By Edmund Shelby, The Farmer's Pride.
Will and Maggie Bowling are the future of Kentucky Agriculture. They are also the present.
The two biology graduates are using their educations, hands-on experience, and participation in the Kentucky Agricultural Leadership Program (KALP) to bring locally-grown and produced food to Clay and surrounding counties.
Will's great-great-grandfather, Squire Hensley, moved his family to a Clay County homestead in the mid-1800s. There, he and his wife raised all the food they needed and seven daughters.
He left the property in separate farms to his daughters, and reportedly told them to, "Take care of the old homeplace."
Hensley's great-granddaughter, Gloria Bowline, who is Will's mother, owned about 30 acres of the original property. She and her husband Ronnie bought another 90 acres from one of her cousins, and thus the Old Homeplace Farm came into being.
Will and Maggie bought another 55 acres in 2013.
A native of the area, Will received his bachelor's degree from the University of Kentucky in 2005, and a masters in 2009.
He works as a biologist in the elk program with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Will met Maggie in 2011 at the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group in Chattanooga, Tenn.
The farm girl from Clarksville, Ohio had received her bachelor's in biology from Earlham College in Richmond, Ind. in 2010. The couple married in 2014.
Two years before, Will had entered the tenth class of KALP, which had started in the mid-1980s as the Philip Morris Agriculture Leadership Program. The company fully funded the first seven classes. It now has over 100 financial supporters, which include the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board, Kentucky Farm Bureau, and Farm Credit of America.
Each class consists of 20 young Kentuckians and two people from Tennessee.
"It was a great experience," Will said of his two years in the program.
The group travelled to Virginia and New York state, as well as all parts of Kentucky learning about all kinds of farming.
The crowning point was two weeks in South Africa.
"The social aspect was what I learned," Will says of his visit to that far away land.
"They (South Africa) provide a lot of food for the rest of Africa."
He said they group visited large and small farms, and saw gardens all over the place. "There was goof everywhere."
Maggie entered the program last November.
Her group has already visited operations in central Kentucky and observed this past session of the Kentucky General Assembly.
That visit concerned state policies that affect agriculture. Her group will visit Washington, D.C. to see such actions at a national level. Then next summer they will go to Eastern Europe.
"We'll be going to the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, and Romania," she said. "And there's a possibility we might go to Austria."
Will and Maggie work the farm with his parents, but do a lot on their own. She spends 10 to 12 hours a day planting, harvesting, and selling. He comes in from work around 4:30 p.m. and works until dark.
Their vegetables are all-natural, their meat is grass-fed, and the eggs come from pastured chickens.
They operate the Old Homeplace Farm Buying Club, which they described as "essentially an online farmers' market." It is updated weekly, and clip members (there are 150 or so) can order from their homes and have food delivered or meet at a local delivery location.
Their products are also available at area markets and some restaurants.
Asked if their business is growing, Maggie responded, "Oh my goodness. Yes! I just have to produce more. We're trying to work on systems and efficiencies."