“The Third Thursday Thing” (Southern SARE-PDP) was funded for two years in 1997 to provide monthly, hands-on training to Extension Agents and paraprofessionals so they could recognize the natural progression and growth of forages, livestock, and crops that were produced under sustainable or organic methods, while using the Kentucky State University (KSU) Research Farm for demonstrational purposes.

Entitled “Kentucky Extension Training Program”, the project started on the third Thursday of May 1997, an available date on the University of Kentucky (UK) Extension Training calendar. Monthly dates were selected based on availability; unknown to KSU, these dates fell on third Thursdays.
The format was to provide a monthly educational “mini-field day” offering topics on animals and plants, with an emphasis on emerging issues, sustainable agriculture, new potential enterprises, and hands-on identification of plants and insects as participants walked the KSU Research farm. A Statewide Stewardship Farming Field Day was held on the third Thursday of September 1997 with 350 participants.

SARE_SouthernThis material was first presented as a poster at SARE’s 20th Anniversary New American Farms Conference (March 25-27, 2008, Kansas City).

Download poster http://kysu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/ThirdThursday.pdf
(2.5 MB pdf)

This month’s program

It had some 30 demonstrations and workshops taught by professionals and producers. By the November 1997 mini-field day, farmers were clamoring to attend, so the mini-field days were opened to the public.

People attending Third Thursday

Attendance quadrupled. There was some concern about the integrity of the PDP program, but KSU argued that it is appropriate for farmers and professionals learn together, especially as many farmers are mentors. Throughout 1998, KSU received hundreds of calls asking: “What are the topics for that thing on the third Thursdays?”

The project had over 1,200 participants, the training program was a success, the KSU Research Farm received a Service Award from the Soil Conservation Districts for its leadership, and the two-year project was to end.

BUT IT DID NOT STOP THERE. On the third Thursday of November 1998, 35 farmers and professionals attended an unplanned mini-field day. KSU’s staff rapidly put together a program on health and food safety issues related to direct marketing, called the Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA) and the State Health Department to send speakers, and led a lively discussion that brought many issues and concerns to the forefront.

People attending Third Thursday under tents

“The Third Thursday Thing” had evolved into a regular educational program on sustainable agriculture and KSU was established as a leader in sustainable agriculture.

  • December 1998’s Third Thursday, saw the beginning of monthly mailing lists, regular e-mails to County Extension Offices, and participant input into programs for 1999.
  • The USDA Risk Management Agency and Natural Resources Conservation Service asked to co-sponsor “The Third Thursday Thing”, and the KDA, the KY Legislative Research Commission, and other state agencies became regular participants.
  • USDA agencies began to use “Third Thursdays” to make announcements and conduct trainings about their programs.

And attendance continued to grow. In 1999, KSU changed the format from mini-field days to more in-depth training workshops with hands-on activities. The farm walks continued during the noon hour to show the changes in crops, forages, and insect populations.

Because of the KSU Research Farm’s location, a working lunch was provided for participants with the premise that, when appropriate, the meal would reflect the educational topic.

Third Thursday participants showing IDsThe KSU Community Research Service and Aquaculture Program staff became excited about “Third Thursdays”. They began including Extension demonstrations into their research projects, planning hands-on activities, and the decision was made to focus many KSU agriculture research efforts around sustainable agriculture. Researchers became more involved in “Third Thursdays” from agriculture production, marketing, human health, safety, and nutrition aspects. “Third Thursdays” were rapidly becoming a part of KSU’s 1890 Land Grant Program. And the KSU Research and Demonstration Farm enlarged its meeting facility and added a certified kitchen.

The State Small Farm Field Day in September of 1999 had nearly 800 participants. In addition to some 40 workshops and demonstrations by professionals and farmers, the KDA and Farm Safety Council used it to proclaim Kentucky’s Farm Safety Week, the Partners for Family Farms (with members including KSU, the University of Kentucky, Berea College, Heifer International, the KY League of Cities, KDA, KY Health Department, and other non-profits) was organized, and plans were made to develop a collaborative project with Tennessee State University (TSU) which was launched as the SARE-PDP “The Third Tuesday-Thursday Thing” in 2000 with “Third Tuesdays” at TSU and “Third Thursdays” at KSU.

Third Thursday participants looking at the start of a greenhouseOnce “The Third Thursday Thing” became an established part of the KSU Land Grant Program in 1999, it continued to expand and become a part of many of KSU’s activities. Many conferences and educational meetings are planned around “Third Thursdays” including

    • the Annual Small, Limited-Resource/Minority Farmers Conference,
    • the International Pawpaw Conference,
    • the Regional SARE Goat Project’s Collaborator Conference,
    • the SRRMEC Regional Conference on the “Risk-Assessed Business Planning for Small Producers” curriculum, and many others.

Monthly attendances often topped 200 so the new meeting room was vastly outgrown.

Third Thursday participants looking over a fieldA Biennial State Small Farm Field Day on the “Third Thursday” of September has been established at KSU and an Annual State Small Farm Field Day on the “Third Tuesday” of July has been established at TSU. KSU celebrated its 10th year at the 2007 “Third Thursday Thing 10th Year Celebration and Small Farm Field Day.” There were over 50 presentations and demonstrations by professionals and farmers with 850 participants.

TSU’s 2007 Annual Small Farm Field Day had 650 participants with over 30 presentations and workshops. KSU “Third Thursdays” have had over 18,000 participants from about 25 states and territories and six foreign nations. Year 11 is off and running.

“Third Thursdays” are a part of KSU and sustainable agriculture in Kentucky. And a new facility that seats 650 is being constructed at the KSU Research and Demonstration Farm.

Third Thursday participants looking over a field


    1. producer and professional multidisciplinary education,
    2. direct interaction between research, extension, and producers leading to applied and multidisciplinary research and extension activities with strong producer support,
    3. new producer associations and cooperatives,
    4. increased institutional support by USDA, state agencies, and legislators,
    5. expanded sustainable agriculture practices and use of alternative enterprises in horticulture, organics, livestock, pasture, forestry, and aquaculture, apiculture, and cropping systems,
    6. expanded markets, farmers markets, csa’s, and direct market opportunities,
    7. expanded use of USDA and state agencies, and
    8. new interdisciplinary research and extension projects throughout Kentucky.


by Marion Simon, PhD