Third Thursday Thing turns 20
By Ray Bowman
(A version of this article first appeared in The Farmer’s Pride, August 3 issue)
Two decades ago, Kentucky State University Small Farm Specialist Marion Simon was wrestling with some pressing questions. With tobacco production disappearing, how would the Commonwealth’s small farmers, who relied so heavily on the cash crop, survive? How about other small farmers and new farmers with non-agricultural backgrounds who were seeking alternative farm production methods?
Simon went searching for answers and came up with a project whose longevity has surprised even her.
The application window for 1997 SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education) grant proposals was about to close. In the space of about two hours, Simon conceived a two-year Extension Training Project and submitted the application just ahead of the deadline.
“It was just a two-year project,” Simon reflected. “I never expected the amount of attention and support it has received.”
“From its development in 1997 until today, this project touches more farmers and agriculturalists than any other SARE program we have,” noted Dr. Jeff Jordan, Director of Southern SARE and University of Georgia agriculture professor, speaking at the anniversary celebration and workshop at KSU’s Harold R. Benson Research and Demonstration Farm.
The Third Thursday Thing was in its second year when Dr. Kirk Pomper joined the KSU Staff as a researcher. He is now Land Grant Program Director in the university’s College of Agriculture, Food Science and Sustainable Systems. He points to new faculty and added programs for the project’s stakeholders as a way to keep the Third Thursday sessions “fresh.”
“We’ve hired some new folks in urban ag, livestock nutrition, forestry, youth programming and value-added processing of aquaculture,” Pomper noted. “I think those extension and research positions are going to expand the Third Thursday topics into new areas and provide information for new people.”
Pomper says the concept of the Third Thursday Thing helps remove some of the barriers that have traditionally existed between the academics and the application of agriculture research.
“It allows researchers to interact with the farmers, which is really important and I can’t emphasize that enough,” he says. “That way the research actually starts making sense for the producer. We start working on things that they’re interested in and we make sure we’re trying to solve problems that they need solved.”
In the early days, the workshops averaged about 30 participants, but as the word began to spread attendance continued to grow, sometimes overwhelming the modest facilities that had been adapted to accommodate the sessions. The monthly event now attracts hundreds of diverse participants, ranging from active to prospective producers to consumers who want to know more about what it takes to put food on the table.
Dr. Simon insists the interest, primarily from active participants and stakeholders, is what has led to the success of the Third Thursday Thing and will pave its way into the future.