Alliance helps small farms stay in business

February 10, 2004|JENNIFER BRUMMETT

HARRODSBURG - Charlie Ison of Mercer County knows that small farmers need all the help they can get. As the third generation on Ison Family Farm in Mercer County, he's watched the small family farms in the area dwindle to a handful. He's also seen Kentucky's food sources emigrate outside the state.

So three or four years ago, he became active with Community Farm Alliance, a statewide, grassroots organization of persons committed to family-scale farming, according to

Ison estimates the organization has more than 1,600 members in about 90 counties around the state.

"The more I liked (the organization)," Ison says, "the more involved I became."

Ison handed over the president's chair for CFA to Bonnie Cecil of Henry County Jan. 24.

"It very much is a grassroots organization," Ison says. "It's farm people.

"Community Farm Alliance is trying to keep small farms in business. What it is leaning toward is growing food for Kentuckians here (in Kentucky) instead of grown in other places and shipped here."


Ison says Kentucky farmers have a lot of skills in producing crops, especially food crops. Kentucky is an important beef state, he adds.

CFA calls the locally grown food LIFE, or Locally Integrated Food Economy.

"Our hope is to keep as many people farming as we possibly can," Ison notes.

Urban members of CFA have been supportive in buying local food. Ison says the Lexington farmers' market has done well in recent years, and in Louisville, CFA has seen an increase in sales at the farmers' market in the Portland area, which is a less affluent area of the city.

"The one started in Portland has been unbelievably successful," Ison says. "They've not had real good access to good food, to fresh food. It's a revitalization area, and we're really thrilled with it."

When Ison became involved with CFA, tobacco contracting, which CFA does not support, was in the news a lot. Ison, who raised tobacco as well as maintaining a dairy, beef and sheep, also was against tobacco contracting.

Ison mentions House Bill 611, which he says used some of the attorney general's tobacco settlement money to help farmers, who have been "so dependent on tobacco."

The improvement in Kentucky's beef herd can be attributed to the money from HB611 that has been passed on to farmers.

"And goat herds are growing," Ison adds. "Kentucky is one of the top states in the U.S. for goat herds now."

"Grape production is up. There are all sorts of things going on."

Ison says these crop changes ultimately will replace tobacco production, which has decreased over the years.

One of the strongest aspects of CFA, Ison says, is the members' involvement.

"When we need something done, there's some member who steps forward and gets it done," he explains. "Members talk to legislators, and that's pretty impressive. We're doing our own lobbying ... which is very effective."

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