The future of farming is here

Published 12:49 pm Wednesday, October 21, 2020

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Lincoln County’s leaders, and leaders from across the state, gathered last week to witness the grand opening of Kentucky Fresh Harvest (KFH) – the state’s first operational high-tech greenhouse.

“We’re celebrating what is the realization of a promise that we made to the community of Stanford, to the county of Lincoln, and to, in large part, greater parts of the state of Kentucky with a ribbon-cutting ceremony presenting the commonwealth’s first operational high-tech greenhouse opening for the first time in the state of Kentucky,” said KFH Partner William Back. “Kentucky Fresh Harvest is open for business, and we are growing and we are selling produce.”

The ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Oct. 15 at the greenhouses on Frontier Blvd. in Stanford.

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“As all of you know, Lincoln County Kentucky is a county of firsts and we’re proud to say that Kentucky Fresh Harvest is now adding to that long and historic line of firsts,” Back said. “Kentucky Fresh Harvest is leading an agricultural revolution here in the Commonwealth….we’re set to be the first in the world to be Greenfield Farm Certified by the Equitable Food Initiative. Ladies and Gentlemen, that’s a big deal because the eyes of the world are going to be not only on the state of Kentucky, they’re going to be looking at Stanford, Kentucky and Lincoln County.”

Back said the mission of KFH is to build a more equitable, sustainable food system focused on growing communities.

Jerry Wilkinson, Interim Mayor of Stanford, led the group in an invocation before remarking on the grand opening.

“We thank you for choosing Stanford as your location to begin building the first of many high-tech vegetable production greenhouses in the Commonwealth,” Wilkinson said.

Lincoln County Judge-Executive Jim Adams was next to speak.

“This has been a fairly long project with it being cutting-edge technology, we’ve had a few glitches, they’re up and running now and it’s something to be very proud of,” Adams said. “Agriculture and technology have merged in recent years to increase production and profits and we’ve all benefited from those mergers. KFH is the stellar example of such a merger.”

Adams thanked partners Carol Hill, a local Lincoln County resident, William Back and Curt Meltzer for investing their time and money into such a futuristic project.

Local leaders weren’t the only people on hand to welcome KFH, the ceremony also featured remarks from Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s Chief of Staff Keith Rogers, who shared a video message from Kentucky Agricultural Commissioner Ryan Quarles.

“As you know, I have been visiting and watching this project for the last few years and impressed that we now have a large-scale greenhouse under operation here in Central Kentucky,” Quarles said. “I hope and wish you success in the coming years as you continue to promote, not just Kentucky Proud produce, but help build our Kentucky economy as well with more jobs added to your location.”

Rogers congratulated everyone involved with the KFH project.

“Kentucky agriculture, with your all’s leadership, is on the cutting edge with this type of operation, this type of technology, that is a first to go into production in Kentucky,” Rogers said. “In the last 20 years…we have changed the face of Kentucky agriculture. We have changed the way that we look at food. We have changed the way we meet the consumer in the grocery store or at the retail level. In doing so, you’re providing them the products that they’re asking for which is right behind us in these greenhouses. The product that the consumer demands…not something that’s trucked all the way across the country, but something that’s grown fresh right in their backyard.”

Governor Andy Beshear was expected to attend the ceremony but he and his family were placed under quarantine on Oct. 11 after being potentially exposed to COVID-19 through a member of the governor’s security detail. Instead, the Governor sent a video message that was played during the ceremony.

“Today’s ribbon-cutting signifies the future is bright in Kentucky as leaders like you bring innovation to our agriculture industry and work to build a more equitable food system,” Beshear said. “We are proud to have Kentucky Fresh Harvest in Stanford and we are excited to see the impact fresh produce will have in our communities year-round. Thank you for helping us build a better Kentucky. We appreciate you being such good members of Team Kentucky. Thank you and congratulations.”

Senior Advisor to Governor Andy Beshear Rocky Adkins also spoke during the event.

“What a great day for this community,” Adkins said. “What a great day it is to celebrate the diversification of the agriculture industry. What a great day it is to be from rural Kentucky.”

Adkins said he’s from rural Kentucky and he’s excited about the opportunities and future.

“To see the diversification that’s taking place in communities just like this to create new jobs in the agriculture industry is exciting to me and I know it’s exciting to you as well,” he said.

Kentucky Fresh Harvest practices what it calls “protected agriculture” which is producing a crop in a controlled space. KFH uses “state of the art greenhouse management software” which logs and manages data from seed to harvest. The company also uses closed loop irrigation which not only saves on water but makes KFH a “zero runoff facility.”

Natural pollinators are also a key piece of the KFH operation, which uses “bombus impatiens,” the common eastern bumble bee, to carry pollen.

“While they don’t produce honey, they have evolved extremely acute vision that allows them to perceive light, discern shapes and find that tasty nectar even in the relatively low ultraviolet light conditions inside our greenhouse,” the company states.

Adkins said not only does the project aim to build a more sustainable food system, but it will also provide local jobs and good wages.

“I say congratulations to you today,” he said.

Local Lincoln County resident Carol Hill was praised for bringing the project to Lincoln County.

‘If not but for Carol Hill, this would not be in your county, it would not be in your city. We are indebted to Carol Hill,” Back said before introducing KFH CEO Curt Meltzer to speak.

Meltzer thanked the city of Stanford and Lincoln County for not only welcoming the project, but being a part of it.

“It’s one thing to talk encouragingly and to be supportive verbally, it’s quite another to do everything you can to not only welcome us, but to materially help us whenever you could in very big ways,” he said. “You welcomed us into the community, we feel completely a part of it and we thank you for that generous warm welcome you’ve always given us.”

The pioneering spirit of Kentucky and the generations of farmers are what made the project possible, Meltzer said.

“We are only standing on the shoulders of giants; people that came before us; generations and generations of farmers,” he said. “…We’re here only because of what has been built over all the time.”

Melzter said the people inside the greenhouse are the reason for its success.

“It’s full of life. It’s full of commitment. It’s full of hard work, all of the qualities that the people of Kentucky show every day,” he said. “Every one of our employees is from Kentucky.”

Meltzer was joined by Hill and Back as the three cut the ribbon, signaling the official grand opening of the high-tech greenhouse, and attendants were given samples of cherry tomatoes in boxes with the words “Grown and packaged in Stanford, Ky” printed on them.