the New Deal quota program that helped support it—has
sustained Kentucky farm families for generations. In the past
five years, however, tobacco quotas have declined 66 percent,
cutting farmers’ personal income in half. In the past,
steady tobacco income from their quotas helped farmers survive
price fluctuations in other markets, including beef prices.
Without tobacco, steadying beef income cycles is vital to
the survival of Kentucky’s farms.
Kentucky agriculture is at a crossroads. We now have a tremendous
opportunity to create real change for Kentucky’s farm
families by developing the necessary infrastructure to keep
beef cattle income in farmers’ pockets. The key to this
potential lies in the $1.7 billion (distributed over 25 years)
of tobacco settlement money that will be applied toward agricultural
When state attorneys general and tobacco companies settled tobacco
damages lawsuits in 2000, Kentucky farmers argued that some
of that settlement money should be made available to help them
diversify. "After the tobacco settlement had been announced,
farmers knew that the companies would try to make up that money
from our income. The farm community in Kentucky began to look
at those funds as funds that should help us build a new future,"
explains Community Farm Alliance member Tribby Vice.
||"In the past five years tobacco
quotas have declined 66 percent, cutting farmers’
personal income in half."
It was this strong feeling among farmers that helped pass
Kentucky House Bill 611 in April of 2000. This legislation
(HB 611) set up a democratic, people-driven process for spending
the first phase of tobacco settlement monies. The money is
divided among tobacco producing counties in Kentucky based
on their economic dependence on the crop.
The legislation also created 118 County Agricultural Development
Councils. Each council consists of eight farmers charged with
devising a plan for the county identifying programs and strategies
to meet the needs of the local agricultural economy. Each
council submits its plan to the Agricultural Development Board
Each ADB consists of 15 members, with a voting majority of
active farmers. The ADB administers the tobacco settlement
funds, with county council plans providing guidance. Criteria
for state funds include assistance to tobacco farmers and
communities most affected by the loss of tobacco income, compatibility
with local agriculture comprehensive plans and promotion of
diversification. Thirty-five percent of the total tobacco
settlement funds are targeted for funding through the county
Today, CFA’s vision is to reverse the trend of disintegration
of rural and urban communities by facilitating locally-defined
economic development. CFA calls this vision Local Integrated
Food Economy—LIFE. Under this system, most of the food
Kentuckians eat would be grown close to home. A locally integrated
food economy allows Kentuckians to consume most of their food
from local farms, Kentucky farmers to make a living from their
farms, and provides opportunity for a new generation of farmers
“The tobacco settlement money is getting out to farmers
and helping to seed LIFE, a way of growing and buying our
food that will support our communities, rather than corporate
farms,” said CFA President Bonnie Cecil. “Kentucky
has a tremendous opportunity right now to re-create our farm
Farmers, entrepreneurs, educational institutions and policy-makers
will work together and independently to transform the industry.
Across the state, farmers are taking initiative and forming
flexible beef networks. The challenge ahead is to ensure that
Kentucky’s government and educational institutions take
active responsibility for laying the groundwork that will
nurture our farmers’ efforts.
Pernell Plath is research coordinator of the Community
Farm Alliance (CFA), based in Frankfort, Ky. She can be reached