While Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles highlighted the success stories of local farmers Wednesday, he also spoke to the growing food insecurity among both adults and children across the state and country.
During a virtual meeting hosted by Owensboro’s Rotary Club in the middle of National Agriculture Week, Quarles commended Daviess County’s ag community — praising local farmers for their continuous efforts in providing food from the local to global level.
“In Daviess County, you don’t just raise the live stock or grow the crops — you do something with it,” he said, using Owensboro Grain as an example of a successful business rooted in the ag industry.
“Each farmer grows enough livestock to feed 170 people,” Quarles continued. “Our country has never really starved, and that’s a testament.”
Quarles said despite America’s overall success in keeping its citizens fed, food insecurity had become a substantial problem over the last year. While one in seven Kentuckians faced food insecurity prior to the pandemic, that rate had increased to one in five since the beginning of 2020.
“For a lot of people, it’s the first they’ve asked for assistance to put food on the table,” he said.
Quarles said the number of K-12 school children facing food insecurity had increased from one in five to one in four.
“For those schoolchildren, learning’s going to be the last thing on their mind [when facing food insecurity],” he said.
Education in the ag industry was also lacking across the state, Quarles noted, and there was a lot of work to do in that aspect. He told Rotary members that 20% of school-age children didn’t know cheese was a dairy product, and that a high number of Kentuckians still thought chocolate milk came from brown cows.
“You’d be surprised by the amount of agricultural illiteracy,” he said.
As for supporting the agricultural industry and helping it to thrive, Quarles suggested buying local produce and meats from the farmers’ market as often as possible. He also said supporting local 4-H and FFA organizations would ensure Daviess County’s agricultural success for years to come.
He said legislative successes — including the Kentucky General Assembly’s passing of a bill to invest $250 million toward broadband internet access in rural areas — represented nonpartisanship in the agricultural community and a step toward bettering technology for farmers and their families across the state.
“It’s a rare day when things get partisan for agriculture,” he said. “We work together to do what’s right.”