- Associated Press - Saturday, June 21, 2014

HIPPO, Ky. (AP) - Agriculture advocates are attempting to expand farming opportunities in eastern Kentucky.

Former coal worker Todd Howard is part of the movement. He started out in 2010 by selling corn and tomatoes at the farmers’ market in Floyd County. By last year, he and others sold goods worth about $50,000.

Advocates say there’s a lot of room to expand agriculture production in the region, which would also help diversify the economy in an area that has seen the number of coal jobs decrease sharply in the last two years.

Howard, who operates HF Farms, told the Lexington Herald-Leader (http://bit.ly/T7zKnS) that realizing the idea’s potential would take time, money and effort on the part of many. It would mean finding affordable financing for farmers, assisting with marketing and aiding in developing infrastructure.

“There’s a lot of steps that have to happen,” he said.

The market value of agricultural products sold in several eastern Kentucky counties was recorded at less than $100,000 while several counties in central and western Kentucky have $100 million or more.

Daniel Wilson, the agriculture extension agent in Wolfe County, says a renewed interest in locally produced healthy food could drive the move, noting that people want to know where their food came from.

“I just think that there’s a huge market for that,” said Wilson, who heads up a group looking at ways to expand the region’s agriculture economy.

Community Farm Alliance Executive Director Martin Richards says his organization works with eight markets in the region and sales skyrocketed from $1,100 in 2011 to $186,800 in 2013.

He said adding markets in seven counties that don’t have them could pump about $500,000 into the local economies. The demand is there, he said.

“We’ve been saying for 25 years that agriculture is economic development,” he said.

While the region doesn’t have vast, relatively flat fields that lend themselves to big farm operations, it has enough for several farms on smaller scales.

Valerie Horn, who works in Letcher County with several groups promoting local food production, said many farmers might have to keep another job, but the extra income would have an impact.

“It can be enough that it keeps you from having to leave,” Horn said.

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Information from: Lexington Herald-Leader, http://www.kentucky.com

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