PARIS — Doug Witt points to a patchy stand of trees on his 700-acre Bourbon County farm.
He calls the formerly tree-dense area — anchored on one end by a blue ash and the other by an oak — the savannah because over the years it has lost a lot of its tree canopy naturally.
Figuring that other property owners had similar desires to refurbish their tree cover gave Witt an idea: tree farming.
"I've just always had a passion for trees," Witt, 52, said. "Every year we lose so many of these big trees on the farm."
Witt's Oakland Farm, on Winchester Road outside Paris, has traditionally specialized in cattle and tobacco, although it has also produced soybeans and corn. A few years ago, Witt decided, briefly, to branch out by trying pumpkin farming.
Now he stands before 2,000 trees in black plastic jugs. The little trees have established root systems and are certified Kentucky Proud. The sycamores in the front row, in particular, are growing great guns.
Witt is selling the trees for $10. And there are 10 varieties available.
Farm diversification and finding ways to connect with consumers is a subject that Tim Woods, extension professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics at the University of Kentucky, knows well.
After tobacco's heyday as a cash crop, many farmers not only shifted over to traditional commodities, but also some began to experiment with other, more specialized crops, Woods said. That coincided with the rise in favor of local products to local markets.
"It creates a lot of incentive and a fresh new market," Woods said.
Some farmers, for example, partner with area restaurants and schools on food crops.
Others, like Witt, are seeking to take advantage of the market for trees that don't have the travel and handling stress that trees bought at big box stores undergo. He's selling his trees at the Farmer's Market in Paris and hopes to broaden his sales to include the Lexington Farmer's Market.
"We see very clearly from the buyer's point of view strong demand for locally grown products," Woods said.
The biggest problem the farmers have, he said "is really having a merchandiseable volume that they can promote."
The trees at Witt's farm are well-suited to Kentucky growing conditions, not only on farms but also in neighborhoods. White oak and scarlet oak, varieties offered by Witt, are approved by Lexington's city government as street trees.
The pricing allows for a modest profit and a memorable price point, according to Witt.
Oakland Farms offers a variety of oaks: northern red, white, chestnut and bur. It also offers persimmon, shagbark hickory, Chinese chestnut, white pine and pecan.
"I've grown up coming out to the farm," said Greenfield, a University of Kentucky junior. "I remember jumping over these hay bales."
Witt's family has been on the farm since 1876. Greenfield, along with her cousins, will be the sixth generation on the farm.
Witt hopes to sell all 2,000 trees within the next few months.
And the leftovers? Witt will probably plant them on his farm as he rebuilds the tree canopy.
"These are trees that have a history," Greenfield said. "They can grow up to be these magnificent specimens."
Ray Tackett, a horticulture specialist at the agriculture extension office in Bourbon County, said that recently he has had requests for growing information on subjects as diverse as shitake mushrooms and lavender.
Close by Witt in Bourbon County, Jeff Carter still does standard farming — including cattle, hay and tobacco — but he's also trying shitake mushrooms and mums. His first crop of shitake mushrooms recently appeared.
He and his wife Melissa started with 250 mums in 2009. Now they're at 4,500 mums.
Some will be sold wholesale, and some at the Bourbon County farmers' market, but you can also buy them directly from Carter at his Bourbon County farm at 167 Collins Road. They are $12 for a 12-inch pot.
"We send mums as far away as Carter County, as close as Paris," Carter said. "We started in that business, the wife and I, just to have something to do together. It got bigger than the both of us."
The pricing is memorable and, like Witt's, emphasizes value.
"We just feel like we would like to give someone some value so they're not taking a lot of disposable income just to buy a flower," Carter said. "It's like anything else in farming. You're not going to get rich at it, but it keeps the lights on and the water running."