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Ky. Proud Products Showcased at Mansion Meal

By Tim Thornberry | Business Lexington

FRANKFORT, KY – In an ongoing effort to bring attention to the state's largest agricultural marketing initiative, Governor Steve Beshear and First Lady Jane Beshear recently hosted a Kentucky Proud Dinner at the Governor's Mansion.

The event brought together leaders in agriculture, business, education and the medical community to feast on a banquet prepared entirely from Kentucky Proud products.

The marketing program began in 2004 as a way to bring customers to the farm and make local products a part of their daily food consumption. It also has provided a way for farmers to move through a changing agricultural environment with new products.

Kentucky Proud has steadily grown from a couple of dozen members to approximately 1,500 representing a range of products from beef to cheese to salsa to flowers and everything in between.

"This is an occasion to celebrate, to enjoy and to, hopefully go to another level," Mrs. Beshear told the gathering. "Kentucky Proud and the whole idea of returning to our gardens and eating local foods is gaining interest all over the commonwealth. This dinner is a continuation of the 'buy local' conversation that those who are passionate about the local food initiative have had over the past several years. As we continue to promote healthy lifestyles, local foods are a vital part of this initiative."

The First Lady also told the group it was her hope that guests returned to their own "backyards" - be it in their businesses or schools or their own homes with a heightened enthusiasm about Kentucky Proud products. While the marketing plan has grown by leaps and bounds over the last few years under the direction of Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer, the first family has made it one of their priorities to walk the walk as opposed to just telling the public the benefits of local commodities.

"The things that we are doing in the area of agriculture in the Commonwealth of Kentucky are phenomenal. I want to tell you all that on every occasion from the first day we moved in here, we make every effort to serve Kentucky Proud products so that all the guests that enter and dine with us, go home with a little something extra about Kentucky and what we're all about," Mrs. Beshear said of living at the Mansion. She has taken the idea of local food another step with the first ever Governor's Garden, a joint venture bringing Kentucky Proud, the Western Hills High School FFA group, Kentucky State University, the local garden club and Access Food Pantry.

The garden contains tomatoes, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, corn and watermelons to name a few and is part of Mrs. Beshear's Green Team initiative promoting sustainability, energy efficiency and environmental preservation.

"Leading by example is imperative for teaching Kentuckians how to live more sustainable, environmentally friendly lifestyles," she said. "The average meal in the United States travels 1,200 miles from the farm to your plate. By growing crops in your own backyard or buying locally grown produce, families can eliminate wasteful burning of fossil fuels and have access to fresher, healthier produce."

Most of the produce grown in the garden will be donated to Access Soup Kitchen, as a way to give those without access to fresh fruits and vegetables a chance to enjoy their benefits.

The Kentucky Proud Dinner menu was a smorgasbord of local culinary delights including fresh water prawn appetizers, Kentucky Bibb Salad with goat's cheese, fried green tomatoes, molasses glazed pork loin, corn pudding, skillet green beans, beef brisket, oven-roasted potatoes and a blackberry fruit tart for dessert.

Dinner guest Steve Paradis said he was happy to see state officials so interested in the local food imitative.

"It was a pleasure to see our state government take a sincere interest in sustainable agriculture. The importance of providing healthy and local food is paramount to our community health and well-being, it's great for the economy obviously, but also and more importantly, it builds strong unity," he said.

Paradis, owner of Fresh Start, an organic fertilizer company in Louisville also said that with the tremendous heritage Kentucky possesses agriculturally, he is enthusiastic about the state taking a position of leadership in the local food business. As the evening came to a close, Gov. Beshear offered a 30-day challenge to those in attendance to incorporate local foods into their lives. Everyone received a basket of Kentucky Proud products to get the project started.

"Supported with Kentucky Agricultural Development Funds, the Kentucky Proud program became our state's official farm marketing program last year, when I signed House Bill 626 into law," said Gov. Beshear. "Through the fruits of their labor, our farmers continue to show why we have such an established agricultural tradition."

Kentucky Proud by the numbers

At the end of the day, the real test of Kentucky Proud or any marketing program is whether it has created revenue for those involved. The marketing program has lived up to its billing with a total of $250 million worth of farm and food projects having been sold at the retail level in the last three years said Farmer. "I think is an excellent return on an investment of about five million dollars in agricultural development funds. But I think we've only scratched the surface. More people every day are learning that local, healthy food is affordable, and good not only for you but for the state's economy," he added. According to information from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, last year alone retailers participating in the program sold over $100 million in Kentucky Proud products. In a study released last year by the University of Kentucky, economists there found that in the first three years of the program, $5.00 of net farm income was made for every dollar invested.

Kentucky Proud is administered by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA), and is funded in part by the Kentucky Agricultural Development Fund. For more information about Kentucky Proud or to find local participating producers visit http://www.kyagr.com/kyproud/index.htm. For more information about the Green Team initiative visit http://greenteam.ky.gov.

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