Produce and Specialty Crops - From Farm to Plate

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Kentucky farms produce many of the nutritious foods that we should eat daily. The climate means we can grow certain fruits and vegetables across the various seasons. Some fruits and vegetables can’t be grown in Kentucky.

Colorful Vegetables: A Healthy Choice

Eating vegetables is a good choice for your health. Most vegetables are low in fat and calories and have no cholesterol. They are an important source of fiber, which can help reduce blood cholesterol and may lower the risk of heart disease.  Vegetables also contain vital nutrients like folate, which helps make red blood cells. Vitamin A keeps eyes and skin healthy, vitamin C boosts the immune system and helps heal cuts and wounds, and potassium, which according to scientists, helps keep blood pressure healthy. Children should eat between 1 ½ to 3 cups of vegetables every day.

Growing Seasons in Kentucky

Produce grows best in Kentucky from April to October. It is difficult to grow produce in the winter in Kentucky due to harsh temperatures. Different vegetables grow at different times. In spring, the temperate weather is wonderful for salads, chard, and asparagus. The summer’s heat is ideal for tomatoes, cucumber, and peppers. Fall yields wonderful storage crops like potatoes, pumpkins, and winter squash. Local vegetables can be enjoyed in the winter by preserving or canning them during the growing season.

A Look at Farming Produce

Growing vegetables requires a lot of care by the farmer. Farmers must observe their crops regularly to watch for insects, diseases, weeds, and make sure they are getting enough water. Wise farmers know it is best to stop a potential problem early, or risk losing all or a portion of their crop. Farmers use tricks like irrigation, which means using special tubes to give plants water when they get too hot. Or, they “scout for insects”, which means hunting for baby insects so they can stop them before they get too big. It is important for farmers to watch their plants and overcome things in the environment that might kill them.

For many years, farmers have taken their products to market or sold them to restaurants or grocery stores. In the last few decades, farmers have added a new tool to sell their produce - the CSA model. CSA means Community Supported Agriculture. A CSA is a subscription-based product, usually weekly, where farmers deliver a variety of produce to families during the growing season. CSAs help farmers get the startup costs they need at the beginning of the growing season to get their produce directly into homes. They are a great way for customers to get high value produce from their local community. The closer you are to the farm, the more likely you are to get the highest nutritional value from the product.

Sweet Additions

In addition to vegetables, Kentucky is home to a small amount of fruit growers. We aren’t as famous as Washington for our apples, but there are 600 apple orchards here. There are more than 300 peach orchards. Fruit trees take some patience to farm. That’s because it takes a tree a number of years to grow before it starts bearing fruit. First, the farmer gets small trees, or saplings, from a nursery and plants them in neat rows. A group of fruit trees is called an orchard. Then, the tree must grow before it can be harvested. It can take 3 or more years of growing before the farmer can pick its fruit. Once the tree is mature and ready, the farmer will get bigger yields of delicious fruit every year.

Fruit and vegetables are sold by a unit of measurement called a bushel. A bushel weighs differently for each type of produce. For example, a bushel of apples is about 48 pounds of apples. A peck is a quarter of a bushel, or 12 pounds. You can purchase a bushel, half bushel, peck, or half peck. Of course, grocery stores often sell fruits and vegetables by the pound instead.

Many specialty farmers welcome children to visit their farm. Now that you know more about local fruits and vegetables, try to visit a farm or meet a farmer at the market. You’ll impress them with your knowledge of farming, and get a chance to try a local vegetable or two.

Glossary of Terms:

  • Irrigation - A system on a farm that helps plants in the field get water to drink when they are too hot.
  • CSA - Community Supported Agriculture. A business model where farmers offer a subscription to receive their produce on a regular basis. Customers pay at the beginning of the season and the farmer can use that money to buy supplies. The farmer, in turn, gives subscribers a portion of the seasonal crop - usually in a weekly “share”.
  • Nursery - A farm that specializes in growing plants, especially baby plants for farmers and retail customers.
  • Sapling - A small tree that is not yet mature and bearing fruit.
  • Bushel - A unit of measurement for fruits and vegetables. Its weight varies by product.
  • Peck - Half a bushel.
  • Orchard - A group of fruit trees