4-H Means Business

4-H Means Business photo

There aren’t many 13-year-olds who have their own businesses, let alone a storefront business. But Boyle County’s Griffin Blevins does. Two days a week, she sells her hand-made Scrabble-tile pendants and Murano and Pandora beads jewelry from her store in Danville.

It all started for Griffin after attending a 4-H Means Business sale in Madison County, where the club originated. Impressed with all the 4-H’ers selling merchandise, she knew she wanted to go home and start a 4-H Means Business club in Boyle County. With the help of her mom, then University of Kentucky 4-H Extension Specialist Stephanie Blevins, that’s what she did. The club started in 2010 with three members; it has grown to 17 today, with members ranging in age from 9 to 14.

“This, by far, is the most comprehensive program 4-H does. It lets kids implement what they learn,” said Stephanie Blevins.

What they learn is recordkeeping, budgeting, inventory, and how to count change. It also teaches them people skills.

“It’s great for their interpersonal skills; it gives them lots of practice working with the public,” said Kim Ragland, Boyle County 4-H youth development agent.

“One young man was so shy he would not speak to anyone outside of his family, no one,” she said. “Today he will stand up and speak to strangers and does a great job.”

Pet accessories and homemade soaps are examples of the variety of merchandise the Boyle County 4-H’ers sell. Some of them make their own products, while others buy and add value to merchandise for resale. But whatever they sell, they must give 10 percent of their profits to a charity of their choice, while also saving and putting money back into their businesses.

“It’s a whole different way of thinking,” Ragland said, “and for some, nothing else has spoken to them like this.”


No Pests, No Mess

No Pests, No Mess photo

Photo credit: Tim Coolong

Cucumber beetles and squash bugs can wreak havoc on melons, squashes, and gourds. Most cucurbit growers spray systemic insecticides to control insects, but UK entomologists and horticulture specialists are teaming up with Iowa State University faculty to investigate potential chemical-free alternatives.

“Cucurbit crops can be difficult to grow in Kentucky due to intense insect and disease pressure,” said Tim Coolong, UK horticulture specialist.

A Pest Management Alternatives grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will help the team find more efficient ways of covering rows of cucurbits with polypropylene to physically prevent pests from reaching the plants. The covers remain on the plants until flowering. After the blooms are pollinated and the fruit is set, the covers will go back on the plants until harvest.

“The practice has long been used by organic farmers,” Coolong said. “Our team is evaluating the feasibility of mechanizing the process, so it can be used for larger acreages and by conventional farmers who may just want to use fewer insecticides.”


Heal the Land, Heal the Heart

Wind whipped out of the west: unrelenting, threatening rain. The volunteers lowered their heads, leaned into their dibbles, and pressed seedlings into the earth, planting native trees to heal a landscape twice traumatized.

Long before passengers and crew of United Airlines Flight 93 sacrificed themselves to avert an attack on the U.S. Capitol, surface mining sheared off this Western Pennsylvania mountaintop. Today this barren grassland in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains is part of the National Park Service’s Flight 93 National Memorial. With the help of University of Kentucky researchers, students, and alumni, there is hope that the native ecosystem will thrive again, turning this ground into a living legacy for the 40 heroes who died here.

Heal the Land, Heal the Heart photo

UK Forestry and Landscape Architecture students led teams of volunteers in reforesting strip mined lands on the site of the Flight 93 Memorial in southwestern Pennsylvania. Here, Landscape Architecture Associate Professor Brian Lee (in orange vest) and fifth-year student Cameron Stone (left, bearded) sorted tree seedlings with volunteers from multiple states.

“Your work today is part of a bigger effort to create a unique memorial, one that is as much about the land and the natural environment as it is the architecture,” Jeff Reinbold said, speaking to the volunteers during the event’s opening ceremony. Reinbold is the general superintendent for the National Park Service in Western Pennsylvania.

Heal the Land, Heal the Heart photo
Hannah Angel (right) wields a dibble and Cameron Stone (below) plants a seedling on the grounds of the Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville, Pa. They were two of the many UK Ag alumni and students who helped to reforest the site.

Heal the Land, Heal the Heart photo

Photo credit: Carol L. Spence


Over two weekends in late April, 600 volunteers from Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Massachusetts planted 14,000 trees. It’s just the beginning. The multi-year task of reforesting more than 200 acres with 150,000 trees requires a collaborative effort, said Christopher Barton, associate professor in the UK Department of Forestry.

“We’ve only been able to do this because of the partnership between the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative (ARRI), the Appalachian Regional Commission, the American Chestnut Foundation, the National Park Foundation—the list goes on and on.”

The College of Agriculture’s participation in the project is significant, he said. It includes students and alumni working on the reclamation effort, the growing of hundreds of trees to be planted at the memorial, including rare American chestnuts, and years of research from Barton, as the ARRI science team leader, and other UK researchers before him.

“I’ve devoted so much of my time and effort to the research to figure out a way to restore the ecosystem on these mine lands. And now we’re applying the work we did in the lab, in the greenhouses, and in the field on a large scale,” he said. “In about 10 years, these little seedlings we’re planting today, which are 1 year-old bare-root stock, will start to form a canopy. Then you’ll really see the condition of these lands change very rapidly.”

UK Ag alumnus Patrick Angel is a soil scientist who works for ARRI in the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. He oversaw the team leaders for the planting.

“This is a very special site,” Angel said. “This is a healing of the heart and of the land. Many folks I’ve spoken with said this work is an expression of grief for the 9/11 victims and their families, and at the same time, a positive response to this issue of drastically disturbed lands and forest fragmentation across Appalachia. Planting trees is a good thing to do.”

Everyone involved felt a deep connection to the setting. Brandon Perry and Cameron Stone were among the fifth-year Landscape Architecture students who were studying the site for their capstone course and were two of UK Ag’s team leaders for the event. They were in middle school on 9/11.

“It’s an amazing opportunity to be part of something this big,” Perry said.
Hannah Angel, a sophomore forestry major from London who was also one of the team leaders, was in the fourth grade on 9/11. Though she didn’t comprehend much of what went on that day, she understands it a lot better now.

“I’m just happy to be here to help reclaim a surface mine and to help grieve in a positive way,” she said.
And to Cameron Stone, it was simple. “It’s an honor.”


First the Fury, Then the Fortitude

First the Fury, Then the Fortitude photo
West Liberty after the storm. Photo Credit: Jimmy Henning

Who would have expected this in the mountains? On March 2, when 14 powerful tornadoes pummeled the state, Morgan, Magoffin, Menifee, Johnson, and Wolfe counties in Eastern Kentucky took a direct hit from an EF-3 twister that stayed on the ground for approximately 86 miles.

The tornado, at times a mile wide, destroyed the town of West Liberty in Morgan County, including the Morgan County Cooperative Extension office.
In Northern Kentucky, an EF-4 tornado left a 10-mile swath of damage.

The storms tore apart homes and barns and wiped out fencing, equipment, and feed. Livestock ran loose for more than a week in some places, and feed supplies were destroyed. School children were left without books and classrooms.

UK Cooperative Extension agents immediately stepped in to lend support and expertise.

“Our agents are very much part of the communities where they work,” said Jimmy Henning, UK College of Agriculture associate dean and director of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service. “It was no surprise that they were some of the first to begin coordinating relief efforts in the affected counties.”
Once agents helped ensure human safety, they shifted their attention to the needs of agricultural producers and townspeople who suddenly found themselves faced with rebuilding their lives.

First the Fury, Then the Fortitude photo

Volunteers and extension agents came together to sort and deliver much-needed fencing materials to farmers hard-hit by tornadoes in March. In blue is Wolfe County ag agent Daniel Wilson. Photo credit: Brad Beckman

In Johnson County, more than 500 families were affected; 70 completely lost their homes. Family and consumer sciences extension agent Brenda Cockerham plunged in after the storm to find ways to meet people’s basic needs.

“We cooperated with community volunteers to set up a relief center,” she said. “We were amazed by the generosity of people who donated supplies that were shoulder high above 30 tables; they filled an entire gym again and again.”

Ag agents coordinated pasture and field sweep teams to collect small debris that could harm livestock if they picked it up while grazing; delivered round bales of hay for livestock; got access for groups of volunteers from other counties to help clean up debris and build fences; and distributed the many donations that poured into the traumatized areas.

In Laurel County, where an EF-2 tornado touched down and destroyed everything in its path for more than six miles, agriculture and natural resources agent Glenn Williams said many farmers didn’t realize their fences weren’t covered by insurance. The Laurel County Extension office worked with other agencies to raise funds for fencing supplies to meet farmers’ needs.

The world can change in a moment. March’s fury proved that. But Extension staff and volunteers pulled together for a common purpose: to take care of people—because in the end, that’s all that matters.


SPOTLIGHT: Mark Williams

Spotlight: Mark Williams photo

To say Mark Williams exudes a passion for sustainable agriculture understates the obvious. An associate professor in the Department of Horticulture, he led the development of and directs the College’s multidisciplinary undergraduate degree program in sustainable agriculture.

Q. You grew up in Lexington. How did you become interested in agriculture?

A. I sometimes think an interest in agriculture might be genetic. My grandparents on both sides of my family had farms or very large gardens. I started gardening when I was 11 or 12. I really prided myself on my ability to garden. I was reading books, I was watching “Crockett’s Victory Garden” on PBS. It was a real passion. Then a College of Agriculture professor, Wilbur Frye, moved in behind our house. He had a spectacular garden—better than mine. He’s the one who taught me what it meant to be a plant scientist. I wanted to be in agriculture, and he gave my idea legitimacy. He made me see my only choice wasn’t just to farm—I could be a scientist as well.

Q. When did your interest in sustainable agriculture sprout?

A. I did my doctorate in plant molecular biology at the University of California, Irvine. I was really indoctrinated into that whole West Coast food scene and organic food.

Q. How did the organic research farm and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program on UK’s Horticulture Research Farm come about?

A. When I came here, I tried to forge an area where I could make a contribution. Brent Rowell, chair of the farm committee in those days, believed there was a place for organic agriculture and supported me. That was my calling card. I started out in weed control and organic agriculture, but then I expanded into all aspects of organic horticulture production. I look holistically at farming now, not just at individual components. Our goal is to make the whole system more sustainable and preserve our rich agricultural heritage.

Q. What makes you most proud?

A. I’m proudest that we’ve built this community in the College and on campus that thinks about sustainability. We are in our sixth year of the CSA. We’ve got 31 majors in the (Sustainable Ag) degree program and eight or so minors. The organic farming unit continues to expand. The College is positioning itself to be a leader in sustainable agriculture in the United States. To feel that I’ve been part of that is a great feeling.


To Relish an Education

To Relish an Education

Photo credit: Carol Hanley

Zach Cozart has grown up watching his father garden, so unlike many boys in the BMW/STEM Academy, the work was familiar to him when the boys began planting a salsa garden in 2011. The salsa garden was part of a long-term project in partnership with the UK College of Agriculture.

“In school, you don’t learn science in the same hands-on way that’s done here,” said Cozart, an eighth grader at Lexington Traditional Magnet School. “This project was different, because I grew an organic garden; I didn’t know anything about that before I started this project.”

Cozart is one of 141 teenage boys from Central Kentucky enrolled in the Black Males Working Academy, founded by Lexington educator Roszalyn Akins to address the achievement gap between African-American males and other students.

“I want these boys to know that college is not just a dream, it can be a reality,” Akins said. “I wanted to get these boys on campus and let them start building relationships.”

That’s where Carol Hanley and her team from the College’s Environmental and Natural Resources Initiative come in. The salsa garden is just one of many science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) projects the boys successfully completed in partnership with UKAg personnel and resources.

“It’s an opportunity for them to get an understanding about agriculture and all the career fields that they can go into with a major in agriculture,” Akins said. “It’s so much more than just farming.”

Cozart hopes to one day be a mechanical engineer and said projects like the salsa garden have helped him better understand science.

To Relish an Education photo


First Fridays are Fresh

The smell of fresh eggs, country ham, sautéed kale, and Asiago cheese wafts through the air, blended with coffee and the sound of laughter and friendly discussion. It sounds like breakfast at a quaint, rural bed-and-breakfast, but all this is actually served up the first Friday of each month by the UK College of Agriculture’s Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems working group.

“We really wanted to bring together a diverse group of people from the university and the community,” said Lee Meyer, UK agricultural economist and chair of the working group. “We realize that sustainability has three main components—environmental stewardship, economics, and community—and all these things blended together really do go right along with our core land-grant mission.”

First Friday event

Richard McAlister, one of the partners in Marksbury Farm Market in Garrard County, spoke at a First Friday breakfast forum about the need for local processing to help strengthen the local food chain.

Nearly 100 people ranging from faculty, staff, and students to community leaders, farmers, and local-food enthusiasts fill their plates and then find a seat to listen to speakers talk about topics related to sustainable agriculture.

“The First Friday Breakfasts are a great example of cross-disciplinary collaboration and community engagement, and the focus on sustainability through the lens of food and agriculture is very exciting,” said Shane Tedder, UK sustainability coordinator. 

First Fridays is on Facebook


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