Kentucky State University’s College of Agriculture, Communities and the Environment has a healthy food initiative to help the community in uncertain times.

The initiative is paying off.

The college, which recently donated 105.3 pounds of lettuce to the Emergency Community Food Pantry of Franklin County and ACCESS Soup Kitchen and Men's Shelter, has been named this week's Traditional Bank Unsung Hero.

“We wanted to be able to support people during this crisis,” Dr. Kirk Pomper, interim dean of the College of Agriculture, said. “A lot of it involves online education.

“When we had Third Thursday events at the farm, there would be 100 people, and we just can’t do that now. We make videos and take photos, come up with fact sheets, and post them online.”

Crops grown at KSU’s farm are videoed and photographed at various stages of growth to show those interested what is involved with raising vegetables.

“Some are experiments, some are demonstrations, but we try and help people and show about the food,” Pomper said. “The great part is we end up with food for the food shelf, and it goes to a nonprofit.”

The college also produces fact sheets, which are posted online.

“We’ve done quite a few fact sheets,” said Dr. Leigh Whittinghill, assistant professor of urban agriculture. “They give basic information to beginners that they might need to know.

“Since the COVID pandemic started, there’s been a huge increase in the number of people who want to grow their own vegetables.”

Whittinghill has been working on different ways to produce crops.

“One thing we’re working on now is relay cropping, where you plant a succession of crops that grow quickly a number of times over the summer," she said.

“Another one is cut and come again harvest, and a lot of greens are going with this. When you cut, the plant reproduces from the root system. You don’t have to replant, so it’s a lot less time instead of taking everything out and planting again.

“With any agriculture experiment, you end up with food.”

Of the 105 pounds of lettuce donated last week, two-thirds went to the Emergency Community Food Pantry of Franklin County and the rest went to ACCESS Soup Kitchen and Men’s Shelter.

Among the objectives of the Healthy Food Initiative is providing produce from demonstration plots and information on how to grow food safely to help feed yourself and your family.

The COVID-19 pandemic meant sharing information in different ways.

“The result is we had to get our information out in videos, on social media and the written word,” Pomper said. “It made us get in the electronic age in quick fashion. We were already doing different things with videos and fact sheets, but we’re doing more.

“There’s nothing like being one-on-one with a farmer sharing information, but this is the best we can do with COVID, and we want to do it well.”

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