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Sweet corn for students; Obenchain Farms joining Schools Food Program

Justin & Chrystal Obenchain with their sons, Harlan & Connor.


The Hancock County Board of Education met on Thursday evening, April 27th, and the UK Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service will be connecting local producers with Hancock County Public Schools (HCPS) in an effort to best utilize dollars received through the Local Food for Schools (LFS) Grant. The Kentucky Department of Agriculture is supplying the grant, and will be reimbursing HC Food Service for up to $13,500 for the cost of food purchased through the LFS program, and even more funds may become available in the future.

Obenchain Farms, located in Hawesville, has partnered with HCPS Food Service to deliver the corn they raise, shucked, silked, vacuum-sealed and frozen, to each school. This partnership includes 13,000 ears of corn that will be delivered twice a month through April, 2024.

The program requires that all of the food purchased be minimally processed or unprocessed. Students will receive fresh or flash frozen vegetables from a local grower, and have the opportunity to engage in taste tests, as well as educational activities, such as farm visits and classroom presentations.

Pam Ramsey, Assistant Food Service Director for HCPS said, “The Farm to School Program puts local produce, or statewide produce, in the hands of our kids through our cafeteria program. There was $3.2 million dedicated to KY.  Since we’re so small, we got $13,500 of that. It’s a great way to get local foods into the hands of our kids. Evan Tate introduced me to Justin Obenchain and we started talking. Those are our partners right now. We’re delighted to have them. We’re starting the process to provide really sweet corn on the cob for our kids all year next year through the program, and we’re really excited about it.

Local, with this grant, means within 400 miles.

They have to be a local grower to qualify for the program, and they have to work with us to provide farm visits, taste tests, and come into the classroom to conduct educational visits and presentations. We’re even talking about internships with some of our high school students later on. These federal funds are going to be dispersed to local producers and we hope there are other producers in our area, like Tate Cattle Company, that might be applicable in the future. They’ve told me that there could be a 2nd, 3rd, and 4th deposit made into our account, in addition to the $13,500. We could get quite a bit more, because some other counties decided they didn’t want theirs. As Mr. Evan Tate (HC Extension Agent) stated in an interview with the Hancock Clarion last year: ‘Every $1 will turn-over 7 times before it leaves Hancock County.’ So, we’re going to make sure that those $13,500 turn-over.”

Justin Obenchain said, “We don’t want it to be a come-and-go kind of thing. We want the kids to see where the food comes from. If they need to come to the farm, we’ll walk them down the row of corn. We want them to understand that food doesn’t come from Wal-Mart, it comes from the ground. We’re working with the state, and we’ll be certified so we can process and do everything on-site, to vacuum seal it. We’ll make deliveries once every 2 weeks, so they can have it fresh. Pam and Evan have been wonderful to work with, and I think it will be something that we can really look forward to – putting good food in front of all of our kids.”

Evan Tate said, “From an extension viewpoint, it’s a blessing for us to have a family like the Obenchains here that does this, so that when we find these little nuggets about free money for school systems, I can go right there and grab them. Even though UK is on our logo, KY State University is involved in this as well. They’ve worked with Justin on acquiring some of the very best, and very specialized equipment, so that he can provide this for you all. It’s not just ears of corn that you pick out of the field. Justin has to go through a series of processes to get it to where you can serve it in your schools. He’s made all of those investments over time, not only working with state agencies that oversee those processes, but he’s been working alongside UK & KSU as well to make sure he’s got the right equipment in place, and that it’s a sustainable deal for you all and it’s a sustainable deal for them. When school budgets get tight, $13,500 goes a long way. This is $13K that doesn’t have to come out of your budget, and you can still feed your kids at a level that is probably higher in quality. We were just really pleased to be able to put those puzzle pieces together.”

Funds for CTE Programs

“With the state,” Superintendent Robby Asberry said, “they gave us a little over $250,000, and gave us a very short period of time to spend it. They did a good job of picking out what they want to spend the money for. A lot of them were big purchases that they probably wouldn’t have been able to get, otherwise. All of our CTE (Career & Technical Education) programs at the high school were able to get this money and use it. It’s awesome that the state did that. Some of the purchases have to be made by June 30th, and that’s why we brushed up those approvals to get those. This is how we were able to get it all done and spend it on time.”

HCHS Principal Ginger Estes said, “The purchases have been truly amazing. The students at the high school will have a lot of Project Based Learning (PBL) time and every single CTE program will get some kind of big ticket item. It’s a good thing. Students can make hats, shirts and jackets with our logo, so we can also increase our own revenue in the building within those programs. It is a really great opportunity for our students.”

New Stadium-Contingency Approved

The board approved the final drawings at their December, 2022 meeting for the new track and stadium, GN Excavating Hornet Track and GN Excavating Stadium. The new artificial turf football field and rubberized track, entire project on HCMS/HCHS campus was approved at $2,316,000, with GN as general contractor. Nugent has also agreed to make yearly donations of $40,000 per year, for 10 years, as long as he is able.

The board approved contingencies on the project for visitors’ bleachers at the new stadium to be added. Asberry said the goal is, “to put a little barrier between the home and visitors sections, for crowd control. I think it’s going to look really nice. Anytime you get into a project, there are going to be some things that you’re going to run into. There is some contingency built into that, but we still needed to approve these change orders of things that we have to fix.”

Superintendent Closing Statement

“I’ve used distributive leadership to support learning and teaching,” Asberry said, “and we – when I say ‘we’ I’m talking about my whole administrative team, central office and our principals, we conducted new staff training, restructured central office staff, provided additional instructional assistants in primary and special education classrooms, recruited new employees with videos and brochures, KY finance teams finalized salaries and schedules, collaborated with central offices and principals to reduce an increase in positions where necessary, we continue to offer medical and mental health therapists and services, mountain comp and family health nurses.

I ensure that the district has processes and systems in place for organizing the work of the district. We provided additional security, alternative school, new door locks, procedures and cameras, conducted cabinet & budget meetings with district leadership and principals, resolved conflicts in a respectable and collaborative manner, kept an ongoing communication with board members, and we’ve completed all KDE (KY Dept. of Education) visits.”

By Jennifer Wimmer

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