By CHRIS ALDRIDGE, Kentucky Proud Connection
BEREA, Ky. – The Berea College Farm Store will celebrate its official grand opening alongside the spring kickoff of the outdoor Berea Farmers' Market on May 3 on the lawn next to the store at 311 N. Main St.
The store opened in November 2013. "We wanted to wait for warmer weather and more produce to have the big soiree," said Jessa Turner, the store's office and farm marketing manager.
Grand opening ceremonies will begin at 9:30 a.m. on Kentucky Derby Day. "People will have plenty of time to come out and still do Derby stuff," Turner said. That also happens to be graduation eve for Berea College seniors.
Guest speaker Martin Richards from Community Farm Alliance will start the grand opening, followed by Berea College President Lyle Roeloff and other college and community leaders. The store will open at 10 a.m. The first 25 purchases will include free messenger bags.
The day will include live music and product sampling with local vendors, including Sweetgrass Granola from Crab Orchard, Four Sisters Farm of Richmond, Kentucky's Smokin' Grill of Danville, Allman's Beer Cheese of Mt. Vernon, and Boone Creek Creamery of Lexington. Weather permitting, the Berea College Farm will set up a farm animal expo for kids featuring its baby goats, piglets, and chicks.
Turner is working with Kentucky Proud candymaker Kelly Ramsey of Art Eatables in Louisville on making a special fruit candy topped with the Berea College logo for the day. Ramsey made candy from the purees of raspberries and strawberries grown on the college farm to sell at the college for Valentine's Day, which Turner said was very popular among the students.
The farm store sells products from at least 37 Kentucky farms and small businesses, most of which are Kentucky Proud members. The store also offers a wide variety of fresh vegetables, fruits, herbs, grains, beans, mushrooms, honey, pork, beef, and chicken produced by students gaining hands-on farming experience while working their way through college.
The farm's produce and grain products are certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and its pasture-raised meats are certified by the American Grassfed Association and Animal Welfare Approved.
"The main purpose of the store is to serve as the college farm's experiential learning laboratory in value-added agriculture and local food systems," Turner said.
The farm's biggest customer is the college's dining hall, which serves homegrown mixed lettuces, spinach, and peppers while sourcing specialty items from local producers.
"If there's anything we don't grow ourselves, we try to get from as close by as possible," Turner said.
She said the same thing applies to the store, which is very selective in choosing which products it carries on its shelves.
"The one thing we really try to focus specifically on is not only looking for the Kentucky Proud label but trying to dig a little bit deeper to try to see if they're sourcing from Kentucky farms," Turner explained. "In deciding which Kentucky Proud barbecue sauces we carry, we try to narrow it down and find those that use Kentucky ingredients as well. We would rather not buy a sauce if they buy their all of their ingredients from [a big-box store]."
To Turner, Kentucky Proud symbolizes how important agriculture is to our state.
"It's just really nice to have something that emphasizes the importance of agriculture here," she said. "And, hey, we are proud and work really hard to grow this stuff!"
The store carries a few products that source ingredients from the college farm. Turner is working with a co-packer to turn the farm's tomatoes, peppers and garlic into salsa and marinara sauces and bottle them for sale.
The store carries Kentucky Proud Allman's Beer Cheese from Mount Vernon, which was invented by the Allman family more than 70 years ago. Allman's Beer Cheese co-owner Angie Allman is a Berea College alum.
Turner said if a specific product can't be found in Kentucky Proud or from a Kentucky producer, she tries to buy it from the nine-state Appalachian region, which includes all of Kentucky and West Virginia as well as northeastern Alabama, northern Georgia, western North Carolina, southern Ohio, northwestern South Carolina, western Tennessee, and the western half of Virginia.
"There are a few things that we can't get from Kentucky Proud," she said, citing crackers as an example. The store buys the brand it sells from a company in Asheville, N.C.
Berea College was founded in 1855 by abolitionist John G. Fee. It was the first southern college to integrate whites, African-Americans, men, and women. Specifically targeted to Appalachia, it is a tuition-free, work-study college for students with strong academic potential but limited financial means.