Franklin County Extension Service Agriculture Agent Keenan Bishop and West Sixth Farm manager Birch Bragg pose for a picture with blackberries. (Photo by Philip Case)

The 61st Farm-City Field Day, an annual gathering of farmers and “town folks,” will be held Thursday beginning at 9 a.m. at the West Sixth Farm, 4494 Shadrick Ferry Road, just off U.S. 127 North.

This year’s reprisal of the event features some changes — just as the landscape of farming has changed across the decades since the late Paul Gray, longtime Franklin County agriculture agent, joined with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture to host the first Field Day on land owned by James and Roy Smith on Bridgeport-Benson Road.

“This year we’re teaming up with West Sixth Brewery to showcase the farm where they’re raising the ingredients that will be used in their beers,” said Keenan Bishop, current Franklin County agriculture agent.

“All field days are different in some ways,” said Bishop, a lifelong resident of the county, “and this one has some changes those planning to attend will want to pay close attention to.”

Changes this year

Tickets for lunch: For the first time, the Field Day is a “reservations only” affair for the ribeye steak sandwich lunch.

“It was just getting too hard to guess how many people were coming and would show up without tickets,” Bishop said. The ticket deadline is until noon Wednesday, and the only location to pick them up is at the Farm Bureau Office on Wilkinson Boulevard near the U.S. post office and The State Journal building, across from Southern States.

“Those without tickets are welcome to come,” he said. “But they’ll have to wait until the ticketed patrons are fed to eat.”

• Parking: Another first is there will be no onsite public parking at the farm. Bishop says those visiting Thursday’s field day will be directed to park at Paul Jones’ place across the road and then take the traditional ride on a tractor-drawn wagon to the West Sixth site. “There will be signs and personnel directing folks to the parking areas,” Bishop said.

• A walking tour: In another first, this is a “walking tour” since the stops are close, and Bishop says the noise of tractors and the proximity of the stops would be distracting.

“Groups will leave the covered pavilion and walk to the various sites, all of which are in view of the starting point,” he said. “We will have some very limited transportation, but not much.”

Those with health and mobility issues are advised to take the walking into consideration since the farm is hilly and it’s likely to be a typical hot July day with event-time temperatures in the mid- to upper 80s. “Walking was the only way to make this work in a cramped area like this,” Bishop said.

The farm and tour

Even with the changes, the tour promises to be another excellent one, capturing the essence of the exploding craft beer industry.

Birch Bragg, manager of West Sixth Farm, learned farming “by the seat of his pants.” He started his “learning” after managing a bar in Bowling Green and has been at West Sixth since September 2016. He’s developed an outstanding operation that’s all holistic and organic. He’s a graduate of Western Kentucky University with a bachelor’s degree in economics.

He says he learned by “reading, visiting farms, taking lots of notes — and help from the Cooperative Extension Service.”

The Shadrick Ferry Road location is about 130 acres with a 25- to 30-acre portion of it featuring a 4,300-foot deer fence. All stops on the tour are within the fenced-in area.

The tour begins with an overview of the farm presented by the West Sixth owners. Following that is a most interesting one-third-acre vertical construction featuring hop vines growing on an 18-foot trellis construction. The perennials were planted in May 2017 and this is the first year some will make it to harvest size.

When beer is made on the farm, these hops will be used.

Up the hill from the hops, Field Day-goers will see a quarter-acre pond. Water is taken from the pond by way of a gravity/siphon installation that extracts about 10 gallons a minute, transferred to holding tanks and used for irrigation as needed.

“The pond is about 14 feet deep,” Bragg said, “and there are some big fish in there.” Bragg produces a picture of a huge bass taken from the pond last week by a small boy. “We encourage folks to fish here when the farm is open to the public.

At the fourth stop, members of local 4-H and FFA groups will exhibit some of their livestock.

The final stop before lunch at the pavilion features apple trees with blueberry vines planted between them. Bragg located it on a hillside to utilize the wind, which helps dissipate the seemingly ever-present humidity in Kentucky that leads to diseases on trees and vines.

“There are about 100 trees planted here,” Bragg said, “encompassing about 20 varieties that are the best for cider and perfect for some of our beers. They are more a wine-type apple than a cooking or eating variety.”

At maturity, there will be enough apples for 6,000 to 8,000 bottles a year. They haven’t, however, reached maturity.

“We don’t use any chemicals for insects or diseases,” Bragg said. “Everything is a natural product and, coupled with good planting techniques and mulching, we hope to avoid the diseases or be able to treat them.”

Why here?

Bishop says West Sixth was chosen for the Field Day site for a couple of reasons.

“First, there aren’t a lot of traditional farms lining up to be tour sites and, second, this is a cool site.”

Bragg says part of the West Sixth mission is education and demonstration — and that fits comfortably with the work of the Extension Service. “We’re honored to host it.”

Bishop has conducted workshops on building dry-stone fences on the farm, and horticulture agent Adam Leonberger assisted in pruning the apple trees.

“I want people to realize this is a farm tour,” said Bishop, “not a garden tour, so there are some inconveniences. It’s for farmers and non-farmers alike — all who want to learn."

West Sixth Farm and its tap room are open 4-10 p.m. on Fridays; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturdays; and 11-9 on Sundays. The tap room will be open following Thursday’s tour.

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