Through the 1800s and early 1900s, Kentucky was the top hemp producer
Nothing says Kentucky more than pastures of bluegrass, racehorses and fine bourbon. But that’s not enough to satisfy the State’s Commissioner of Agriculture, Ryan Quarles. “Why not let Kentucky be known for hemp as well?” asks Quarles. “When people think of Kentucky, I want them to think the same thing they think about hemp like they do Idaho potatoes and Florida orange juice.”
Once upon a time, that was the case. The Commonwealth’s history with hemp is long and proud. Throughout the 1800s and the early 1900s, Kentucky was the top hemp producer in the country. No less a figure than Henry Clay, former Secretary of State, U.S. Senator and Speaker of the House, was a Kentucky hemp farmer during the early 1800s. By 1900, three-quarters of all the hemp grown in the U.S. was produced in just nine Kentucky counties.
“Countless family farms grew it as a cash crop, including my family, as recently as World War II,” Quarles explained.
Indeed, hemp production was as much a part of the war effort as were Victory Gardens. In 1942, farmers planted it at the request of the U.S. government to be made into rope and riggings for the Navy. In 1943, U.S. farmers harvested 146,200 acres of hemp, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released the film Hemp for Victory, to advise farmers about how to handle this ancient crop.
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