HINDMAN — State and federal leaders gathered Monday at the Knott County Sportsplex for a slew of announcements primarily aimed at boosting the Eastern Kentucky economy through a renewed focus on agriculture.
State Agriculture Commissioner James Comer was joined by U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul to unveil the state Department of Agriculture’s latest branding effort — and the first aimed squarely at one geographic region — “Appalachia Proud: Mountains of Potential.”
Comer said the new brand would give consumers information to allow them to support local Eastern Kentucky farmers and businesses.
“When you buy a product with that symbol on there, that means that product was produced or manufactured in Appalachia, by a farmer from Appalachia or a small business in Appalachia,” Comer said.
Comer also released a report, which he said was “borne out of two years of travel through Eastern Kentucky,” to highlight the agricultural and agribusiness success stories already in the mountains, as well as to advocate for a plan to build on that momentum.
“What became abundantly clear is that Appalachia is a special place with untapped potential, particularly in the areas of agriculture, food production and agritourism,” Comer says in the report’s introduction. “When you marry untapped resources with a workforce that has an unbreakable spirit, the possibilities are endless.”
Comer adds that the Appalachia Proud brand will allow Eastern Kentucky to erase the myth that agriculture and agribusiness are dead in the mountains.
“Most people don’t know that Eastern Kentucky is already home to one of the largest tomato producers in the Commonwealth, one of the few heifer development operations located on a strip mine, and some of the most beautiful orchards in the world,” Comer said. “Our hope is that, through the launch of ‘Appalachia Proud,’ now they will.”
The report notes that Floyd County had $581,000 in farm cash receipts in 2010 and singled out the Floyd County Farmers Market, HF Farms, Appalachian Meats and Prince Albert Stables as successful agribusinesses already operating under the Kentucky Proud banner.
Comer also used the occasion to announce the latest step in an effort begun by him and Sen. Paul and most recently joined by Sen. McConnell — industrial hemp. Comer announced Monday that, following inclusion in the recently passed farm bill allowing hemp pilot projects in states that have legalized the product, he is pushing forward with five such projects in Kentucky, including two in Eastern Kentucky.
One of the projects, overseen by Kentucky State University and the Homegrown by Heroes farming program for veterans, will study “the cultivation of Kentucky heirloom hemp seed on a research plot in Eastern Kentucky.” The second, overseen the University of Kentucky, will “focus on cultivating cannabinoids for medical research purposes.”
Appalachia Proud and the hemp pilot projects are only two parts of a multi-pronged effort outlined in Comer’s report. The study also calls for:
• Enactment of Sen. Paul’s “Economic Freedom Zones” plan, which would lower personal and corporate income taxes in distressed areas to 5 percent
• Encouraging every college in the state to research and develop a niche agricultural product that can succeed in Eastern Kentucky.
• Activating Future Farmers of America chapters in every Eastern Kentucky school district.
• Creating a new mobile science center specifically geared toward Appalachian agriculture.
• Promoting viable agricultural uses of mine lands through ventures such as the Appalachia Proud Wildlife Center, a planned venture by the nonprofit Appalachian Wildlife Foundation.
• Increasing the number of schools in the Farm-to-School program, which places fresh, locally-grown produce in school cafeterias.
• Encouraging Eastern Kentucky colleges to join the Farm-to-Campus program, which is similar to the Farm-to-School program, but on the college level.
• Returning 100 percent of coal-severance tax revenue to coal-producing counties, with 15 percent earmarked specifically for investment in food production and new agricultural enterprises.