Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

March 22, 2013

Farm-to-market programs celebrated

John Cannon
The Independent

Coalton — Lyndall Harned must have felt a little like Lenny Harris, one of the best pinch hitters in major league baseball history, during Thursday morning’s annual Agri-Business Breakfast at the Boyd County Fairgrounds.

While Harned, Boyd County extension agent for agriculture and natural resources, was not asked to demonstrate his ability to hit a baseball at the event, he was asked to be the last-minute substitute for two of the three speakers at the breakfast. Because of illness and scheduling conflicts, none of the three speakers scheduled for the breakfast were able to fulfill their commitments.

Fortunately for those attending the breakfast, Harned was well-versed on the two programs the speakers were to talk about.

Harned first filled in for Tina Garland, who heads the farm-to-school program in the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. A bout with the flu prevented her from being at the breakfast.

Harned said Garland is working closely with food service workers at Paul G. Blazer High School in hopes of having more locally produced foods served in the school cafeteria. Plans are to launch a pilot program at Blazer as early as this fall and, if it proves successful, to eventually expand the program to Boyd County High School and Fairview High School.

“I am confident that we have enough livestock farmers who will be able to supply fresh meat to the high school,” Harned said. “Not just beef, but also lamb and pork.”

Harned said the school now receives most of its meat in frozen slabs, and while the locally produced meat will probably still have to be frozen, it will be much fresher than the meat now served at the school.

Efforts also are under way to get local producers to supply the high school with fresh fruits and vegetables, Harned said.

The state farm-to-school program in Jefferson County has contracted with local orchards to supply the state’s largest school district with apples, Harned said.

“Well, they are just apples you say, but local producers are now supplying the school district with between 16,000 and 18,000 apples a day,” Harned said. “That shows the potential farm-to-school programs have in helping the local farm economy and for getting fresh, locally grown food served in our schools.”

Citing a recent news story showed the number of students eating in local school cafeterias has declined since the implementation of new federal nutrition guideline were implemented, Harned said he thinks the decline is more a result of how much food schools are allowed to serve than the quality of the food.

Simply put, mandated serving sizes are not large enough to fill the stomachs of growing kids, Harned said, but changes are being made in the guidelines so that serving sizes can be increased.

Children at other schools have shown that they want fresh meat and fruits and vegetables, especially when they know that it is helping local farmers and gardeners, Harned said.

Pinch-hitting for Danny Craig, director of Ashland Main Street, Harned said local leaders are taking a

“fresh look” a year around market in downtown Ashland where locally grown meat, vegetables and fruits will be sold.

“Right now we have the farmers market, and that’s a great source of fresh, locally grown produce,” Harned said. “But the farmers market is only May through October. We want to establish a market that will be open 12 months a year. Instead of competing with the farmers market, we think it will actually help the farmers market.”

Harned said a number of obstacles still need to be cleared before the year-round market can be established but Craig is heading a group of dedicated people who are working diligently to create such a market.

However, the local market will be different from large fresh food health markets in Lexington and Louisville, Harned said. “We apparently are not a large enough community to support such a market,” he said. “They won’t even talk to us about it.”

Danny Blevins, a member of the board of directors for River Cities Harvest, pinch hit for RCH Executive Director Bob Owen at the breakfast. He talked about programs River Cities Harvest has launched to get locally grown produce to non-profit agencies that feed the hunger.

The only prison garden in which 100 percent of the produce is donated to local agencies is at the Federal Correctional Institution in Summit, Blevins said, and last year, it produced more than 34 tons of produce for agencies like the Ashland Community Kitchen and local food banks.

The four-acre garden is completely operated by inmates who volunteer for the assignment. A number are studying to become certified master gardeners, Blevins said.

Lori Bowling, who supervises the master gardener program for the Boyd County Extension Office, said at least two former prisoners who became certified master gardeners while incarcerated and helped launch the prison garden are now working in the field because of that training.

JOHN‚ÄąCANNON can be reached at jcannon@dailyindependent.com or at (606) 326-2649.