In 2007 when Harry Irwin bought his Metcalfe County farm and became friends with farming neighbor Frankie Froggett, the two never imagined their mutual interest in growing cane and making sorghum would lead to becoming business partners. Nine years later, the farmers are looking forward to inviting the community out on September 24, 2016 for the 4th Annual Seven Springs Sorghum Festival at the new Barn at Node on Irwin’s farm in Sulphur Well.
“Seven Springs Sorghum Producers and the annual festival have grown out of our love of making sorghum and the enjoyment of sharing the experience with our community,” said Rebecca Froggett, daughter-in-law of Frankie and a partner in Seven Springs Sorghum. “We are really excited about the new Barn at Node and how we are expanding our operations. We have the Kentucky Center for Agriculture and Rural Development (KCARD) to thank for helping us make it happen.”
Rebecca explained that today there are five families behind Seven Springs Sorghum Producers: Frankie Froggett, Harry Irwin, Gary Harlow, Derick Harlow, and Rebecca’s family. The partners decided to establish a business entity after completing a couple of successful festivals and having continuous requests from locals in the community to buy their sorghum. Her business partner, Harry Irwin, reached out to KCARD to explore options for the business.
“KCARD met with us in Edmonton, and we shared with them about the families involved, the business to date, and what we had been doing at the festival,” said Rebecca. “They helped us set up our business plan and financials. Then, we began to explore grant options for expanding the business.”
“Harry has a vision and passion for creating an old-time farm experience for the community to enjoy and for educating today’s youth that spotlights the tradition of making sorghum,” said Brent Lackey, KCARD Business Specialist. “Harry, Rebecca, and the other owners have put a lot of time and effort into planning and creating Seven Springs Sorghum Producers.”
“KCARD has helped us every step of the way during our expansion, from helping us structure our finances to reviewing our grant applications,” said Rebecca Froggett. “KCARD worked with us to identify and develop applications for three main grants that are really allowing us to expand our facilities and the festival itself.”
Seven Springs Sorghum Producers applied for three grants in 2015 with assistance from KCARD, including a Kentucky Agriculture Development Fund (KADF) grant, the Kentucky State University (KSU) Small Farmer grant, and a USDA Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG). Rebecca explained that KCARD recommended these three grants to allow Seven Springs Sorghum to potentially secure funding that would allow them to work on both the infrastructure and marketing of the operation in tandem.
“We turned to the Ag Development Fund to assist with infrastructure. Mr. Irwin and I had to present our application to Green, Metcalfe, Hart, and Barren County Ag Development committees and then had to go before the state board and that can be daunting,” said Rebecca. “KCARD went above anything I had expected with the grant process.”
The hard work paid off and in August 2015, Seven Springs Sorghum Producers, LLC was approved for $30,000 in state and $30,000 in county Ag Development Funds as a grant to be used to construct an event barn. The almost-finished Barn at Node event facility is going to be open at the 2016 Sorghum Festival and Rebecca says they plan to expand and have other agricultural-related events at the barn.
“It was just so exciting to have our community and the surrounding counties support our project,” said Rebecca. “Then just a few short weeks later we learned that the USDA approved our application for the USDA VAPG. There is no way our organization could have received both of these grants without the help of KCARD.”
The USDA VAPG grant is allowing Seven Spring Sorghum Producers to expand the marketing of their sorghum products beyond the circle of friends that attend the festival each fall. Rebecca explained that the owners have worked this past spring to launch the new website for the company and begin development of labeling for their product.
“Seven Springs’ careful planning and hard work really paid off,” said Aaron Shapiro, KCARD Grant Facilitator. “The funding will be well spent to help them build a brighter future for ’local’ sorghum producers in Kentucky.”
“We are wrapping up the construction on the Barn at Node, but we still have much to do on the marketing side using the Value-Added Producer Grant funds,” said Rebecca. “Right now though we are focused on the Sorghum Festival and making this year’s festival the best one yet for our community.”
In an effort to say thank you to the Metcalfe County agriculture community that supported the building of the Barn at Node with a $15,000 grant, Seven Springs Sorghum has selected the Metcalfe County 4-H and the Metcalfe County Farmers Market as the charities to fund this year with proceeds from the festival.
“Since we began the festival, we have always donated proceeds from the festival to a local charity and this year we wanted to give back to our agriculture community,” said Rebecca. “The local farmers market is running on a grant and the grant funding will stop after this year and we hope we can help them take a step toward sustainability.”
“Seven Springs is very community-oriented and wants to create a destination for the community to enjoy,” said Lackey. “The focus of the festival and their continuing effort to make significant donations to local non-profit organizations highlights what makes this business and these individuals unique and successful.”
The new Barn at Node and other marketing efforts have inspired the team at Seven Springs Sorghum Producers to make some exciting changes for the Sorghum Festival this year.
They have secured new vendors for the festival, new activities for the children, and new musicians to perform. Yet they haven’t lost sight of what makes this festival special, which is the old fashioned festival experience. The festival will continue to feature sorghum-making demonstrations, the classic car cruise-in, an antique tractor display, the corn hole tournament, and focus on giving participants a chance to learn about the community and agriculture.
To learn more about Seven Springs Sorghum Producers visit www.sevenspringssorghum.com.
The Kentucky Center for Agriculture and Rural Development helps agricultural producers, agribusinesses, and others by providing assistance with business planning, grant and loan packages, strategic planning, business management reviews, operations and cost analysis, record-keeping development, feasibility studies, and on-site business consultations. Support for KCARD is provided in part by the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board and the USDA Rural Cooperative Development Grant. To learn more about KCARD services visit www.kcard.info.