131 Scovell Hall
University of Kentucky
Q: Do you plan to continue in a post-retirement capacity?
A: I am going to work my way out gradually. I hope to do a little bit of teaching and some writing after I step out of the dean’s office. I plan to be a faculty member in Plant and Soil Sciences, where I began my career, and it looks like I will end it there as well.
Q: What will you teach?
A: I have signed up to teach GEN 100, the freshmen issues in agriculture course. That is something I can deal with, without a lot of rehabilitation.
Q: Does that mean you won’t be leaving Lexington in the near future?
A: I am here for life. The family connections are too great. We have been here too long, and this is home. I don’t know of another place I would rather spend my time.
Q: Did you see yourself in Kentucky for your entire career when you came to UK in 1978 after completing your doctorate at Michigan State?
A: It did not take long for me to form an attachment. I loved Kentucky and the College of Agriculture from the very beginning. I did, early on, have some opportunities and evaluated those and decided that this was the best place for my family and me.
Q: What would you like to hang your hat on that was accomplished during your time as dean?
A: I am proud of the contributions the College has made to the advancement of Kentucky agriculture and the Kentucky economy in general. We have been very, very responsive, high-impact public servants through the good work of many, many people across the state. I would also put a high priority on the College’s ability to adapt in terms of our undergraduate populations and our degree programs. We certainly have been innovative in terms of what we have done for our students and the opportunities we have offered them with new and different majors.
Q: About halfway through your administration you were tapped by then President Todd to be interim provost while also running the College. How difficult was that?
A: It was very demanding. It helped me refine my skills of delegation. There is a lot of great leadership in the College, and I was fortunate to pass on a lot of the responsibilities while I was gone. It helped me appreciate the differences in our college and other colleges on campus. It was really a tremendous education and a valuable experience, but I can’t help but admit I was glad when it ended.
Q: One of the most difficult situations you dealt with was when Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome hit in 2001, early in your administration. What are your reflections about that?
A: Somebody ought to write a book about that. It was a unique experience for me, because it was out of my field. There were enormous expectations and pressure on the College of Agriculture. It was an incredibly complicated and difficult problem. I don’t think the people who worked on it have ever gotten the full credit they deserve for addressing such a unique crisis. In my view, they neutralized a potentially devastating threat to the Kentucky Thoroughbred industry.
Q: How do you feel about the College’s name changing during your administration?
A: I have mixed feelings, because the College of Agriculture is such an iconic, historic label. We didn’t change it lightly, I can assure you that. I think it was a better way to speak to people about what we can do and what we can do for them and the economy.
Q: What do you see yourself doing with the extra time you’ll have on your hands?
A: I want to start reading books again. I plan to do some volunteer work. I hope there are ways I can continue to serve in the community, maybe in different ways than I have as dean.
A meal on a Serbian farm. (l-r) The younger woman is a 4-H leader. The men are the director of extension in Vranje and an extension advisor, respectively. Photograph provided by Mary Averbeck
There’s a World War I-era song with lyrics by Sam M. Lewis and Joe Youngsong that asked “How ya gonna keep ‘em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree?” The question was relevant then, when droves of 20th century Americans abandoned farming for jobs in the city, and it’s relevant today as Serbia experiences the same rural exodus.
The Serbs are hoping at least part of the answer lies with using 4-H to teach their young people how to make a living through farming and entrepreneurship.
“The idea is to combine traditional 4-H programs and the youth entrepreneurship that we do in the States and provide them not only with the skills pertaining to the rural activity, but also give them a way to make some money on the farm and in the communities,” said Mary Averbeck, 4-H youth development extension agent in Kenton County.
Averbeck was one of several UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment folks, including 4-H cooperative extension specialists Carol Hanley and Martha Welch and Cumberland County 4-H youth development agent Elijah Wilson, who added Serbian stamps to their passports over the past year, traveling under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They spoke at national conferences and met with extension agents—they’re called extension advisers over there—to explain our programs and advise them on starting clubs.
Averbeck visited in January, June, and September.
“I had no idea what to expect when I visited for the first time,” she said. “Serbia is a lot like Kentucky, except they have Belgrade, which to me, is a mini New York City. Most of the people in the rural areas are where most of our families would have been in the fifties. They’re not the consumer culture we are. And as a country, they’re very focused on eating nongenetically modified foods and a lot of organics.”
On that first trip, she gave an overview of Kentucky 4-H and an in-depth look at youth entrepreneurship at an all-country extension conference, then traveled into the country where she gave six more presentations at extension offices and high schools.
When she returned in June and September, Averbeck was able to see how far the three groups had come. About 30 teenagers in a 4-H club in Vranje, a city in southern Serbia, worked on one of four different projects combining agricultural production and entrepreneurship skills–—beekeeping, vegetable or fruit production, and growing field crops.
Averbeck was impressed to see they were up and meeting with success in a very short time. When she asked one 4-H Serbian teen if it was what he expected, he echoed the feelings of many 4-H’ers in Kentucky.
“No, it is better!”
— Carol Lea Spence
Some of the first 4-H'ers in Serbia. Serbian officials are hoping 4-H will provide young people with the tools to be able to stay on the farm and make a good living. Photograph provided by Mary Averbeck
“This is a unique collaboration,” said Gregg Rentfrow, meat scientist in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences. “I don’t know of any other relationship between a university meats lab and dining services department.”
Rentfrow was referring to the relationship between the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment Meats Lab and UK Dining Services. The partnership makes local food more available to the UK campus and the surrounding community by expanding the use of local foods, including beef and pork in campus dining facilities.
“With the partnership of the meats lab, we can train our staff in primal cuts, and it saves us money,” UK Dining Services Chef Scott Kohn said. “Now our test products can become a reality. For example, we make our own UK genoa salami.”
Rentfrow, Kohn, and Meats Lab manager Ryan Chaplin recently opened a butcher shop, where people from on and off campus can buy quality local meats.
The shop offers a variety of products including dry-aged ground beef, dry-cured bacon, breakfast sausage, ground chorizo and chorizo snack sticks and a few unique items like a cheese bratwurst called Wildcat Tail, bourbon apple bratwurst made with local apples and Kentucky bourbon, and an array of spices. Rentfrow said UK students are the ultimate beneficiaries of the partnership.
“It allows us to show our students what happens beyond the farm gate and beyond the grocery store,” he said. “It’s a full-circle education.”
The butcher shop adds value to animals harvested from UKAg farms. The profits fund livestock, dairy, and meats judging teams, and facility maintenance and repairs.
The shop is open in the basement of the Garrigus Building Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 5 p.m.
— Aimee Nielson
Beth Brosmore of Kenton County wanted to sell her jalapeño pepper jelly. Kentucky, however, requires producers to be certified to sell high-risk items like salsas, relishes, and canned vegetables at farmers markets and roadside stands. Brosmore turned to the go-to place for producers who want to take the step into value-added production—the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.
Since 2004, the College has offered the home-based microprocessing workshops required for certification. Nearly 1,000 people have attended one of these workshops led by Sandra Bastin, UK Dietetics and Human Nutrition chair and certified culinary educator. Some get their recipes certified and begin selling high-risk products. Others may decide to sell lower-risk items such as jams and baked goods as home-based processors. Kentucky has 85 active, certified home-based microprocessors and 675 active home-based processors.
“Before I attended the workshop, I was unaware of how important testing the pH was to food safety,” said Brosmore, who had been canning for years. “Nowhere had I seen that information but in this class.
Fortunately, the products I use gave my jelly a safe pH.”
— Katie Pratt
Graduates from the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment have seen success in management roles at restaurants, resorts, and retail stores or by becoming merchandisers, buyers, event planners, and designers. To give students an even greater competitive edge upon graduation, the Department of Merchandising, Apparel and Textiles and the Hospitality Management and Tourism program have merged to become the Department of Retailing and Tourism Management.
“The two groups were combined to better meet the needs of two vibrant industries,” said Vanessa Jackson, department chair.
As part of the merger, the department’s nearly 300 undergraduate students have a new curriculum this fall that includes expanded, creative, and enhanced learning opportunities such as a revised internship program.
The department is also putting together an advisory board of alumni and other professionals active in the retail and tourism industries.
“We want to be the source of innovative interdisciplinary programming that partners with industry, consumers, and educators,” Jackson said.
— Katie Pratt