Story and photos by Hannah McCarthy
Just 2 miles outside of downtown Cave City, Kentucky, the landscape quickly turns from old brick and mortar to farmhouses and dirt roads. Down one such dirt road, a 45-acre plot of land rests nestled between patches of trees, large stretches of wildflowers and tall grasses. Two 2012 Clayton model mobile homes, an old red barn and a spattering of newer-looking structures dot the immense sea of green grass.
The dirt road leads to a gravel pathway almost up to the door of the main house. This is the new home and farm of the Wilson family, one of Kentucky’s first families to enter into the world of hemp farming through the Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program.
Inside, two men, the heads of the two households, scurry around in the small kitchen of the main home. Dodging the kitchen island, the dog and each other, they are busy making phone calls to clients and searching for a product or a tool or a piece of paper. There is much to be done on this April day, as the summer is quickly approaching.
One of them is a burly bearded man in a farmer’s plaid button down. The hat he wears reads “Green Remedy,” and it is adorned with buttons and pins with pro-hemp sayings, phrases and images. Tufts of curly gray and black hair stick out from beneath the hat, and a salt-and-pepper goatee wraps around his bright smile.
This is Chad Wilson, sometimes better known as the Hemp Preacher.
He doesn’t remember when he first got the name or even who gave it to him; all he knows is that it has caught on over the years.
“I can get up on a soapbox pretty quick,” he laughs. “Thing is I get to speakin’ and it just turns to preachin’.”
Chad knows he is not the only one out there who preaches the power of hemp as a versatile and strong plant. He believes in its abilities to rejuvenate Kentucky farms and the agriculture industry across the nation.
As for his nickname, Chad does not want to end up as the face of Kentucky hemp, although he slowly starting to gain that reputation. He said his biggest goal is to spread the word about the industry and to help it grow with or without his name.
This year, Chad and his family are taking their involvement in the industry one step further. They will be planting and growing their own hemp in order to have a hand in every aspect of the production.
“We’re trying to get into a position where we help others, and we feel like it’s our calling; by doing that we help grow the industry.”
Hemp History and the IHRPP
Hemp has been planted on American soil since the Colonial Era. According to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, Kentucky planted its first crop in 1775, and the state would become the leader in hemp production for years to come. In 1850, hemp production was at its peak with 40,000 tons of the crop coming out of Kentucky’s soil. However, in 1938 all forms of cannabis, including hemp, were outlawed, and so began its disappearance from the American farm.
During World War II, a small resurgence occurred in the industry, as hemp was used to make rope and materials for the war effort. Once the war ended, the crops began to dwindle and died out completely by 1958.
The “Second Prohibition,” as it is called by some hemp enthusiasts, occurred in 1970, when the Controlled Substances Act was passed, declaring Marijuana a “Schedule 1 substance.” Although hemp is also from the cannabis plant, it is grown and cultivated differently than marijuana. However, much of the legislation passed in the 19th and 20th centuries lumped both plants together without exception.
While marijuana is grown in a wider, spread out area, hemp farmers hope that stalks will grow up rather than out. Marijuana is also grown and harvested for its THC content. Hemp is cultivated for its seed and fiber. It has been used to make lotions, clothing and hair care products, but until recently it has been a U.S. import.
The 2014 U.S. farm bill allowed certain states to test hemp farm pilot programs. Kentucky was one of the first states to adopt the Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program, and from its installation has seen the acreage of crops planted go from zero to 2,300 acres in just under 3 years. The Kentucky Department of Agriculture hopes to see continued growth in the industry as the 2017 season begins around late May. However, many local farmers still worry about the risks of industrial hemp farming. . .