Richie Farmer applying lessons learned from Pitino

March 02, 2004|HERB BROCK

FRANKFORT - Richie Farmer is plowing new ground these days, but he's using his experience in a different field to apply to his new one.

Farmer is the new commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, a post the Republican from Manchester won easily in November in a landslide that included a sweep of all area counties.

He took office in January with a short but impressive resume, especially in the area of extracurricular activities.

Under education, he lists a diploma from Clay County High School and a degree in agriculture from the University of Kentucky.

Under extracurricular activities, he lists a basketball career at Clay County, where he led the team to a state championship, and a basketball career at UK, where he was a member of the "Unforgettables" of the early 1990's and was a leader of the team that almost beat Duke in that famous regional final in 1992.


While he has gone on in his life and now is a top state official in his mid-30's, Farmer has not forgotten his experience as an "Unforgettable" and what he learned from his coach. In fact, he said he is applying the lessons from Rick Pitino to his new job.

"We weren't a team blessed with a lot of talent but, thanks to Coach Pitino, were a very good team," Farmer said. "Coach taught us that anytime you can get a group of people with different talents and abilities and interests working together toward the same goal, it is amazing what can be accomplished.

"Working together toward the same goal is what gave that team back in 1992 the opportunity to accomplish what it did, and working together toward a common goal is what is going to allow the team I've assembled here at the Department of Agriculture to accomplish a lot."

Farmer said his efforts to implement a teamwork approach began when he formed his transition team when he took over as commissioner. He talked about the process like a coach who had just landed a top recruiting class.

"I was able to get on my transition team the president of the Women in Agriculture, the president of Kentucky Young Farmers, the professor at Kentucky State University who is an expert in aquaculture, the dean of the UK College of Agriculture and other leaders in Kentucky agriculture," he said. "We immediately got started on setting some broad goals for the department."

Those goals, which focus on promotion, marketing and organization, include:

* Raising the awareness of agriculture in the state and the profile of farm products.

"We want to make sure Kentuckians know that everyone of them is affected by agriculture every day of their lives," he said. "If you eat, you are affected by agriculture, but scope of our department goes beyond the farms and what they produce.

"Our department not only oversees and promotes and markets farm products, but we also operate numerous inspections programs that all affect people," he said. "For instance, we inspect the fuel pumps where people get their gasoline and the scanners that check the prices of items at grocery stores and even the playgrounds at McDonald's restaurants."

* Improving marketing of Kentucky agricultural products.

"Kentucky grows not just quality farm products but safe ones, and the people of the state, the nation and the world need to know that," said Farmer. "Making sure people know our products are safe is especially important now with all the concerns raised by the mad cow situation and the new poultry flu scare."

* Expanding the department's team to include all sectors of Kentucky agriculture.

"In order for all parts of the state's ag community to be successful, everyone has to be on the same page and work together," said Farmer. "And this message of working together is something I've not just been preaching inside the department but to ag schools, marketing groups, commodity groups, everybody in the world of agriculture."

The commissioner said he has heard numerous stories from legislators about lobbying efforts over farm bills - stories he wants to end.

"There will be this piece of agriculture legislation and the legislator will be lobbied by one farm commodity group to vote for it and other farm commodity group to vote against it," said Farmer. "We need to have these groups sacrifice their immediate special interests and work together toward creating and supporting bills that everyone in the ag community can agree on and that make the best possible legislation for the most possible people and groups in agriculture.

"As the motto of the state of Kentucky says, 'United We Stand, Divided We Fall,' and that applies to the Department of Agriculture and the whole agriculture community just like it apples to basketball teams. In basketball, if all five players are doing the same play, you're likely going to score. In agriculture, if the department, farmers and agricultural groups are following the same plan, they're going to succeed."

Speaking of basketball, Farmer said he sees his 1992 UK squad in the current team of Wildcats and believes this year's squad can go just as far.

"Like us, this year's UK team doesn't have a lot of talent, but it's a very, very good team," he said. "Coach (Tubby) Smith is like coach Pitino in that he is a big believer in teamwork and what it can do. And developing teamwork is what I'm trying to do in Frankfort."

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