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On Tuesday night, the Shelby County Farm City Banquet was celebrated again, and Ferenc Vegh is a big reason why. Vegh is a native of Smithfield who has been farming since he was in the fifth grade and started to work on his father’s farm. Now he has his own place on Hempridge Road in Southville, where he is installing a winery. Lisa Davis is his partner, and he has an 11-year-old son, Nathan. Since 2000, he has been an agent for Kentucky Farm Bureau. In 2001, he helped resurrect and still chairs the Farm City Banquet, one of the nation’s oldest, and last week was awarded the first-ever Charles Eastin Outstanding Service Award from the National Farm-City Council. The award honors an individual who has contributed to Farm-City activities as an advocate for accurate communications between rural and urban audiences. Vegh was nominated by American Farm Bureau Director Terry Gilbert of Danville. He took a few minutes to answer questions about his agriculture, his role and the award.
The Sentinel-News: How did you learn about this award? Was it a surprise?
Ferenc Vegh:Got a letter in the mail. Yes. John Wills, Doug Langley, Pat Hargadon, Terry Gilbert (American Farm Bureau board of directors) and Judge Rob Rothenburger nominated me.
S-N: They say you saved the Farm City Banquet in Shelby County? How did you
Vegh:When I joined Kiwanis, at one of the first meetings, it came up for discussion that they were not going to continue with it any more. I made the comment that "it was ashamed that we had the oldest one in the U.S., and we were letting it go because of lack of interest on the club’s part." Someone said, "Well if you feel so strongly about it, why don't you take it up?" So I did.
S-N: Why was it important to save the banquet?
Vegh:I think because of the history of the event and of agriculture in our county, and also – it is primarily the only outlet we have anymore to highlight agriculture. The Tobacco Festival is long gone, and the county fair is primarily attended and participated by folks in the agriculture community. This is the only time we can spotlight agriculture and it's participants – the farmers.
S-N: As someone involved in agriculture, what are the challenges you are facing?
Vegh:Costs of inputs vs. returns. Also, nobody wants to do manual labor anymore.
S-N: When people talk about employment problems, they often mention agricultural jobs as being too difficult/underpaid/"dirty" for most Americans to accept. Do you see this to be true?
Vegh:Definitely. It is easier to sit inside in the "AC"....I think as a society, we have definitely become soft. We view agriculture (our need for food and fiber) as something that "someone else does somewhere else."
S-N: You recently began to grow grapes and lay the groundwork for a full-blown winery. How is that going?
Vegh:We are in Year 5. We had our second year of an actual harvest. Sold most of the grapes last two years, dabbling with making of the wine with the rest of the ones we kept as to get the process perfected when we finally are ready to open. Every year we are purchasing equipment and getting closer to that goal of opening. Planning on building a facility (cellar) in the near future and planting more grapes (possibly some red varieties next). As far as time frame to be open to the public: just as we have extra funds available to purchase the equipment and get the facilities built.
S-N: If you had a crystal ball, how would you picture agriculture in this county in the year 2035?
Vegh:Depends on a couple of things: (A) We have to get a realistic and reliable means to address our energy production. (1) If we can tap energy sources here in the U.S. and this hemisphere (coal, natural gas, oil & nuclear) and stop depending on foreign sources, (2) forego costly experiments into energy sources that are not realistic / reliable for political purposes – we then have a chance at drastically dropping input costs. (B) We have to work out a reliable means to labor in the U.S. without jeopardizing national security – and put an end to the social stigma of "doing a little hard work for the earned dollar." If we could tackle those two agendas, the outlook for 2035 would be a lot more optimistic to feeding the current 7 billion folks on the planet (and projected by that time to be 8-9 billion). I think if we don't get a handle on those two areas – the only avenue is that society will be forced to return to a "self sustenance" type of food supply – like it was a hundred years ago. In other words, everyone would be responsible for the bulk of their own food production.