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   County Extension Agents Learn What Sustainable Agriculture Means To Kentucky
by Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE)
Posted: Wednesday, May 29, 2013 at 8:52AM EDT

For the many Cooperative Extension agents who focus on applying their area of expertise to their locality, professional growth can sometimes come from stepping outside what's familiar. So it was for a group of Extension agents on a recent trip to Kentucky, where they set out to learn what sustainable agriculture means to the Bluegrass State.

Participating in a unique training program known as the Sustainable Agriculture Fellows program, the group spent two days in the Lexington area touring family farms, horse-breeding operations, tobacco farms, Kentucky State University’s aquaculture research facility, a food co-op, a livestock processing and marketing facility, and the University of Kentucky’s research farm. Hailing from around the country, they saw how the overarching concepts of sustainability are being applied to one state's unique agriculture.

“We saw the movers and the shakers in the industry. They use every opportunity available to them to diversify and make the business more profitable,” said Nathan Winter, an Extension educator with the University Minnesota. “This was a great opportunity to learn more of what they are embracing.”

The two-year program, sponsored by SARE and the National Association of County Agricultural Agents (NACAA), centers on tours such as this one.

“The goals of this learning experience are to deepen the understanding of sustainable agriculture and to catalyze changes in an Extension agent’s work,” said Lee Meyer, Kentucky SARE state coordinator at the University of Kentucky, which hosted the tour. “Some may already know a lot about sustainable agriculture, but we don’t think that they know a lot about the challenges and opportunities facing farmers in Kentucky. We hope that digging into our unique situation will help them get insights that they can take home and use in their programs.”

Maud Powell, a small farms specialist at Oregon State University, said that seeing how Kentucky agriculture is scaling up will help her when working with small farmers who only manage about 10-20 acres. “That just may be the sweet spot for the producers to be working with,” she said.

Sophistication, innovation, value-added, and creativity were just some of the keywords the participants used to describe the agribusinesses they visited on the tour.

“I did not expect to find this sophisticated high-end market in Lexington, and the producers are equally sophisticated to service that market,” said Tom Maloney, a senior Extension associate in the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University. “It was fascinating to see that the consumers and the processors are pulling the farmers and telling them what they need. So often you see producers pushing things and then figuring out how to market them.”

And therein lies the benefit of the Sustainable Agriculture Fellows program – the value participants place on it as an opportunity to discover different agricultural concepts and take back home what they have learned.

“I’m the only ag specialist in our office,” said John Porter with West Virginia University, “so I’m expected to learn here and share with others, even if all of the topics aren’t in my background. It’s good professional development.”

The 2012 Sustainable Agriculture Fellows will be learning about sustainable agriculture in Iowa later this year. Go here to learn more about the Sustainable Agriculture Fellows program, including biographies of current Fellows.

 - Article and photo by Candace Pollock, Southern SARE

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The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) ­program’s mission is to advance—to the whole of American agriculture—innovations that improve profitability, stewardship and quality of life by investing in groundbreaking research and education. SARE is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), USDA. This news release was published by SARE Outreach, which develops and disseminates information about sustainable agriculture. For more information visit www.sare.org.

Source: Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE)

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