Ag event pairs food producers with distributors

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SPRINGFIELD — Local farmers, listen up. If you grow it, or maybe want to grow it, they will come. “They” are food distributors that want and need more local food for their clients.

Louisville Farm to Table and Washington County Cooperative Extension are teaming up to put food distributors that need locally grown food in the same room as folks in the state that either are or are willing to consider growing it.

To set the table, a meal of locally grown food will be prepared for those attending the conference.

The event spawned from a conversation about locally-grown popcorn between Sarah Frischner, coordinator for Louisville Farm to Table, and extension agents Rick Greenwell and Dennis Morgeson.

During that conversation, the topic of partnering to promote specialty products came up.

“Washington County is known around extension world as having a lot of curiosity about alternative markets,” Frischner said. “We chatted quite a bit — I told them about my (Kentucky Department of Agriculture) grant to promote specialty products, and that I have the resources to do workshops but always need a partner. They volunteered to hold one and have been great partners.”

Through that partnership, local farmers will have an opportunity to tap into a different market.

“The study that helped create my job discovered that Louisville is a $3 billion market, and I have discovered that most farmers don’t translate ‘Louisville is a $3 billion food market’ into ‘Hey, I could grow brussels sprouts for the school lunch program,’” Frischner said.

Frischner said the workshop is meant to make that connection.

“Each person who presents will say ‘I need this. And this is how I need it. And this is when I need it. And this is how I pay,’” she said. “I don’t expect that every farmer who comes will leave saying, I’m going to grow 300 lambs for 4 Hills Farm. But I hope they leave thinking, ‘This food thing has some interesting facets, and I’m going to talk to my extension agent about what he thinks, and maybe I could put some fences up and buy some ewes and see how it goes.’”

Morgeson said people as far away as Barren County are calling about the event, which is open to regional farmers. He said as of Friday that nearly 40 producers had signed up to attend.

“Of course we want to connect farm families to a good, steady market, but from a big picture stand point, this local food thing is only getting bigger and bigger,” Greenwell said. “So we’re trying in our small way to kind of enhance this effort, because that’s what people want and that’s what they need to get.”

Morgeson said that he hoped the event would catch the attention of local food service workers.

“There’s going to be a panel of some food service directors of schools that are getting local food into their schools. I know the lady from Mercer County is going to be here, also Jefferson County, and we’d really like to have some of the local food service people come and at least listen to how we could do that here,” he said.

The workshop will feature folks from Grasshoppers Distribution, Preferred Popcorn and local grape grower and winemaker Ann Karsner with Horseshoe Bend Vineyard and Winery, among many others.

Grasshoppers Distribution is a food distributor in Louisville, while Preferred Popcorn in the supplier of popcorn to Carmike Cinemas.

“They’re going to be there looking for more popcorn growers,” Morgeson said. “You have to grow 50 acres to do business with them, but they distribute popcorn to all the Carmike Cinemas. How many of those are there? They’re wanting more Kentucky popcorn, even though they are based in Indiana.”

Greenwell thinks this event will open the door for folks who are frustrated with growing tobacco.

“Given this tobacco crop, the difficulty we’ve had raising it, I think there’s going to be more people looking for the alternative,” he said.

Growers hoping to get in on a smaller scale can benefit, as well.

“Market Ready, that’s a program UK does, it’s more geared towards people that want to produce for farmers’ markets,” Morgeson said. “They’re going to come down and explain their program to the growers as well, because some of these people may not be big enough to sell to some of these distributors, but they may still want some information on how to break into the farmer’s market a little bit better.”

The event is free, but registration is required. Those interested can register can call the Washington County Cooperative Extension office at (859) 336-7741 or stop by to register. Registration is also being accepting through the Louisville Food to Table website (www.louisvilleky.gov/healthyhometown/farmtotable/). There is no deadline to register.

“There’s an opportunity out there for anybody that wants to make some money growing food, even if they don’t currently,” Morgeson said. “It’s a good time to sit down with these people and talk to them about what they’ll buy, what price they’ll pay for it and then you can go home and you can decide whether you can make money at that price.”

Greenwell said from there, he and Morgeson can help fill in the blanks.

“That’s where Dennis and I can help them, whether it’s eggs or cattle or pigs or broccoli. We can fill in those blanks for the people that don’t know.”

“Making Money Growing Local Food” will be 9 a.m.- 3 p.m. on Oct. 20 at St. Catharine Mother House, 2645 Bardstown Road.