By CHRIS ALDRIDGE, Kentucky Proud Connection
KEVIL, Ky. – Roby Kight's farm is located on a flood plain in western McCracken County near Kevil, Ky. That location led Roby Kight to undertake an unusual (for Kentucky) agricultural endeavor.
"Little Massac Creek is on both sides of our farm, so it's not uncommon to have a flood," said Roby's son, Steve. "Water can get up as high as three to four feet deep over the fields. It would wash away the corn or soybean crops we were raising, so Dad decided to plant something that couldn't be washed away."
Roby, 85, decided to plant something that he grew up around in the Mississippi River bottoms of southeastern Missouri – pecan trees. In 1985, Roby went to a conference, learned about growing pecans, and bought a bunch of pecan trees, which originate in river bottoms and don't mind the water.
"Back then, people said, 'You're crazy!'" Steve said. "Now, we have 80 acres of trees."
Kight's Pecan Orchard steadily grew into the largest pecan producer in the state. Not even a historic ice storm four years ago could knock it off that throne.
"It looked like a war zone," Steve said of the aftermath of the storm. "There were two inches of ice on each tree, and the weight split 30-year-old trees right down the middle. It totally destroyed our crop for three or four years."
Now, most of the trees are fully recovered, and Kight's just harvested a bumper crop of 30,000 pounds of Kentucky Proud Kight's Pecans this year.
"They're coming back with beautiful nuts, and it [production] will only get larger from here," Steve said. "We only lost 20 trees out of 1,200. Most of them survived; they just had to be constantly pruned over four years."
Steve and his brother, Rick, now run the family pecan orchard started by their father, a retired nuclear chemist who worked at the nearby Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant. Steve, the former president of People's First National Bank in Paducah, retired to the farm full time when his bank was bought out by a larger bank. Rick works for the Tennessee Valley Authority, which owns and operates Kentucky Dam near Gilbertsville.
Steve Kight met Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer when Kight's Pecan Orchard participated in a Kentucky Proud Farm to Table Dinner July 30 at Cynthia's California Tuscan Ristorante in Paducah. When Comer learned that the orchard, which had just joined Kentucky Proud, had a surplus of pecans it needed to sell, he asked the Kentucky Department of Agriculture's marketing staff to help the Kights find new markets. One of those was longtime Kentucky Proud distributor Town and Country Specialty Foods in Bardstown.
"I'm happy that our outreach in western Kentucky was able to connect a Kentucky Proud business with a Kentucky Proud market," Comer said. "That's the beauty of Kentucky Proud and one of the benefits of being a member – networking with other Kentucky Proud members."
Town and Country owner Steve Hayden initially ordered 500 pounds of Kight's Pecans. They sold out in four days. He offered samples of the pecans at the Kentucky Proud Incredible Food Show on Oct. 26 in Lexington and showed them to customers on his delivery route in Louisville.
"Everybody was amazed that those pecans were grown in Kentucky," Hayden said. "It went unbelievably well."
So well that Hayden ordered another 500 pounds of pecans from the Kights.
"We're very happy," said Steve Kight, whose pecans were sold only on the farm and to local markets in the past. "We are hopeful that, with his [Hayden's] sales contacts, our pecans can be sold all over the state."
They are well on their way. Thanks to Town and Country's distribution efforts, Kight's Pecans can now be purchased at 15 Kentucky locations.
"I think it can go beyond that, depending on the availability of his [Steve Kight's] products," Hayden said. "I'm tickled to death."
Kight's Pecans are available in Louisville at ValuMarket locations on Bardstown Road, Outer Loop, and Whittington Parkway; Rainbow Blossom stores on Lexington and Bardstown roads; Garden Gate Fruit Market; and Kingsley Meats and Catering.
You can also get Kight's Pecans at eight Kentucky locations outside Louisville: the Governor's Mansion in Frankfort, the Berea College Bookstore and Kentucky Artisan Center in Berea, Kentucky Soaps and Such in Stanford, the Paris-Bourbon County Farmers' Market, ValuMarket in Mount Washington, Dennison's Roadside Market in Horse Cave, and Community Gifts in Beaver Dam.
"They're great products, and it's the right product for the right time of the year," Hayden said, referring to the Christmas holidays. "I'm very appreciative of being introduced to him [Steve Kight] by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture's Kentucky Proud program."
Town and Country distributes more than 800 products, 90 percent of which are Kentucky Proud, all across the state. Hayden admitted he didn't even know Kentucky grew pecans before he met Steve Kight last summer.
"I always believe that Kentuckians will support Kentuckians," Hayden said. "The people of Kentucky have been very good to us.
"Kentucky Proud has done a tremendous job," Hayden added. "Kentucky Proud is not a horse; it's a thoroughbred. Without being Kentucky Proud, my company probably wouldn't have even gotten out of the gate."
You can order Kight's Pecans directly from the farm by contacting Steve Kight at firstname.lastname@example.org or (270) 554-4673. If you are a retail store interested in carrying Kight's Pecans, contact Hayden at email@example.com or (502) 507-2974.