Farm upbringing prepared Kentucky’s new ag commissioner
Ryan Quarles, Kentucky’s new commissioner of agriculture, at 32 is the youngest statewide elected official in the nation, but Quarles is hardly new to farming. His is a nourishing story of an accomplished, self-motivated and focused farm kid who has dreamed about being elected to this position since he drove his first tractor.
“It’s a privilege to be the commissioner of agriculture for Kentucky. I grew up in a farm family that has farmed in the same area for 200 years. I was an active member of 4-H and FFA youth programs and won the state tractor driving contest while in high school,” Quarles proudly says.
“I personally know the economic, bureaucratic and environmental struggles faced by farmers. I am committed to facing these challenges head-on while running a Department of Agriculture that is efficient and transparent and one that will make all Kentuckians proud.”
Prior to assuming the agriculture commissioner post, Quarles served five years as a state representative from Georgetown. He graduated from the University of Kentucky in 2006 with undergraduate degrees in political science, agricultural economics and public service, and has earned master’s degrees in diplomacy and international commerce. He earned a master’s degree in higher education from Harvard University in 2009 while also attending Harvard law school and the Kennedy School of Government. He completed work toward his law degree at the University of Kentucky.
The responsibilities of the state agriculture commissioner are increasingly broad. of they include protecting Kentucky’s agricultural lands and ensuring healthy farming practices that determine the quality of the food we eat. The Department of Agriculture is also a consumer protection and service agency that affects the lives of all Kentuckians every day, from the regulatory requirements in the Division of Animal Health to motor fuel regulation to the pesticide industry to the federal government’s food distribution program.
Quarles’ is a story about recognizing the economic impact of agriculture and agribusiness, loving farming and stewardship of the land. Passionately believing that farming is basic to human existence, he pledges to be a vocal advocate for Kentucky farm products, promising to make Kentucky Proud — the state’s nationally recognized official farm marketing program — even stronger.
“My goal is to continue to ensure a safe and reliable food supply, to educate more Kentuckians on how food travels from the farm gate to the dinner plate.”
Other issues on the commissioner’s priority list are urban agriculture, serious discussion about ways to battle hunger in Kentucky, keeping small farms alive and profitable and protecting the state’s best farmland and local food sources from development sprawl.
“Farmers are aging faster than the general populations. Farmland is most vulnerable when passing from one generation to the next. With the average ages of the Kentucky farmer at 63, we must look at ways to pass farms from one generation to the next, and keep young farmers on the land,” he says.
Quarles makes his passion for farming and the land perfectly clear, knowing the quintessential tools and techniques of farming as well as why farming is really about food.
Just as all cooks know a dish is more than the sum of ingredients used, Commissioner Quarles knows farming is more than sun, soil and rain. It is a story of hard work, planning and often maneuvering one’s way through government bureaucracy.
Quarles is eager to educate young people about food production. He speaks of the Department of Agriculture’s mobile trailers that align curriculum with hands-on activities “so students can get their hands dirty.”
“If they are learning about germination in the class, there is no reason they shouldn’t be growing something in their class as well. Better yet, let’s have more field trips to farms,” he says.
“Folks who are out there farming need the rest of the world to understand.”
Kentucky Proud Benefits
Edible readers are well aware that when you buy Kentucky Proud, you are buying local food that you can serve with confidence.
» You are buying the freshest, most nutritious food possible.
» You keep your dollars close to home.
» You are helping a Kentucky farm family earn a living.
» You are reducing the miles that the food has to travel from the farm to your plate.