Recent outbreaks of illness traced to contaminated fresh produce have heightened consumers' and growers' awareness of food safety from the farm to the table. So far, there have been no reported illnesses caused by locally grown produce in Kentucky and a major effort is underway to keep the clean status. A partnership was formed between the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, UK's Cooperative Extension Service, and the Department for Public Health to develop the Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) program to educate and assist producers in reducing the contamination risk. "At some point in time it will be required for all Farmers' Markets to have Good Agricultural Practices certification," said Anna Robins, President and Manager of the Russell County Farmers' Market. "Russell County Farmers' Market is ahead of the game." Robins says all 10 farmers' market members in Russell County have GAP certification. In fact, the salmonella scare last summer with tomatoes and jalapenos has proved to be profitable for local growers. Food safety issues have driven people to buy locally grown produce. "People have more confidence they are getting a safe product when they eat something that is grown locally," said Robins. As president and manager of the Farmers' Market, Robins inspects farms to make sure members are growing what they say they are growing. In the past, there were murmurings of members who purchased produce to resell instead of growing their own. Robins points out that some crops such as peaches are not grown locally and can be purchased for resale at the Farmers' Market but that should be the exception not the rule. Currently, all Russell County Farmers' Market growers are registered as Kentucky Proud members certifying their produce is home grown. Their processed items such as jams and salsas are also certified as produced primarily from ingredients grown on their farm. Of the ten Farmers' Market members, Robins and fellow Russell County resident Lee Markum provide organically grown produce. Robins' farm has been certified USDA Organic since 2007. Markum walks through her garden snacking as she picks. "You wouldn't dare do this at the grocery," said Markum. "Because I don't use pesticides or herbicides, I can," said Markum. "I love organic farming for that reason." She grows lots of staple crops like beans and corn but she also grows many salad vegetables to sell at the Farmers' Market. Markum uses organic practices on her farm but she is not yet certified by USDA. To be certified as an organic farm, she needs land usage and farming practices data that she cannot provide yet since she has owned the property only two years. In the meantime, she is using all her resources to naturally fertilize and rid her garden of pests. Markum caught 6 gallons of Japanese beetles last year with her traps she made using 2 liter bottles. She not only makes her own bug traps but she also makes a tool called a "Chicken Tractor" used in the middle of the garden rows. "It's like a little A frame house for chickens," said Markum. The Chicken Tractors are made on the principle of the wheel barrow with handles on one end and two wheels on the other for mobility. There is no floor to allow the two chickens inside to scratch out weeds and eat bugs. Every two to three hours, Markum moves the Chicken Tractor down the row and the chickens do the rest. "Any bug that gets in there is gone and they fertilize as they go," said Markum. "They make organic gardening a whole lot easier." At the Robins Triple Creek Berry Farm, Anna and her husband Matt grow an array of vegetables and many varieties of blue berries, black berries, raspberries, hydroponic strawberries. Hydroponic gardening is basically a method of growing plants without soil. Robins uses stacked hanging pots to grow strawberries off the ground. She says as a result of the hydroponic gardening, she doesn't have problems with pests, weeds or mold. Consumers purchasing from Russell County Farmers' Market can rest assured knowing all the members have completed GAP training for best practices for growing, transporting and handling produce to minimize the risk of food contamination. "I think we have to try to become more aware of what we put into our bodies," said Markum. "More and more, it's going to be important to know where your food comes from." Farmers' Market members benefit from the growing trend of consumers who want to know the producers of their food. "This year has been really good for the farmers," said Robins. "For a few hours work, you can make a good chunk of change at the Farmers' Market." She says the Farmers' Market is looking into a location and funds to construct a semi-permanent building for the farmers to expand their sales and the consumers they reach. The Russell County Farmers' Market is located at 2349 S. Hwy 127 and is open June 7 through October 25 on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday from 6 a.m. until sell out. For more information about the Farmers' Market, contact Anna Robins at 270-507-6292.
The Times Journal is a weekly newspaper issued on Thursdays. It was first published on October 13, 1949, by Andrew J. and Terry Norfleet.
P.O. Box 190
120 Wilson St.
Russell Springs KY 42642
Russell County News is a weekly newspaper issued on Saturdays, and is mailed free to every address in Russell County, Ky. It was first published on February 1, 1913.
404 Monument Square
Jamestown KY 42629