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Kentucky Hemp Museum

The history of hemp in Kentucky is essentially the history of the state itself. From the first crop planted in 1775, through the height of Kentucky’s hemp production in the mid-1800’s, to the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act (when hemp lost its identity to marijuana) and a brief resurgence in government-sponsored hemp production during World War II, the hemp plant has been a part of the Kentucky landscape. Even today, wild hemp can be found along riverbanks and in back corners of farms around Kentucky.

Re-introduction of industrial hemp as a staple crop in Kentucky could help to reduce the impact of a transition away from the declining tobacco crop, currently depended upon by farmers, and help provide an environmentally sound, economically feasible, alternative cash crop for rural Kentucky. The principle obstacle to its re-introduction is industrial hemp’s association with marijuana, resulting in the belief that all hemp is marijuana and that marijuana is the only marketable variety of Cannabis.

The Kentucky Hemp Growers Cooperative Museum & Library was established in October 1994, as a non-profit organization, to educate the public about the cultural, historic and economic importance of the hemp industry in Kentucky and the United States. The Museum & Library has approached these objectives by displaying, wherever possible, implements, tools and machines that were used in the production, harvesting and industrial processing of hemp; and by developing and disseminating informational materials dealing with the historic and resurgent hemp industry.

Although the Kentucky Hemp Museum is a small organization, we have had some noteworthy accomplish-ments over the years. For instance, the museum had a background role in the establishment and operation of the Kentucky Hemp and Related Fibers Task Force appointed by Kentucky Governor Brereton Jones in November 1994. The Task Force’s mission included directives such as identifying current and potential legal uses of hemp, providing an overview of the historic significance of hemp, as well as contemporary uses in other countries, identifying methods of selective breeding to produce low-THC hemp and determining the marketability and competitiveness of industrial hemp products and the technology required for growing and processing the crop. Even though there were many positive aspects to the June 1995 Task Force report, they came to the conclusion that because Cannabis sativa L. is illegal in the United States, it would be impossible to develop an infrastructure for the production and marketing of industrial hemp until these issues are resolved. However, the Kentucky Hemp Museum sponsored a University of Kentucky opinion poll that same year, which despite the Task Force’s findings, showed that 77 % of the respondents across the state were in favor of industrial hemp.

In 1996, the Kentucky Hemp Museum launched the Mobile Hemp Museum & Library Exhibit to spread educational information about industrial hemp to the public at community events and gatherings. The Mobile Exhibit started with a van, three multimedia exhibit modules, product samples and informational handouts. Since the beginning, the Mobile Exhibit has grown to include a full hemp interior for the van, information boards and handouts covering all of the latest hemp information and technology, as well as video capability. The Mobile Hemp Exhibit is well known across Kentucky, and has also made numerous presentations across the United States in Nevada, Tennessee, North Carolina, New Mexico, Washington D.C., and Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, as well as representing the North American Industrial Hemp Council at the Vancouver Hemp Symposium.

In 1997, along with continuing the Mobile Exhibit, the Museum & Library purchased a self-rake reaper believed to be one of only three still intact in the United States.

With the help of the Deni Montana Foundation, the Museum & Library sponsored an Economic Impact Study of Industrial Hemp in Kentucky in 1998. The study was conducted by the University of Kentucky’s Gatton College of Business and Economics. The purpose of the study was to analyze the potential economic impact of industrial hemp in Kentucky by examining both the current markets for hemp as well as possible new markets. The outcome of the study was quite positive, concluding that there are currently several niche markets for hemp in the US including horse bedding, seed oils, and specialty papers. Newer markets for hemp in the US include automobile parts such as upholstery, fiber composites and carpeting. Hemp may also reduce the farmers’ need for herbicides. Studies have shown that industrial hemp as a rotation crop reduces weeds and increases future crop yields. The economic impact of hemp could mean hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars for Kentucky’s economy by building only one processing facility, one hemp paper-pulp plant and producing certified seed. These estimates are conservative because they are based only on specialty markets already working in Europe. With continuing development of technology and increasing uses for hemp, the possibilities for economic benefit could be much greater.

For the past three years, the Museum & Library has also printed and distributed a historic hemp calendar. The calendar includes photographs taken around central Kentucky in the 1930s and 1940s, recent industrial hemp farming photographs, and important hempen dates. The Museum & Library will be producing a set of historic postcards for 2000 instead of a calendar, to save on paper costs and to reach more people.

In order to further its educational impact, the Kentucky Hemp Museum has opened a small permanent location in Versailles, Kentucky. This location places the Museum in a central, historically important area of Woodford county, which was once the leading hemp seed producing area in the United States.

Currently, the Kentucky Hemp Museum occupies a small space of about 1000 square feet in the first floor if a building well over 100 years old. Tours are self-guided, or guided by the director or another board member if the visitor so desires. Admission is free. Some larger pieces of historic agricultural equipment, including the self-rake reaper and a field decorticator, are on display in nearby Lexington, Kentucky at Club Hemp. Some artefacts are kept in storage due to lack of space and they are represented by photographs in the permanent museum exhibit. The current historic displays focus on Kentucky and the US, while exhibits on the resurgent hemp industry focus on Europe and Canada. We also maintain a library collection of many historic documents from Kentucky’s hemp industry as well as many new publications from around the world on the potential uses and benefits of hemp for sustainable agriculture and eco-friendly products.

This is the first step toward our future goal of opening a larger and truly permanent museum, which can house our entire collection of rare historic hemp farming equipment and our library of archival materials. Another goal we would like to reach in the very near future is the establishment of an educational website so we can share our collections with others around the world. We are also working on yearly museum memberships, including newsletters and special merchandise offerings to raise funds to continue our educational mission. Although we have operated through generous support of the Turner Foundation and the Deni Montana Foundation, donations, both financial and of exhibit materials, are always needed and very welcome. To contact the Kentucky Hemp Museum & Library, please e-mail: "kyhempmuse@aol.com", or write to: 149 Lexington Street, Versailles, KY 40383, Tel. +1 (606) 873-8957.


Heather Gifford

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