Horse-Racing, Bourbon, & Hemp: Kentucky Institutions
When you mention what comes from Kentucky the usually answer is what some consider vices; Horse Racing and Bourbon. And that is true, both are part of the heritage and history of Kentucky but there is another. Kentucky used to be known for growing the best Hemp in the world. And just as bourbon was born from the fertile soil of the Bluegrass State, Kentucky Hemp was prized for its strong fibers and many uses.
Hemp was first cultivated in Danville, KY in 1775 which predates the first horse racing in Lexington, KY by 12 years. The first hemp was of European origin and came by way of the colonies. Seeds from China came by way of missionaries and now make up mostly all the hemp grown in Kentucky. By the mid-19th century Kentucky was the nation’s leading producer growing over 40,000 tons in 1850, with Lexington becoming a hub of the industry. “Kentucky hemp was world-renowned for its height, hardiness, fiber yield, quality and rapid maturation and commonly yielded five to eight tons of dry stalks per acre. This strain is believed to have been cultivated in Kentucky around 1850 from the mixing of Chinese and European lineages, but is now considered extinct. The seed stock held at the USDA’s National Seed Storage Laboratory was discarded in the 1950's because hemp was no longer considered an important fiber resource.” (1) US Hemp production declined after the civil war but was grown again during WWII. In 1942, Kentucky was chosen to be where the US produced its hemp with over 36,000 acres being used for the war effort. In the 1970's Kentucky became known for its quality cannabis, although illegal. And like bourbon, it has been used by generations to bring food to the table in depressed areas of the state. And like horse racing, it is world renowned and a product of great breeding and geography. Yet we have left Hemp behind from the recollections of our past and that stifles our future. We as a state should re-embrace Hemp as part of our legacy. Fore it comes from the rebellious spirit carved from the fortitude of our early settlers and the god given land they conquered with horse-racing, bourbon and hemp.