Third Thursday Thing Celebrates 15th Anniversary
FRANKFORT, Kentucky -- In its 15th year, Kentucky State University's Third Thursday Thing has drawn together over 20,000 farmers, ranchers, researchers, educators and others from across the country to share hands-on training in sustainable production practices.
But this popular, far-reaching program may never have happened if Small Farms State Specialist Marion Simon hadn’t recognized a training need for ag professionals.
“Some Extension professionals and farmers had incorrect information because they did not know the basics. They had the degree, but lacked the basic knowledge,” said Simon, who is a SSARE state ag coordinator. “So after I received a call being asked to write and submit a Southern SARE Professional Development Program grant, I called Mitchell Patterson at Virginia State University for his advice on a monthly training program. He said, ‘Go for it. If anyone can pull it off, it’s you’.”
Simon then called Mac Stone, at the time the farm manager for the university’s Research and Demonstration Farm, to see if holding monthly programs at the research farm to provide hands-on training for ag professionals in areas of sustainable ag and organic production practices was possible.
“He wanted to go for it,” said Simon.
Stone was wrapping up a successful NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) project mulching tomatoes with alfalfa hay.
“We found that there were no pests, beneficial insects were doing their thing, and with the nitrogen and lush green mass the tomato plants were just beautiful. And we thought, we need to get people out here to see what we are doing.”
Simon’s idea for a monthly training program was just the ticket, said Stone.
So in May of 1997, the Kentucky Extension Training Program was launched, funded by the SSARE PDP grant that Simon had submitted. By November of that year, demand for farmer attendance was so high that organizers opened the program up to both professionals and producers. For the next two years, monthly dates were selected based on availability; unknown to the organizers, those dates fell on third Thursdays.
“We kept getting phone calls from folks asking what the topics were at that third Thursday thing,” said Simon. “So we had the dates and now we had the name.” Kentucky Extension Training Program was changed to Third Thursday Thing in 1998.
Yet, the program was supposed to be short lived, wrapping up at the end of the two-year SSARE PDP grant.
“We ended the program with a large field day. But it didn’t stop there,” said Simon. “The next month we had 35 people show up and no program, so we scrambled to find experts to give talks on a variety of topics. It was then we realized that people were going to keep coming.”
Fifteen years later, with the help of additional grant funding, state program monies, contributions and sponsorship efforts, Third Thursday Thing is still going strong, having helped Kentucky State University evolve as a leader in sustainable agriculture. Third Thursday Thing recently celebrated its 15th anniversary with a Small Farm Field Day on July 19 that attracted several hundred ag leaders and farmers to learn more about Kentucky State University research in the areas of organic production, pasture poultry, biofuels, pawpaws, and goat production. The event also included sessions on home, family, health, ag safety and AgrAbility.
“SSARE Administrative Council recognized Marion’s PDP proposal as a good investment for SARE funds, but they would not know just how good until years later,” said James Hill, SSARE’s limited resource and minority outreach specialist at Fort Valley State University. “Audiences have grown larger and more diverse, attracting farm leaders and breaking down barriers for PDP projects, which traditionally had been reserved for ag educators.” To date, SSARE has funded five different projects associated with Third Thursday Thing, totaling nearly $250,000.
Farmers also see Third Thursday Thing as a worthwhile investment. For Stanford, KY farmer Dana Lear it was a life-changing opportunity.
“Because of Third Thursday, I was able to start a new venture in goat production and make money at it as an alternative enterprise to tobacco where I was losing money,” said Lear.
Louie Rivers, project manager for Kentucky State University’s Small Farmer Outreach Training and Technical Assistance Program, said that farmers look to the monthly Third Thursday Thing as a way to obtain updated research-based information to increase the profitability of their operation.
“It is one of the tools that makes their farms sustainable,” said Rivers. “Participants can use these workshops to learn from subject matter experts, as well as to learn from each other. When making farm visits of cooperators I can see the implementation of the practices being adopted.”
Participants have come to Third Thursday Thing from across Kentucky and about 20 different states. To date, Third Thursday Thing programming – ranging from diversification to direct marketing to value-added opportunities – has reached over 20,000 attendees. Participants indicate a 70 percent to 90 percent adoption rate of the information that is provided.
“Marion has done a great job of keeping the program together,” said Stone. “It’s just been tremendous what we’ve been able to do with Third Thursday Thing for 15 years,” said Stone.
Due in part to the success of Third Thursday Thing, Kentucky State University has dramatically expanded its sustainable agriculture educational and academic opportunities. The university plans many conferences and educational meetings around Third Thursday Thing, including the Small, Limited Resource/Minority Farmers Conference, the International PawPaw Conference and the Goat Project’s Collaborator Conference. In addition, Kentucky State University is home to the Center for Sustainability of Farms and Families. This 12,000-square-foot facility is considered to be the only sustainable ag educational center in the South.
The university also recently launched a College of Agriculture, Food Science & Sustainable Systems, offering degree programs in areas such as ag and natural resources, environmental studies and sustainable systems, food and animal science and aquaculture. The aquaculture program is ranked among the top five programs in the country.
For additional photos of the Third Thursday Thing 15th Anniversary event, visit Southern SARE's Facebook page.
Published by the Southern Region of the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program. Funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), Southern SARE operates under cooperative agreements with the University of Georgia, Fort Valley State University, and the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture to offer competitive grants to advance sustainable agriculture in America's Southern region.