Tag Archives: kentucky

Cheerleading for Team Agriculture!


Did you think the Banditas were gone? Hardly! We will be popping in here and there to keep you all entertained so be sure to be on the lookout for us! 

Jennifer ElwellBandita Jennifer Elwell lives near Louisville, Kentucky and is the mom of two. She enjoys her horses, finding creative ways to encourage her kids to eat healthfully, and singing in the church choir (that’s a new found love). She has been the Director of Communications for the Kentucky Corn Growers Associations and Kentucky Small Grain Growers Associations since 1998, while providing graphic design and web services to several national and state associations. She is involved in CommonGround , a national program that works to connect women from both sides of the farm gate, and other state farm advocacy programs. Her latest projects include the Kentucky Farms Feed Me  virtual field trip and education program for teachers and a new blog that showcases Kentucky food and farmers, Kentucky Food and Farm Files

I remember really wanting to be a cheerleader when I was a little girl. I remember envying my friends who took tumbling classes and cheered for the local youth sports teams. And it always seemed as if those girls were the most popular. Unfortunately my parents did not have the money for such extra-curricular activities, and I convinced myself that I was too big, too clumsy, and not popular enough. But look at me now. Who would have thought that I would become a cheerleader in my late 30s?

How I got to this point in my life is a long story, but it started with my mother’s love of horses. Horse-crazy lady marries farm boy who shares her love. I grow up on a small farm with lots of horses, and I became Miss Kentucky 4-H Horse Program (that’s not a real title, but if it were, I was “it” in my teens). I’d like to admit that I dreamed of working with horses, but I did not. I was a natural science nerd (still am), and I was convinced I would become a research geneticist. After a series of events not worth mentioning here, I ended up at my land-grant university, the University of Kentucky, studying farm animals. I was thrilled to be one of the many scholarship recipients, which in part was due to my involvement in the 4-H program. I hate to sound like I settled because of a financial situation, but I now know this was my path. (Lesson 1: Money is available for those studying agriculture.)

I soon figured out that I craved a creative outlet, so I weaved journalism and public relations into my studies. I sought out every opportunity that would help me land the career of my dreams. (Lesson 2: Make your opportunities).

So I graduate, my mother bribes me to refuse a job away from home by buying me a horse, and I shortly-there-after land the job I have to this very day, working for farmers. (Lesson 3: Listen to your mother.)

Jennifer talking with a Lexington, Ky. Incredible Food Show visitor as part of the CommonGround program.
Jennifer talking with a Lexington, Ky. Incredible Food Show visitor as part of the CommonGround program.

Over the years I have learned quite a lot: what it takes to grow crops, the struggles farmers face, etc. I talk with the farmers I serve on regular basis. I feel that I have the inside story, which is most often quite contrary to many of the messages dispersed by non-farming intellectuals and sensationalism-loving media. I wonder if I can even compete against the anti-ag rhetoric. After a year or so of wondering what I can do, I suck it up and start blogging. My first post on “Food, Mommy!” was “Why I Choose to Eat Meat.” I expected to get some feedback from those who do not agree with me, but the positive comments far outweighed the negative. (Lesson 4: Don’t be a wuss.)

Now I’m smack dab in the middle of the social media age. My efforts have connected me to farmers, food processors, and agri-business folks like myself from all over America. I continue to learn from them. I have posted about not wanting to buy organic, but I now talk with organic farmers, and I can feel good about what they are doing as well. (Just don’t try to sell me one by stomping on the other!) I continue to educate myself about farming and food technology. I see changes that are being made, not only to meet consumer demands, but what research has shown to produce nutritious, safe food with less impact on our environment. The system is naturally moving in that direction. (Lesson 5: Never stop learning. Never stop moving forward.)

So now I see myself as the CHEERLEADER I have always wanted to be, and my version is a heck of a lot better than being tossed in the air with a skimpy skirt on. And I have learned that being an effective cheerleader for the farming world has nothing to do with how loud you can yell, but how willing you are to listen and have a candid conversation. (Lesson 6: Not everyone has the same perspective as you, so be willing to open your ears before running your mouth.)

The point of this tale is not to showcase what I have done, but encourage others to join the team. We need you! The best part of my journey is that I am just one cheerleader of many, and we come from all walks of life. We are rallying together to make sure the story of American agriculture is being shared in as many places as possible. We are not BIG AG. We are people that appreciate having access to healthy, affordable food. (Last Lesson: Be Agriculture Proud!)

Why do farmers grow tobacco? from David Hayden

On yesterday’s blog post, I shared several photos from my visit to a tobacco farm in Tennessee. Today I invited David Hayden (@DavidHayden7) to share more about the growing and harvesting process of tobacco. He grew up working with tobacco in Kentucky and studied the crop in college.

Fire cured Tobacco barn

“No its ok, that barn isn’t on fire it’s supposed to be smoking. “

I’ve explained this more times than I can count. Well then, why is that barn smoking? This is where the conversation takes off.

Growing up in tobacco country, aka Kentucky, it was no secret that I spent the majority of my youth in the tobacco field. Unlike most crops, tobacco farming is almost a year-long endeavor. Ryan Goodman recently posted a picture of a tobacco field in TN and I immediately had flashbacks of my youth and volunteered to help explain what exactly a tobacco farmer does.

Tobacco growing hydroponically

Let’s start at the beginning. There are two major types of tobacco; burley and dark. Burley tobacco is a lighter variety of tobacco produced more often than not for cigarettes, while dark tobacco is predominately used for chewing tobacco and cigars. Though tobacco’s predominant uses are for smoking (in some form or fashion) and chewing tobacco; there are companies out there like Kentucky BioProcessing that are utilizing innovative biotechnology techniques to find new and groundbreaking uses for the proteins produced by the tobacco plant.

The tobacco season starts in the very late winter months through the very early spring months, when tobacco plants are seeded into floating trays to begin growing hydroponically. As these plants begin to mature they are “set” (set is a term used that refers to planting in the ground) in the ground. To do this the farmer uses a tobacco “setter” (video) that is pulled behind a tractor.

Tobacco Bloom

As the plants begin to mature in the field, the rows are then “chopped” out (hoeing the out the weeds) usually by hand, often times hand sprayed with insecticides and later sprayed with fungicides to prevent unwanted disease and fungus. On a good year when the plant reaches approximately 5 ½ to 6 ft tall it will bloom. When the plants are in full bloom the farmer must “top” (referring to the breaking off of the tobacco blooms) them, to ensure the majority of growth goes into the leaves because the leaves are sold by the pound. While topping tobacco, suckers are removed from the plant as well. Suckers are shoots or growths that sprout between the leaves and the stalk, and must be removed promote leaf growth. After topping, the field is sprayed again with insecticide, fungicide and sucker control.

Tobacco horn worm

Tobacco is very susceptible to disease, fungus and insects. For example many areas of tobacco country are plagued with black shank. Black Shank is a fungal disease that lives in the soil causing the plant to form lesions followed by yellowing and withering very quickly. Along with diseases, tobacco worms (Horn worms) are infamous for destroying crops and must be controlled.

Once the tobacco has matured it is cut and spiked on a stick. Farmers typically place 5-6 stalks of tobacco on one tobacco stick. The crop is then hung in a barn to be either flue cured or fire cured.

Flue cured tobacco (typically all burley and some dark varieties) is a crop that is hung in the barn and dried (or cured) by the ambient air in and around the barn. The air is controlled by opening and closing tall narrow doors on the side of the barn.

Tobacco Tray

Fire curing is a method utilized in dark varieties only. The curing process takes place in a fully enclosed barn with a smoldering fire beneath it. Essentially fire cured tobacco is “smoked”. Fire curing gives the tobacco a sweet smoky flavor and darker color.

Once the tobacco has cured it is taken down and “stripped”. Stripping is the process of removing the leaves from the stalk. As the tobacco is stripped the leaves are separated into three –four grades. These grades from the bottom of the stalk to the top are as follows; “trash” (or priming), “lugs, “leaf, and tips. The value of each grade increases as you make your way up the stalk. Each grade is pressed into bales weighing about 100 lbs each.

Ten years ago, at this point in the process the farmer was off to the market, (or tobacco warehouse in farming terms) to sell their crop. This is a place where farmers and buyers came together and the finished product was auctioned off. Today because of the government-driven tobacco buyout, tobacco warehouses are a thing of the past. Tobacco crops are now contracted directly to tobacco companies. The buy-out program essentially paid many farmers to stop raising tobacco, however this settlement money runs out at the end of 2012.

To many people, tobacco is almost a “foreign” crop because it’s grown in fairly limited areas in the United States from as far south as Georgia up to New England and only as far west as Tennessee and Kentucky. Below is a list of the top ten tobacco producing states as of 2009.

Top 10 Tobacco producing states

Tobacco has been a cash crop in the US since our country was founded. With that said, in the past, tobacco crops were a great way for a small farmer to make a good living. For my family that was a form of income that we relied on from year to year. That turned into a tradition of tobacco farming for many generations. They payout from the crop is very good but like anything else, it’s a gamble if mother nature isn’t on your side. When it’s all said and done tobacco is an industry with a history of being very lucrative however, as times changed so did many tobacco farmers. As for my family, we saw the tobacco buy out as an opportunity to hang up the hoe to expand and diversify the livestock sector of our farm.

Thanks to David Hayden for sharing his thoughts in this guest post! I went to school with David at Oklahoma State where he studied Meat Science for his Master’s degree. He now works in the meat industry and shares great information about meat science and safety at his blog farmingamerica.org. Be sure to stop by his blog and Facebook page and thank him for doing this!

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Labor Day Weekend in Kentucky


Kentucky (Photo credit: lalunablanca)

Hello September! I hope you’re making the most of your Labor Day weekend. It’s time to welcome Fall and hopefully cooler temperatures and if we’re fortunate, more moisture will find its way across the country.

This weekend, I took an impromptu trip to Lexington, Kentucky to meet up with a few friends and enjoy the weekend. If anyone says social media networking isn’t real, they should have come with me. I talk to these folks several times a week and they are real-life friends. Great friends who will welcome me into their homes, let me sleep on their couch, and even eat at their dinner tables.

Gotta love great conversations with friends around Sunday morning coffee!

Saturday, I met up with Jesse and Peter, students at the University of Kentucky, along with David who I went to school with at Oklahoma State and a few of his friends. These folks are all great Agvocates, so we got in some good discussions about food and farms in a genuine tweet-up.

An entire menu of comfort food and Southern entrees!

We enjoyed some awesome Southern Comfort food at Ramsey’s – a local Lexington restaurant which serves local vegetables during the summer with entrees big enough for two. I had the Cajun fried catfish, fresh creamed corn, green beans, and fresh tomatoes with cottage cheese! It was awesome!

Nothing like some great comfort food at a local diner.

Sunday, Jesse and I made the trip up to Frankfort, state capitol of Kentucky, to visit Ray Bowman and his wife Stephania. They have a small farm with sheep, a few cows, and several other critters. We went to church and afterward Stephania had an awesome Sunday Dinner fixed. The remnants of Hurricane Isaac cast a cloudy sky and a few showers over the farm, but we didn’t let it hamper the fun.

Keep an eye out for my radio interview later this week with this great guy, Ray Bowman

We sat around for hours and talked about everything under the sun. Ray has a podcast radio show for Feedstuffs Foodlink about everything Food and Farm. We talked for a while and he’ll have the interview up later this week to share with everyone! I can’t wait to share more about my experience working with CNN and why I believe it’s a lesson important for others advocating for agriculture.


Alltech Annual International Symposium | #AgFuture

I’m on the road again this week, in Lexington, Kentucky. Many know Lexington for the University of Kentucky Wildcat Basketball or the legendary horse racing and extremely nice barns that dot the rolling green hills. Some may even know Eastern Kentucky for its trail of Bourbon Distilleries. Lexington is also home to Alltech – a company focused on the scientific aspects of animal nutrition and health.

Alltech is a global leader in the animal health and nutrition industry and among the top ten animal health companies in the world, focused on natural scientific solutions to today’s biggest agriculture and food industry challenges. Headquartered in Lexington, Kentucky, Alltech has offices and distributors in 128 countries; 4 bioscience centers; and 31 manufacturing facilities located strategically throughout the world.

“Exciting technological and environmental advancements have revolutionized Alltech. We hope our industry’s decision makers and influencers will help us propel that transformation further to create a new world of sustainability for the benefit of all.” – Dr. Pearse Lyons

I’m here for the 2012 Alltech Annual International Symposium. With 13 sessions, 150 speakers and 21 discussion dinners it’s bound to be an interesting week. The Symposium covers everything from Beef, Dairy, Poultry, and Aquaculture to IT, Legal Issues, Agribusiness, Companion Animal, and Food topics. I’ll be attending the Beef series, but will also have friends here who may be attending other sessions.

I’ll be sharing more on my notes throughout the coming weeks and will be sure to include links to friends’ posts from the Symposium. Be sure to follow my updates on Facebook, or you can follow the Symposium updates on Twitter through the #AgFuture stream or @Alltech‘s page. We’ll be having a Tweetup on Monday night, so I’ll have the opportunity to meet more great Agriculture folks from the Social Media world!

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