Kim Nasato’s father died of colon cancer in 1996, an event that propelled her to begin eating healthy.
But it wasn’t until two years ago that Nasato, of Bowling Green, actually lived in a place that she could begin growing her own food.
Now she grows vegetables of all types and is hoping some of her cold-weather greens and other things will soon be ripe for picking. Nasato said what she doesn’t grow, she buys at farmers markets, getting very few fresh vegetables from the grocery.
Friends Kim Buck and Frances Strickler of Franklin are also interested in backyard gardening.
“It’s a healthy source of fresh food,” Buck said.
She has been backyard gardening off and on for about 35 years, but has been doing it pretty steadily for about the past six years when she moved to her current home in Franklin.
Strickler has about a two-acre plot at her home.
“I think people just want to be more in control of what they eat,” she said.
She wanted to find out more about backyard beekeeping. Strickler said while she lives in town, her property backs up to an undeveloped area and her neighbors have gardens. She thinks they would appreciate having an army of pollinators nearby.
The women were among more than 100 who attended educational sessions at Food Day Conference and Expo on Thursday.
Nasato was particularly interested in learning more about composting. She started a pile last winter and didn’t feel like it was ready in time for her spring planting. Now she feels armed with enough information to make sure it’s ready.
That session on composting was compelling enough to hold the interest of brothers Sebastian Rucker, 8, and Colton White, 7. The two of them were with mom Soda Rucker of Bowling Green. The family recently moved to a farm outside Bowling Green and wants to cultivate their own garden there. The boys, along with a third brother, are homeschooled, and Rucker said it is important for them to learn about where their food comes from.
The two boys peered into a bucket of black compost that was ready to throw on a garden. Jackson Rolett of Western Kentucky University’s Office of Sustainability said he isn’t an expert on composting.
“I just do it an awful lot,” Rolett said.
The best advice Rolett could give about composting, he said, was not to spend a lot of money or time doing it.
“There are more important things to do,” he said.
The only equipment he purchased was five gallon buckets with lids to schlep scraps and finished compost. But even those can be had for free from bakeries, Rolett said.
He uses a turning fork he found in his grandmother’s garage and built his compost “bins” from pallets.
“You can find those anywhere,” he said. “I’ve never gotten in trouble for getting pallets out of Dumpsters.”
Some other good tips for starting a compost pile: find a sunny spot in your yard; keep the pile relatively moist; and have a brown to green ratio of 3 to 1. Don’t put meat scraps or other products with fat in the compost pile because that will draw animals and the issues that come with them. Leaves, grass clippings, food scraps, coffee grounds and egg shells are among things that can be put on compost piles.
During Kate Dillinger’s presentation about backyard chickens – she has three in the Bowling Green city limits – there were many questions and advice given by participants in the seminar. One woman suggested where people could buy chicks, others suggested breeds of dogs that get along with and even guard chickens. Dillinger, who is manager of the Food for All Community Garden, said there is immediate reward from raising chickens for eggs. A hen can lay as many as 200 eggs a year.
Rucker said they started to raise chickens but got called out of town on an emergency and had to leave them unattended.
Dillinger suggests making friends with neighbors who can check on chickens daily if an owner has to leave town and to let them keep the eggs in exchange for the help. Dillinger told participants it was important to have an enclosure for the chickens to lay their eggs in. Coops can be built with plans from the Internet or purchased from multiple local sources. Her main suggestions for in-town chickens – don’t get a rooster. Chickens are fairly quiet but roosters crow.
Food Day activities took place throughout the day at WKU’s Agriculture Exposition Center and Farm. Early in the day James Manco of Bowling Green was recognized as a military veteran farmer by the state’s Kentucky Proud Program. Mike Lewis, who works with the program, said veterans are the only people who would know what it is to leave the hardest profession (the military) and get into the second hardest.
Manco, who served in the Army National Guard in the ‘60s, produces all kinds of vegetables at his Warren County farms. He sells the vegetables at the Community Farmers Market.
Food Day awards also were given to Farmer of the Year (Sam and Brenda Coffey); Food Champion (Community Farmers Market); Local Food Higher Education Award (Madonna May); Farm to School Award (Kim Simpson of Bowling Green City Schools); Chef of the Year for using local foods (Josh and Chelsey Poling); Local Food Youth Award (Franklin-Simpson Boys and Girls Club).
Participants also heard from Brigitte Nguyen, a Cooking Channel and Kentucky Proud kitchen host. Nguyen said Kentucky can grow more vegetables than she ever would have imagined growing up in California. Now living in Lexington, Nguyen said she looks forward to the ripening of certain vegetables that signal the beginning of a certain season: peas and asparagus in the spring and pumpkins and squash in the fall.
On Thursday, she made sweet Kentucky grits with roasted pumpkins and squash and Kentucky sorghum. Toasted pumpkin seeds garnished the top. The tasting was enthusiastically received by the crowd.
Nguyen attended many of the sessions.
“They are so interesting,” she said.