SARE Professional Development Program Grantee Accepts Secretary's Honor Award
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Kentucky State University’s Third Thursday program was recently selected to receive a 2013 U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary’s Honor Award for Enhancing the Economic Vitality and Quality of Life in Rural America.
The Third Thursday Thing, initiated with a Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SSARE) grant and now funded by the USDA and Kentucky State University, equips small-scale farmers and producers with the education they need to develop new, specialty, and alternative crops and enterprises. As USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack presented 30 Honor Awards, he emphasized that the award “recognizes and acknowledges the best of the best” and that “the work that [they] do positively impacts real people every day.”
And the Third Thursday Thing does just that: The Kentucky-based education program has impacted the lives of over 12,000 people by providing farmers, ranchers and Extension agents with practical training on a variety of topics related to sustainable agriculture. Sixteen years ago, co-director and founder Marion Simon realized the great need for basic agricultural training in sustainable agriculture practices. So, Kentucky State University small farm state specialist applied for and received a two-year Professional Development Program Grant from SSARE.
The training program met on the third Thursday of each month and was wildly successful. It was innovative in its reach and its ability to connect farmers with one another, teach them a diversity of sustainable practices, assist in the creation of producer associations and cooperatives, expand markets, and increase interdisciplinary research.
The third Thursday following the completion of the two-year SARE grant—when training wasn’t scheduled—35 farmers showed up. Realizing that they filled a gaping need in their state, the team scrambled to put together a training workshop for that day. Ever since, the program has continued to deliver monthly trainings to farmers and ag educators. The success and popularity of the program reflects both the need in the area and the quality of the trainings.
Kentucky farmer Jane O’Tiernan, who attended the event with the Third Thursday Thing team, was passionate about the strength of the program that changed her life. Before the program, she found it hard to compete with the other cut flower growers in the state. Since joining the program, she has expanded her cut flower business through year-round direct sales to local restaurants.
“I met other people who were small farmers that were struggling and got new ideas on marketing and accounting,” she said. In addition to a connection with other farmers, the Third Thursday experience provides O’Tiernan with information about funding opportunities and other support programs that she otherwise might not have known about.
This award will only fuel the fire at the Third Thursday Thing as the program continues to work with farmers hailing from Kentucky and around the United States to give them access to the information they need to make their farm business successful and sustainable.
“The Secretary's Honor Award should help expand the audience, outreach efforts, and participation in Third Thursdays. Additionally, the Secretary's Honor Award should strengthen the influence of The Third Thursday Thing and its inclusionary, participant-driven educational style across the region, while enhancing its credibility as a model SARE-PDP training program,” said Simon.
For more information about the Third Thursday Thing and for a list of upcoming trainings, see http://organic.kysu.edu/CurrentProjects.shtml
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.