Thursday, January 21, 2010

What Is To Be Proud About?

I don’t know that much about the “Kentucky Proud” initiative and maybe I should, but it sounds like something that promotes a very local oriented, food production and slow food lifestyle. I get the impression that more and more of the local restaurants are receiving fresh produce from a local source and that there is a minimum of processing involved. And, I don’t think of canned vegetables or fruit when I hear the words “Kentucky Proud”. That is why I was enthused to hear about an expansion into the distribution of locally produced beef products carrying the “Kentucky Proud” labeling.

The press release from the Commissioner of Agriculture Richie Farmer’s office was written to indicate that a statewide food distribution network has been established for all products by three experienced food service companies, but several key phrases lead me to realize that we are now talking about processed meat products - specifically beef.
The network is distributing beef raised by Kentucky producers such as the Greathouse family of Midway and other cattle purchased through Kentucky’s Certified Pre-Conditioned for Health (CPH-45) program, in which source-verified cattle are raised under a strict health regimen. The cattle are finished on a nutritional diet developed by Alltech of Nicholasville and processed by PM Beef of Windom, Minn.
I guess that I should be happy that they are buying locally raised cattle, but finishing them out of state and then processing them in Minnesota seems like insulting our intelligence. Does it matter to anyone else that cows are supposed to eat grass and not some other nutritional supplement, even if it does come from a local supplier in Alltech? Does it matter that the cost of shipping the animals out of state, slaughtering and processing the animals and then shipping the product back in to the state, has to be added to the final sales price?

To be sure, all of this transporting, slaughtering, processing, re-transporting and distributing is supplying jobs for folks but are they Kentuckians who are getting these jobs? I would think that, being a state government initiative, a primary purpose would be to promote local jobs and the local economy. I can understand that some of our local meat processing facilities may not be able to handle the estimated volume, but isn’t that just a matter of building our own infrastructure to be able to handle our own needs? That is how we can build our sustainability.

According to the article in Business Lexington, “Kentucky Proud” has been in place for nine years and “working to help Kentucky producers and value-added processors market Kentucky products” and yet for nine years we haven’t noticed that we have no local meat processors of any scale capable of the volume envisioned. Only lately, approximately six months ago, did a processor from out of state call upon the Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA), when they recognized our state’s need for their services. They were the one to propose a project, so there must be a profit in it. They were the one to initially identify a distributor.

If I may quote from the above referenced article:
It begins with family farms looking for a steady market for their products working with family focused processors like PM Beef. The processed products are then distributed by a network of family owned distribution businesses which deliver the Kentucky Proud products to small family restaurants across the state. Snell (a spokesperson for KDA) believes this system goes to the core of what the Kentucky Proud program is about, helping Kentucky families by promoting local Kentucky Proud products.
It also begins with the family farms which raise their livestock in a traditional way, unlike the giant agri-business herds, and the quality conscious consumers looking for such a producer. The missing component here is a local, traditional, quality conscious processor who will not dictate changes to either the farmer or the consumer that neither one wants. This is also what should be “the core of what the Kentucky Proud program is about”. Can the KDA and the Department of Economic Development not co-operate with each other for the advancement of all Kentuckians?

This article goes on to describe the potential for this beef program by stating, correctly, that people are requesting more quality in the products that they buy. Many Kentuckians also relate local production with better quality and so are looking for local products like those having the Kentucky Proud label. Some of us realize that just meeting the USDA standard is not enough and that even their “organic” qualifications are starting to be watered down, at the request of the large agri-business multi-national corporations. We would like the “Kentucky Proud” quality to be higher than it is. The estimate for full scale production is set at 400 head of cattle a week. That seems very low to me for a statewide program.

Once again quoting:
That is 400 head of cattle each week that were born and weaned on farms in Kentucky. That is 400 head of cattle each week that were sold through Kentucky markets to PM Beef for finishing. Then those 400 head a week would come back processed to be distributed…
That is 400 head of cattle that are trucked out of state and maybe not by Kentucky truckers. That is by truck, not rail which is 11 times more efficient than trucking. That is 400 head of cattle finished on something other than grass. That is 400 head of cattle that are slaughtered by non-Kentuckians and trucked(again no rail) back to the local folks to be sold as “local” products.
"As the largest beef cattle state east of the Mississippi we should be proud to see our beef come back to Kentucky as a branded product,"…
As the largest beef cattle state east of the Mississippi, we should be embarrassed to have no local processing plants, which employ local labor, and force our consumers to pay extra for a “local” product for which we are so proud.
"At the end of the day this is going to be bigger than the Kentucky Proud beef line. The distribution team is also networking with Kentucky family farms for chicken, pork, dairy and lamb," said Snell. "We are looking for sustainability and what is good for Kentucky, and we are building relationships and networks that will last. This is what being Kentucky Proud is all about."
If I recall correctly, a local economist told the Urban County Council lately that agriculture accounted for only 2% of the state's output and it is not expected to grow. With deals like this going on, then I can concur with that assessment. We in Lexington, have enacted a PDR program to preserve farm land. The Fayette Alliance has called the preservation of farmland and the local production of food a necessity and yet we still want to send our products out of state for processing.

I am still waiting for something to be really proud about.

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