Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Kentucky Hemp Project Recap & Wrap-up

When I last posted seven months ago, I honestly thought I would be providing regular updates on the progress of my industrial hemp project here in Kentucky. That did not happen, obviously, and I attribute it to three basic factors:
1) My efforts in the project have been far more extensive — and exhausting — than I ever imagined, leaving me little time or energy for reporting.
2) The progressive decline in my enthusiasm for growing and processing industrial hemp — resulting primarily from ridiculous regulations and restrictions, poor program design, and abject lack of industrial opportunity going forward — kept me in an uninspired frame of mind for reporting.
3) The ease and expediency of posting superficial updates to Facebook — versus the energy and effort required for posting in detail to this "old school" blog — gave me a path of least resistance for postponing (and ultimately neglecting) to update here.
The season is now over and I still have little energy or enthusiasm for reporting. The words of Tennyson in Ulysses — so famously quoted by Robert Falcon Scott after his failure in Antarctica — continue to reverberate in my head: "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

In the briefest possible terms: Several different varieties of industrial hemp were planted, both grain and fiber varieties. Most failed entirely due to weed pressure and lack of crop protection products. Some grew fairly well and were even harvested, but remain sitting in the field due to a lack of market for downstream processing and manufacturing. Even if you grow industrial hemp, there's nothing to do with it... at least not yet. I do not see that changing in the near future, or for many years to come.

Bottom line, I have lost interest in industrial hemp and will not be sticking around for a third season. Two years of involvement without appreciable results or opportunity are the limit for me. That said, this chapter of my exploration has not been a total loss. I've learned a lot, gotten myself in better physical shape than I've been for a while, and experienced another different lifestyle. Morning and evening walks have been spectacular, and Happy has thoroughly enjoyed the freedom and sensory cornucopia of being a farm dog.

By far the biggest -- and most surprising -- learning for me has been just how much I've enjoyed living in a place for a while. For over ten years I have lived a truly nomadic life, living out of a container as small as a duffel bag and no bigger than a compact camper trailer. The comforts of a reclining chair, a full-feature kitchen and even a full-size shower have had an effect on me. I'm not clear what all that implies for my future, but I'm going to think about it in earnest for a while.

One thing is for sure: I don't belong in Kentucky. So, I'm in the process of packing up my gear, getting my road rig ready and planning a migration back to the Pacific Northwest. I have no plans beyond that... Stay tuned!

Saturday, April 02, 2016

My Kentucky Hemp Homestead

A number of factors aligned such that my decision to stay in Kentucky for another season of growing hemp was pretty much a no-brainer. First, the young ladies of Kentucky Hempsters and their sister company United Hemp Industries invited me to manage the farm operations of their research and development project this year. Their plan is sufficiently ambitious and multi-faceted that it not only got my attention but promises to keep me fully engaged in a steep learning curve going forward.

Second, Mulberry Orchard, my favorite young farming family from last year, committed to partnering in the project. They are excellent young farmers and great to work with. Their farming knowledge, well run operations, enthusiasm for learning about growing hemp, and patience with the nuisances of running research test plots on a working farm, all combine to make them perfect partners.

Best of all, they offered to let me live in an old farmhouse on one of their properties! That makes my "commute" to the hemp field just a short walk down my half-mile driveway. It's a huge old place with tons of character, and I am quite happily ensconced in a couple of comfy rooms with some borrowed furniture. Here are views from the driveway and from the front porch:

Morning walks are especially pretty, particularly when there is a clear sky and mist on the fields.

My big barn -- I have several! -- may need a little work, but you sure can't beat it for character.

To say the least, Happy the Sled Farm Dog loves it. There's no limit to how much she can romp, there's no leash law, and there's no end to the wonderful smells, interesting activity and nice people!

Unlike last year, I will be free to post whatever I want to about the project. Between the ambitious hemp plan and all the grass I have to cut, I may not have much time to spare... Stay tuned!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Kentucky Anniversary

Today marks the anniversary of my arrival in Kentucky, and almost a year since my last post. I've been busy, but not with Macgellan kinds of stuff. I've generally enjoyed my time here, despite being somewhat of an alien. Let's face it, I don't share the predominant Kentucky politics, religion or love of basketball. Nevertheless, I've made a few friends, had some good experiences and learned a lot.

I'm not at liberty to say much about the project I did here last year. In brief, I was engaged to move here and participate in Kentucky's nascent industrial hemp program, to grow some hemp and prepare it for processing. Easier said than done.

Because industrial hemp has been foolishly outlawed in the US for almost a century, I quickly found that nobody knows much -- and I knew nothing -- about how to grow it. Starting from scratch, I recruited farmers, sourced seeds, managed agronomy, designed specialty harvesting equipment and facilitated harvest and handling. I can't say the project was entirely successful, but for a first-time effort it was rewarding to get any crops at all. Farming is harder than it looks.

If you'd like to get a look-and-feel for the project, you can watch the video on my client's website. As you do, keep in mind that when the farmers say they've learned everything they know about growing hemp from the company, they're talking about me. I never pretended to know anything about growing industrial hemp -- and my farmers could see that right away -- but I have a pretty good record for learning things quickly and teaching it on the fly!

That project wrapped up in October, but I decided to hang around for a while. Why am I still here in the dead of winter? Well, partly because I have some ideas that I think might be fun to pursue involving industrial hemp, and partly because I honestly don't have anything else on my to-do list right now. It's actually been fun to be in one place for a while, not occupied with exploration and giving myself a chance to really catch up with myself. I'll let you know what comes of it!