The Life of a Kentucky Farmer

 

There are nearly 76,000 farms in the state of Kentucky. Local farmers raise a diverse array of vegetables, fruits, grains, livestock and other agricultural products, many of which are served or used by people all across the Commonwealth. The COVID-19 epidemic hit small farms especially hard, many of which supply local restaurants, schools and catering services that have been closed for weeks. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways everyone can pitch in to support local farmers.

Gilkison Farm

TOPS: Tell us about your farm and what you grow.

Brennan Gilkison: The operation is run by myself and my wife Serena. We are from multi-generational farming families, but our operation is a first-generation operation. Our farm is very diversified. We raise corn and soybeans, burley tobacco, alfalfa hay, black raspberries, industrial hemp and have a cow/calf operation as well. We have been known to get outside of the box in growing and trying different commodities such as canola, sunflower, milo, blue corn and rye. The most important crop on our farm is our kids. They are the fruit of our labor and our most prized possession!

TOPS: Walk us through an average spring day on the farm. 

Brennan: Farmers have many different hats to wear, each day is different, and each farmer’s day is different. Depending on the season, we could be running nonstop in the field from 7 to 10 at night. That could be during the planting season, which generally is March to June and then harvest season which can run from August through November or ever December. Along with the planting and harvesting duties, there are also office duties that take place every day. In the winter months, I am always in the office, analyzing data or off to a meeting or educating myself on how I can better serve our operation. 

TOPS: How has technology helped improve your business?

Brennan: Technology has been an asset for our operation. Whether it is technology from seeds, allowing farmers to produce more food per acre safer than anywhere else in the world, or technology that allows us as farmers to have real time data at our fingertips, so we can make the best decisions for our operation in that moment. 

TOPS: Tell us why Kentucky conducive to growing hemp.

Brennan: We are willing to diversify and adapt. Some aspects of raising hemp are not all that different from raising tobacco, a crop that all of us are familiar with. Kentucky has some of the best soil in the country and infrastructure that allows us to move product quickly anywhere in the country.

TOPS: What do you hope for the future of hemp in Kentucky?

Brennan: I hope all the best for the future of hemp in our state. Clark and Fayette counties were once the leaders in hemp production. I hope that we as a state can continue that legacy.

Although hemp is not a new crop for Kentucky, hemp most definitely is new to the farmers that are raising it now. The industry will hit its highs and most definitely will see the lows, but it is my belief that it will settle down and become a viable crop that we can use in rotation with the other crops that we raise.

TOPS: How can locals support farmers during this pandemic?

Brennan: Locals can support farmers during this pandemic by seeking local farms that sell meat. It’s a little early for the harvest of local produce yet, but we are not far away. Many farmers sell value-added products as well. Choosing restaurants (for take-out, of course) that utilize local farms is another option. 

On a side note, empty shelves in grocery stores have shed light on the importance of American agriculture and all the components that supply the food on our plates. Farmers don’t necessarily need appreciation, but future understanding of our industry, building relationships with farmers in general and realizing we’re all in this together will prove to be invaluable going forward.

gilkisonfarm.com

 

Crooked Row Farm

TOPS: Tell us about your farm and what you grow.

Robert Eversole: Our farm specializes in GAP audited salad greens and tomatoes. Our primary customers are schools, restaurants and the wholesale market. We provide produce to schools ranging from pre-school through university. We also raise calves for the cattle market. 

TOPS: Where can locals find your produce?

Robert: Our products are served in Clark County public schools, University of Kentucky, Vinaigrette Salad Kitchens, Ouita Michels restaurants and Lockbox, to name a few. 

TOPS: Walk us through an average spring day on the farm. 

Robert: We get up at 5:30am, and start the day by feeding cattle. We then spend the rest of the day harvesting, washing, packing and delivering produce three days of the week. On days that we aren’t harvesting, we are planting and tending to crops. This could be everything from preparing new beds for crops to be seeded to covering and uncovering crops with row cover to protect them from winter weather. We continue harvesting, and also have to feed and care for the animals on a daily basis. There is always something to be done on the farm, 7 days a week, every day week of the year. 

TOPS: Tell us why Kentucky’s agriculture and climate are conducive to farming produce?

Robert: Kentucky has a climate that allows us to grow pretty much any crop that we want. Our winters are also mild enough to have fresh vegetables in the ground all year, but also cold enough to allow us to produce fruits that require substantial chill hours. One downside to Kentucky’s climate is that it is very wet and humid during most of the growing season, which creates an intense disease pressure on most vegetable crops. This is only getting worse with climate change. 

TOPS: Why are you Kentucky Proud?

Robert: We were born and raised in Kentucky, and are proud to call it home. Being Kentucky Proud is an easy way to show consumers that their food was grown right here at home, by people they can trust. 

TOPS: How has COVID-19 impacted your business?

Robert: Since we are a wholesale farm that primarily works with schools and restaurants, we have lost nearly all of our income for the time being. All schools and restaurants are now closed, and the restaurants that are still open are ordering a tiny fraction of their normal orders. In addition, we have hundreds of pounds of salad greens nearing harvest that would have been for the busy season that Lexington restaurants experience due to Keeneland, and the many conferences that come to town in the spring, and these are all now cancelled. In our 10 years of farming, this is one of the hardest situations we have been faced with.

TOPS: How can locals support farmers during this pandemic?

Robert: We are pivoting from our normal operations to launch an online market with home delivery. This service will launch in early May and you can visit our website to learn more. For those that are more interested in a traditional CSA approach, we are also partnering with Butler Farms to provide a weekly offering of fresh vegetables, pork, chicken and beef.

In the meantime, continue visiting your local farmers market; since it is classified as an essential service, it will always be open. Lastly, keep ordering take out from restaurants, with priority given to those that purchase from local farmers!

crookedrowfarm.com