it's important to talk to someone in your area about what the pluses and minuses are and how much time and money it will take."

"When you're diversified you have to rely on outside sources to at least get started, to figure out what works and what doesn't work, and to enable you to do the necessary on-farm research yourself," said Paul Wiediger.

If you're a producer or consumer interested in attending the "Farm to Table Connection" conference, contact any of the Mammoth Cave or Lincoln Trail area Cooperative Extension agents in your county for registration information. Registration is due by September 1, and is limited, so make your plans today.


Christy Ramey or Matt John, 270-597-3628