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Kentucky Hemp Highway hopes to provide education about hemp history

The Kentucky Hemp Highway, which stretches from Jefferson County to Mason County, includes a series stops that educate Kentucky residents and visitors about the state’s hemp history. This file photo was taken at Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate, which is not a stop on the Hemp Highway. Hemp was growing there in a small research plot in June 2016 as part of a University of Kentucky and United Hemp Industries project.
The Kentucky Hemp Highway, which stretches from Jefferson County to Mason County, includes a series stops that educate Kentucky residents and visitors about the state’s hemp history. This file photo was taken at Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate, which is not a stop on the Hemp Highway. Hemp was growing there in a small research plot in June 2016 as part of a University of Kentucky and United Hemp Industries project. File Photo

Hemp lovers might want to blaze a new trail to learn about Kentucky’s rich history with the plant.

The Hemp Highway of Kentucky, organized by Kentucky Hemp Highway President Daniel Isenstein, is a self-guided, free tour to teach those interested about the state’s hemp industry. Hemp, one of the oldest domesticated crops and a variety of the Cannabis sativa plant, is used to make paper, clothing and biofuel.

Isenstein, who describes himself as a history buff, said he has had an interest in hemp since he was attending graduate school at Bowling Green State University in Ohio in the 1990s.

“When I started looking at the unique history between Kentucky and how much the hemp plant influenced state politics, the growth of the economy, agricultural models, whether or not the state became a slave state ... there was a story to tell,” he said.

The tour, which has stops in Clark, Fayette, Madison, Jessamine, Scott and Woodford counties, also branches out to Jefferson and Mason counties.

The tour is based around history markers which detail some of the county’s history in the hemp industry. For example, Woodford County was one of the top hemp producing counties in Kentucky and had a crop income that reached a high of $125,000 in the 1840s. In addition to the historical markers, the tour incorporates historical attractions such as the Mulberry Orchard in Shelby County which offers seasonal tours of a working hemp farm.

“I’m hoping that people understand that there was a great deal of wealth generated by this industry,” Isenstein said.

Kentucky’s history with hemp ranges from pre-revolutionary war to present time, he said.

Later this year, Isenstein plans to incorporate an audio tour through download and add additional exhibits.

Hemp Highway maps will be available in 70 area hotels between Frankfort and Winchester on the AD-RACK brochure racks by Feb. 1.

Kentucky has recognized the usage of hemp. In 2014, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture launched a hemp pilot project which is intended to create information on production methods, seed varieties, harvesting and processing techniques.

Regional farms and companies have participated in the program. Atalo Holdings, a hemp research and production company in Winchester, recently announced a $2 million payout from the program from its 2016 participation.

Nancy Turner, tourism director of Winchester and Clark County, said she thought the trail was a good idea because it brings people off of the interstate and into the more rural communities.

“Hemp is such a big part of our heritage in Kentucky, but especially Clark County,” she said. “We’ve seen a definite resurgence of hemp here, locally.”

As an example, historic hemp seed cleaning equipment that was used in an old hemp seed warehouse will now be used by Atalo Holdings to clean its hemp seeds, she said.

For those interested in learning about the hemp industry, three meetings hosted by the University of Kentucky, Kentucky Hemp Industries Association and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture are planned.

The meetings will be Jan. 30 in Christian County, Jan. 31 in Clark County and Feb. 9 in Shelby County. The meetings will be at each of the county’s respective County Extension offices. All meetings will start at 10 a.m. local time.

Tom Keene, a hemp extension associate with the University of Kentucky who will be at the meetings, said he has seen an interest in hemp increase in the past few years.

“It continues to be a very, very hot topic, if you will, in the state of Kentucky and other states as well,” he said.

Despite this, Keene warned to temper enthusiasm as hemp research is still in its infancy.

“We’ve only been researching this plant for three years,” he said. “We don’t have all the answers, but we’re going to continue to work until we do.”

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