Winter’s cold grip is finally letting go and the only thing I can think about is igniting my grill and charring some delicious eats. I cook food all day for a living, but nothing beats that first spring grill out in the backyard.
What I’m looking forward to most about warmer weather is local produce. By May and June, little farmers markets will pop up like dandelions all over town. But thanks to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, it’s a lot easier to find local produce, meats, and other products — and not just at the farmers market and not just in the summer and fall.
The Kentucky Proud program is an initiative by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture to promote and protect farmers, growers, and producers in Kentucky. It is a network of support for the farmers and producers as well as Kentucky Proud restaurants.
The Kentucky Proud program is a resource that identifies product produced in Kentucky with the Kentucky Proud logo. By certifying the product and the restaurants that use the product, consumers know how to find local foods and support the local community.
Buying Kentucky Proud not only ensures you’re purchasing fresh, homegrown product, but it lets you know that your dollars are going to a family just a few miles away from your own house rather than a big corporation.
And as the executive chef at a Kentucky Proud restaurant, the Campbell Club, I attest that the flavor makes the difference. I truly enjoy and take pride in supporting the local farmers, but from a dining aspect, the flavor of an ear of corn recently plucked from the stalk, or a potato that was yanked out of the ground only hours ago is incomparable to the produce from a grocery store or big box supplier.
Produce from grocery stores — or big distributors for restaurants — typically travel across the country or from other countries to reach our cutting boards. In order to ship produce that far, it has to be treated differently than something homegrown. Typically items like tomatoes are harvested way too early, before they have fully ripened, then they are chemically treated to look ripe and to stay “fresh” in transit.
What happens during this process is the natural sugars in the fruits and vegetables do not develop fully. So while the tomato in the grocery store may look like a ripe red tomato on the outside, it’s actually a bitter green tomato on the inside.
Ware Creek Farms is a Kentucky Proud producer in the area. They are part of the Homegrown by Heroes Program as well — another segment of Kentucky Proud that certifies the producers are veterans.
“The main reason Ware Creek Farms is so excited to be a part of the Kentucky Proud program, is because it helps local producers,” Jason Simon said. Simon is one of the founders of Ware Creek Farms. “When you buy Kentucky Proud, you know you are impacting a local family, someone that is part of your community.”
Simon and his partner, Jim Daniels, produce a number of items, from pasture-raised poultry and eggs to honey and vegetables, sustainably. You can find them along with many other Kentucky Proud producers at the Owensboro Regional Farmers Market.
Jim Gilles with Hill View Farms Meats is also a Kentucky Proud member of the Owensboro Regional Farmers Market. His farm has been raising cattle in Daviess County for years. Starting in the spring they will also begin raising pork.
“Kentucky Proud is important to producers like myself because it helps to additionally brand my beef and pork products as something that is produced here in Kentucky,” Gilles said. “Kentucky Proud has brought a sense of assurance to consumers that want to support local Kentucky agriculture.”
Hill View Farms sells their meat at the Owensboro Regional Farmers Market, directly from their farm, at Preservation Station, at Nona’s Downtown Market, and as a part of Cecil Farms CSA.
You will find the Kentucky Proud logo all over the place at the Owensboro Regional Farmers Market, but you can also find it in some grocery stores as well. As the program continues to develop, strengthen, and bring awareness to products from the local agricultural community, grocers, restaurants, and suppliers take notice and begin stocking the product that consumers ask for.
This spring a Kentucky Proud store will open in Owensboro, Nona’s Downtown Market at 126 E. Second St.
“I think a lot of our community is unaware of how many talented people live in our area,” Maria Kelly, owner of Nona’s Market, said. “The goal of Nona’s Downtown Market is to centralize our local artists and producers so their gifts can be highlighted. This is why 85 percent of our products at Nona’s will come from our Kentucky Proud Members.”
Nona’s will stock many Kentucky Proud items, such as Kentucky Proud bread and fresh salads from the Campbell Club and beef from Hill View Farms — along with many other Kentucky Proud items, gifts, and food from other farmers, artists, and producers.
The goal of Kentucky Proud is to bring awareness to the products that Kentucky produces. It is economically and environmentally more sustainable to purchase from a local farm than a farm across the country.
That is why more and more farmers are stepping into the Kentucky market to fill gaps in demand. Kentucky aquaculture is taking off and is now producing Kentucky Proud, sustainable fresh fish and shrimp.
Michael Tierney, Vice President of Louisville Fish Co., farms Kentucky spotted bass, hybrid stripe bass, and rainbow trout.
“Buying local fish helps sustain the local agriculture economy, create jobs, and keep dollars local,” Tierney said. “The USA is in a $12 billion trade deficit to Asia in fish production, so buying local not only guarantees a more fresh fish, but it also supports local fish producers in taking on the challenge. Plus, think of all the gas needed to ship fish halfway around the world.”
Tierney, who is also an environmental scientist, said fish from Louisville Fish Co. are sustainable because they are not injected with hormones, they are not genetically modified, and they are farmed in clean water. “Kentucky aquaculture really makes the most use of water as a resource, producing food with as little impact on the environment as possible,” he said.
Also, by farming the fish, they are being produced rather than depleting wild fisheries or altering natural habitats.
There are a number of ways to support Kentucky Proud. Seek out farmers that have been certified Kentucky Proud. Look for the logo while you’re in the grocery store or at the market. Ask your waiter next time you eat out what Kentucky Proud options they have on the menu.
Visit www.kyproud.com for a listing of vendors, restaurants, and products.