• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Giving families on-farm experiences exciting to Duckworth

MICHAEL DUCKWORTH, Woodford County’s UK Extension agent for agriculture for about 16 years, has recently started an agri-tourism business on his family’s Shannon Run Road farm. He’s been doing farm loans – his full-time job – at Citizens Commerce National Bank for the last 12 years. (Photo by Bob Vlach)

For six generations, Michael Duckworth’s family grew tobacco. It was a tradition that no longer existed for many Kentucky families shortly after tobacco’s decades-long price support quota system came to an end with a buyout about 14 years ago. Woodford County went from 2,500 farms with tobacco quotas to a dozen or so growers today, Duckworth said.

A longtime UK Extension agent for agriculture in Woodford County, Duckworth said he and his wife, Debbie, purchased their Shannon Run Road farm knowing they’d like to do more to bring awareness to agriculture while holding down full-time jobs and hiring contractors to improve the 44-acre farm.

“There are just a lot of people you touch when you develop a small farm or a large farm,” said Duckworth.

It all began when his daughter got married in the barn on their family farm. Others soon called wanting to do the same.

Duckworth said he and his wife are now growing Christmas trees on their farm and want to give other families a chance to experience country life. “A lot of people,” he said, “they just don’t know what a farm is or what a farm is about. It will be our way to give back to the community.” The Duckworth Farm will again host a farm-to-table event on Friday, Aug. 24.

“Farm to table is something I’ve been doing my whole life,” said Duckworth. When people started to move away from the farm and fewer families grew tobacco, he said they also lost their personal connection to the land and the traditions of working together to bring in a crop.

“Back when every farm had a tobacco quota,” he recalled, “every farm up and down the road had a tobacco patch. Generally, it was the families (and their neighbors) coming together to work the tobacco patch together.

“…And you were together eight or nine months a year through the planting, the harvesting, the processing… You were together all the time. And you just came together around food quite honestly, because you always had big meals with the families and the workers. It was just a piece of culture that’s sadly going away.

“And hopefully, all of these new (agri-tourism and agri-entertainment) venues can kind of give an opportunity for families that didn’t experience (life on the farm) to see what it was like.”

He acknowledged there’s no way to re-create that rural way of life – eating a big meal and hanging out under a shade tree after a long day of hard work in the tobacco field, and then doing it again the next day.

“It’s a wonderful experience. I wish my kids and grandkids got to experience it like I did,” said Duckworth. Because they will never have that opportunity, he said places like Eckert’s-Boyd Orchard and The Kentucky Castle are a way for families in today’s society to at least have a better understanding of what happens on a farm.

“Those are all small farms of less than 100 acres,” said Duckworth of the Woodford County Farm Tour stops. “… And there are lots of those little farms… that can each have their impact on the economy through hiring different vendors and hiring different contractors to do work on those farms.”

He said the biggest challenge facing small-scale farmers like him and Debbie are finding people willing to work hard on a farm. That’s why they do most of the everyday chores on the farm. “The labor issue is just tough right now,” he said alluding to limits on foreign workers coming into the United States for jobs on the farm.

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