From KYFB Newsroom Magazine
Fall is the time of year in which many festival-type events are held, mostly in honor of food. The Browning Orchard Festival is no different but along with it being a celebration of the foods that are grown there, it is also a classroom for the agriculture programs at Morehead State University (MSU.)
Dr. Joyce Stubbs, the Interim Chair of Agricultural Sciences at MSU said talks of donating the orchard by the Browning family to MSU began in 2006 and became a reality in 2008.
“The orchard, which had been in the Browning family for generations, had laid dormant for several years by the time it was donated. So we have done a lot of work to put it back into production,” she said. “We also raise hay, we have a Tilapia pond, a shrimp pond and we raise blueberries here, to name a few.”
MSU agriculture students work at the orchard and help out during the festival. A farm manager and horticulture supervisor actually manage the farm in efforts to utilize the facility as a laboratory of sorts.
Stubbs said students learn a lot in their classroom settings but coming to the farm to put that knowledge into action is a valuable component to their studies. She also said that much of what is produced at the orchard facility is utilized by the food service at MSU.
“We have had contracts with our food service vendor on campus to buy all the Tilapia and shrimp so if you’re eating one of those two things on Morehead’s campus, it probably came from the orchard,” she said.
Apple sales are also a big part of what goes on at Browning. Those proceeds go back to the farm and the University. Hay that is produced goes to feed livestock on the MSU farm facility with any surplus also going up for sale.
Stubbs said the ag program is also a part of an on-campus farmers’ market where goods from the orchard are sold, as well.
“We are Kentucky Proud and whatever we can grow, we sell,” she said. “This helps to keep the orchard sustainable much the way any other farm would operate.”
This year marked the sixth anniversary of the festival which normally draws in excess of 1,000 visitors for the one-day event. In addition to attendees buying goods available from the farm, they also get to see apple butter and sorghum made much the same as it has been done for generations by local FFA chapters; they can visit displays brought by other MSU departments and students organizations including the vet tech club that shows younger students how to properly handle an animal; food hot off the grill is available; and Kentucky traditional music is performed by a campus group which usually includes a song or two from MSU President Dr. Wayne Andrews.
He said the agriculture program at MSU is very robust and generates great interest among students especially those wishing to major in agri-business.
“Some students want to major in the agriculture side like horticulture and others are interested in vet tech and veterinarian science side,” he said. “So what we have at MSU is a very strong, science-based program that has a lot of hands-on opportunities. The Browning Orchard is a good example of that."
Andrews also said as more and more people want to know about their food sources, the University is keeping up with those demands.
“We are very interested in sustainability and we all want to know where our crops are coming from,” he said. “We have to be concerned with our quality of food and the amount of food that global populations demand. The U.S. continues to be the breadbasket to the world and we have to be more efficient, more effective and really, more sensible about how we use the food that is available to us and MSU is leading the way.”
In keeping with that leadership role, MSU Farm Manager Joe Fraley oversees the operations at both the Browning Orchard, which is near Flemingsburg and Derrickson Agricultural Complex located closer to campus.
“Between the two farms we have 575 acres, which is a tremendous asset to the University. The Browning family actually wanted to see their farm stay in production and be of value to students and we have formulated a plan that would do both,” he said.
Fraley added that the relationship between local communities and MSU is critical not only from the standpoint of people wanting to learn about agriculture and food production but more importantly it’s about the students.
“It’s about making sure they get educated and each generation gets better at producing food and helping to feed the world, and it truly is about feeding people,” he said. “But our best product is our students.”
Former Dean of MSU’s College of Science and Technology Gerald DeMoss was instrumental in developing the partnership that brought the orchard to the University. He said the farm is something that has enhanced the education opportunities for agriculture students at MSU while showing them how to operate a business.
“The Browning family hosted the festivals years ago on an annual basis depending on fruit production for the year, so we decided we wanted to reinvent that as a good community project for the people of Fleming and Rowan counties. It’s growing every year and engaging people with what we do at the University,” he said.
He added that as the agriculture program has grown at MSU, Browning Orchard has helped with that growth.
Stubbs said the orchard farm and the festival will play an integral role in MSU agriculture for many years to come.
“The Browning family wanted that tradition kept alive when the farm was given to MSU,” she said. “It took us a couple of years to get it revitalized but the farm is a tremendous gift to the students at MSU and we want to make sure we honor the family’s wishes.”