The future of farming is so bright I gotta wear shades. Sorry, I could not resist the reference to the 1986 song from Timbuk3. A cheesy reference aside, the forecast is promising for farming from the backyard gardener to large-scale producers. The issue was the topic of discussion last month at Locust Trace Agriscience Farm. Alltech, an organization at the forefront in regional and global agriculture research, hosted the discussion. Panelists included Delia Scott, University of Kentucky County Extension Agent for Horticulture, Ryan Koch from Seedleaf, Chelsea Jacobson from Alltech, and Callaway Stivers, a Locust Trace high school student.
Before looking ahead, the panel gave a snapshot of what is happening now. Cattle and horses remain the primary agriculture industry in Fayette County. The average farm for fruit and vegetable growers is ten acres. Growth is everywhere you look. The biggest growth is within smaller niche growers. Herbs are among the most popular right now in this group. “We are growing gardeners,” said Seedleaf founder and director, Ryan Koch. During the last eight years, Seedleaf has grown from one community garden to sixteen gardens and includes a composting program that picks up waste from local restaurants, gardening classes, cooking classes for kids, and urban chicken keeping. They are addressing the needs of people who face barriers to fresh produce. “I cannot change what happens around the globe, but I can affect it locally,” Koch says.
Panelist Callaway Stivers is an example of what can happen when young children are exposed to homegrown fruits and vegetables. Stivers started growing vegetables in his backyard to sell to neighbors when he was in elementary school. The demand for his homegrown produce has allowed him to expand. Today, Stivers and his brother grow fruits and vegetables on their grandfather’s farm and sell them at the Lexington’s Farmers Market. While he is part of a movement now to grow and eat locally, Stivers worries about the threat of industrialization. “I hope the small town farmers can hang on,” he said.
As efforts are made daily to nurture gardening and farming one person at a time, researchers at Alltech are studying crop science, constantly examining how crops grow and how to live off the land in a sustainable way. I’ll be honest, when Mrs. Jacobson started talkingabout the soil sets, integrated pest management and getting down to the very basics of microorganisms, I was a little overwhelmed. Science class never was my forte, but I was able to sort through the science to be able to tell you, they are doing some pretty amazing things at Alltech to promote a productive and healthier future in farming.
Gardening and farming in many ways is taking a nod from the past as much as it is looking to the future as Delia Scott from the Ag Extension office pointed out. She said it has come full circle from the World War II era of victory gardening. “It’s exciting. I hope it sustains,” she said. I asked the panel to sum up the future in the simplest way. Their responses: The future of farming is about backyard growers and small-scale market growers. It’s delicious and delightful.