Thursday, June 10, 2010

Part 1: Introduction to Western Kentucky and the Kentucky Lake Area

Thursday, June 10, 2010

I would like to introduce you to the Western Kentucky area, and try to give you an idea of what it is like here;  what sorts of advantageous connections and opportunities there are here for a sustainable community, and what you could expect from this area generally.

Actually, this is a very optimal region for anything to do with growing crops. We live in the USDA Hardiness Zone 6, and just about everything does well here. We have a very temperate growing season with very mild winters, and only get 1 or 2 light snows each year. The growing season here is actually long enough that you can do 2 or even 3 plantings of some food crops, especially tomatoes and greens, and also some others.

USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map 

With 88,000 farms, Kentucky is fourth in the nation in total number of farms and second in number of family farmers per capita. Kentucky currently has 88 certified organic farms, and at least another 100 uncertified organic farmers.
Kentucky's certified organic sector has been growing faster than those of all but one neighboring state.The Ky Dept. of Agriculture has recently published or helped sponsor a Farmers Market Directory, an Organic Producer Directory, a Farm Direct Food Products Directory and a Fruits & Berries Producer Directory.

The soil here is not especially rich and loamy. We have red and even blue clay, which turns into cement around the roots of your plants and suffocates them. So the soil needs building up with a combination of manure, mulch, compost, and sometimes sand, along with fertilizer. We are usually low on selenium and/or potassium here, and the soil is rich in calcium and phosphorous. So the soil must be amended accordingly. It is almost a given that you will need to have your soil analyzed and go from there, if you want to succeed at farming here. The local Cooperative Extension Office can help out here:

McCracken County Extension Office

Paducah, Ky Farmer's Market
Paducah, Ky Farmer's Market

There are some plants that just plain can not be grown here - the ones that I know don't thrive here, are blueberries, lilac bushes, rhododendrons, and any kind of lavender (which breaks my heart, because I had dreams of a lavender farm!) Rhubarb does not seem to like it here, either. We can, however, grow beautiful peaches, wisteria, azaleas, hydrangea, and pecans!

Farmers here can grow just about anything, and do! Some major crops grown around here are corn, soybeans, sorghum, tobacco,wheat, barley, tomatoes, alfalfa, oats, and many other vegetable and fruit crops. We have large tomato farms, strawberry farms where people pick their own berries (they are quite popular here!), and there are several farmers' markets where farmers can take their produce and sell it. Many local restaurants and other businesses rely on local produce.

Produce usually sold around here at the markets is quite varied - including all types of vegetables such as: yellow and green zucchini, broccoli, cabbage, turnip, collard, and mustard greens, cauliflower, eggplants, tomatoes, green beans, black-eyed peas, okra, pumpkins, cucumbers, cabbage, sweet potatoes, and other fresh greenies.

Some of the fruits that do best around here are: apples, peaches, strawberries, plums, and pears. There is nothing better than eating your first sweet, juicy tree-ripened peach at the farmer's markets here!  We also have a lot of nice wild blackberries here that grow on their own everywhere - they make wonderful blackberry cobbler!

Farmers here bush-hog and round-bale their sweet grass and use it themselves or sell it to horse owners. If you have a tractor and a bush-hog, you can usually find a job cutting someone else's fields for half the sweet grass, or get paid to do it.

We have a lot of blue fescue here, which although pretty, is not very good for some livestock, especially pregnant horses! You have to be careful about that! Some minerals also need to be replaced as far as your grazing critters...

There is a lot of invasive Japanese honeysuckle here, and also kudzu. It doesn't much bother anything, though. And the honeysuckle smells divine! It is one of the things I like the best about living down here.

We have an annual Dogwood Festival here, with a Dogwood Trails route complete with lights, that people enjoy every year. It is a very beautiful time of year, with so many trees blooming, both dogwood blossoms and redbud trees. Also prevalent here are the Bradford Pears, which are the first trees to bloom each Spring.

The Dogwood Trails are beautiful!
The Dogwood Trails are beautiful!

Pink Dogwood Tree
Pink Dogwood Tree
White Dogwood
White Dogwood
Bradford Pear - These trees are the first to bloom in the Spring - 
they always keep their perfectly round shape!
Bradford Pears - These trees are the first to bloom in the
Spring - they always keep their perfectly round shape!

To get a real good idea about how people think around here, a town close by, in Benton, has an annual "Tater Day" celebration, complete with parade, good food, entertainment, contests for the kiddies, even "best groomed pet", and "best trained pet". (My little 4 year old niece won first prize one year for her beautifullly groomed lamb and her cute little costume!)

"Tater Day" started way back in the 1800's; and on that day each year, all the settlers from the farms in the area would bring in all their produce to barter for the things they needed. It was harder to travel back in those days, so it was a time to visit with friends and family not seen in months, and to stock up on needed items not produced on their farms. It is a tradition that has been preserved all these years.

Paducah, in McCracken County, also hosts an annual "Barbecue on the River" at the riverfront. You've never seen so much barbecue, and they zealously guard their "secret recipes", hoping to win the "best barbecue" title.

People here are down to earth and not snooty, as a rule. They are pretty self-sufficient and hard-working, have tradtional values, go to church and love their families. Most activities around here are family-oriented.

We have two fairs here every summer in McCracken County. Other outlying counties have additional fairs and festivals. There is quite a bit of local participation at these affairs, with livestock judging, jam and pie contests, tractor pulling contests, and lots of other good stuff.

We have a harness-racing track here, with a training facility, at Carson Park. They board, train, and race Standardbreds there. You can go and look at all the horses there - this is one of my favorite past-times. Carson Park is where I also go to shovel up a load of horse manure for the garden, too! You can go get a load of mulch dumped into your truck bed for about $5 at the city shredding places. There are a couple of places where you can get sand.

There is also a racetrack, where you can go to watch thoroughbreds racing and bet on the outcomes of the horse races.

As far as livestock, the kinds of animals raised around here are beef cattle, sheep, goats, chickens, ducks, rabbits, and turkeys. Shorthorns and Jacob sheep are a big thing here, as are Boer goats, Barred Rock and Domenique ("Dominicker") and Barred Rock chickens.

Mostly everyone who lives in the country and has the room, has horses. People here like their Quarter-Horses, and quite a few breed Tennessee Walking Horses. Shelbyville, TN, is not that far from here, and there are quite a few breeders here who show their Walking Horses there. And of course, we have the trotters, the Standardbreds, Saddlebreds and Foxtrotters - and some thoroughbreds, but mostly you see the thoroughbreds east of here, closer to the Kentucky Derby track.

We have lots of good farm supply stores around here, and lots of greenhouses where you can buy plants, trees, and bushes. I have a particular favorite where I get all sorts of very hard-to-find herbs at very cheap prices! I loved their orange mint and variegated oregano plants, among other stuff that makes me drool when I find it...

Every year around the third week in April, McCracken County hosts the National Quilt Festival, visited by quilting aficionados from all over the world, coming to look at the beautiful quilts, and to vie for the coveted First Place Quilt title of the year.

And of course, we have the river and the accompanying barge industry. Lots of people here work for the barge companies - they call it "working on the boat" - there are several barge companies here that hire pilots, cooks, and deckhands. They usually work 30 days on and 30 days off the boat. It takes a little doing to get hired, but it's well worth it, because they pay exceptionally well! (With the economic collapse, it is probably pretty hard to get hired there at all right now, though.)

And then there is Kentucky Lake, and Land Between the Lakes, which is a UN protected biosphere, a peninsula, a strip of land between the long legs of Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley, which are man-made lakes built by the US Army Corp of Engineers after the Big Flood down here in 1937. It was made by diverting the flow of the rivers via locks and dams, which also serve to accomodate the passage of river transport.

Kentucky Lake hosts several very important Bass, Crappie, and Catfish Fishing Tournaments. You can see more about the fishing around here at my web site about the topic here:

Western Kentucky Fisherman

You can also see a video there about Western Kentucky, Kentucky Lake, Land Between the Lakes, and the Paducah area. There is definitely a lot of fishing going on around here, whether at the lakes, or in the rivers. We are the home of the Largemouth Bass and the Striper, we have the best crappie fishing in the world, and bumper crops of catfish.

Land Between the Lakes, as mentioned, is a National Park managed by the USDA, and is a designated UN Biosphere area. You can camp there, go fishing along the entire length of the lake, and go hiking, ATV riding at the trails at Turkey Run, horseback riding. There is a Nature Station for the observation of local wildlife and plants, and you can join in guided field trips and plant and animal identification classes. There is the Golden Pond Planetarium, a real 1800's working Homestead Farm to visit, a Fallow Deer Sanctuary, and an Elk and Bison Prairie that you can visit and see the animals.

Worth mentioning is Hematite Lake, where there are hematites all over the place, and many other things you can do around here. And of course, there is the the Kentucky Opryland where you can hear aspiring country singers. A big thing for young people here is the Talent Search contest each year, where winners get to go on to Nashville!

Kentucky still leads the nation in burley tobacco production, even 
though the federal tobacco price support program was discontinued in 
2005. The state is second in the U.S. in total tobacco production and is
 in the top 20 in corn, soybeans, winter w

Kentucky still leads the nation in burley tobacco production, even though the federal tobacco price support program was discontinued in 2005. The state is second in the U.S. in total tobacco production and is in the top 20 in corn, soybeans, and winter wheat.

Kentucky is the leading beef cattle state east of the Mississippi 
River and is eighth in the nation overall.
Kentucky is the leading beef cattle state east of the Mississippi
River and is eighth in the nation overall.
Jacob Sheep & Baby
Jacob Sheep & Baby
Boer Goats (Raised as meat goats)
Boer Goats (Raised as meat goats)
Nubian Goats - Nubians are milk goats.
Nubian Goats - Nubians are milk goats.
Barred Rocks
Barred Rocks

People here are not fancy - they are "country folk". They don't care much about fancy clothes and such. They are set in their ways, good-hearted and friendly, but full of piss and vinegar if you tangle with them! I've never seen a Kentuckian yet who would back down from a good fight! In fact, I think they really enjoy a good knock-down cussin' fest. They will respect you more if you sling it right back to them. They will grin at you and shake your hand later, if you do. It's some sort of a "cultural" thing here, a rite of social passage.

Most people down here will tell you they are Rebels, and even though Kentucky actually was officially "Yankee", many Kentuckians fought in the Confederate Army for the Southern cause, making Kentucky a divided state in those times. But nowadays they are proud of being Rebels, and are insular about "Yankees". If you are from the North, you will always be a "Yankee" to them. You should not let that bother you too much, but if someone calls you a "DAMN Yankee", this is an indication that they think you should vacate the area. (Might not be a bad idea, either!)

I know it sounds complicated, but despite all their idiosyncrasies, they will always help their neighbor out when needed. It takes a while to "learn them", as they themselves will say. Hospitality and family loyalty and pride are very big things down here. So are the "social graces". Southern hospitality is still very much alive here.

Things just seem to move slower here. No one is in a big hurry to do anything. It might take you a while to get used to it at first, if you have been a person who has been punching a clock, rushing to meet deadlines, and running back and forth. But, after you settle in, you will feel the tension, and all your anxieties and depression start to melt away... You can start to enjoy your life for the moment, and not be so pressured to "hurry, hurry, hurry". You will be so relieved to be able to shed the "city trappings" and the pretensions, to just be yourself, and let the day be whatever it decides to be.

This is not to say that people here are lazy or not ambitious. Because they are really hard workers, very conscientious and punctual, and strive to excel in whatever they are doing. But they just don't "look" like they are beating the hell out of themselves while they are doing it. And they take time out for quality time with their friends and families. People here spend time at home with their families, much moreso than they do out "running the streets".

I hope this kind of gives you a picture of what things are like here.

I wrote it from off the top of my head. I have been here for thirteen years - I guess that makes me a Kentuckian now. (Of course, a native Kentuckian would not agree with that statement!)

I don't know if I have missed anything or not. I am sure I have. If anybody from Kentucky reads this, add whatever you think of, and I'll appreciate it if you do!

Beautiful Kentucky!

Helpful Links:

McCracken County Cooperative Extension Office
McCracken County Office 2705 Olivet Church Road Paducah, KY 42001-9755

Kentucky: A Guide to the Bluegrass State

Kentucky Department of Agriculture Home Page

Everything you want to know about agriculture in Kentucky, KY Proud, Ag Marketing, farming, horticulture, NAIS, alfalfa, Buy KY, animal monitoring

Kentucky Organic Program

Kentucky Farmers' Market Manual
Click here to download the entire manual. (pdf 692kb)

National Arboretum - USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map
A complete clickable zonal map indicating temperature ranges down to individual counties.

"Quick-Key Guide to Wildflowers," by David Archbald, Rosemary V. Fleming, ... and other useful information regarding planting and growing the wildflowers ... Kentucky Wildflowers of Western Kentucky

Western Kentucky Flowering Plants | Garden Guides
Gardeners in western Kentucky are in a warm, temperate zone where the average lowest night-time winter temperatures range from -5 to -10 degrees, ...

Purchase Area Master Gardener Association
Located in Western Kentucky, our members live in the 7th District which includes Ballard, Calloway, Carlisle, Graves, Lyon, Marshall, and McCracken Counties ...

Planting Schedules
Each USDA planting zone has its own schedule for sowing seeds. ... 1, Zones 1-2 Planting Schedule. 2, Zones 3-4 Planting Schedule. 3, Zones 5-6 Planting ...

USNA - USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map 

Guide to Kentucky Vegetable Gardening     Finding Community: How to Join an Ecovillage or Intentional Community    

The Organic Farmer's Business Handbook: A Complete Guide to Managing Finances, Crops, and Staff-and Making a Profit     Living off the Grid: A Simple Guide to Creating and Maintaining a Self-reliant Supply of Energy, Water, Shelter and More


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