Hand harvesting hemp by Kentucky Hempsters

Updated: Jan 16, 2019

On Tuesday, September 1st, Kentucky Hempsters hand harvested a portion of a hemp field in Utica, Kentucky (Owensboro). The field was planted by a company partnered with Kentucky Hempsters to facilitate hemp research under the 2015 Kentucky Hemp Pilot Program. See Owensboro Hemp: An update by Kentucky Hempsters for more information.

Here is a description of hand harvesting hemp by Kentucky Hempsters co-founder, Alyssa Erickson.

Hand Harvesting Hemp ---

We were up at 6:30 am. The sun was just peaking in the horizon. Our goal was to make it out to the hemp field by 7:00 am for pre-harvest planning. Plus, we needed enough time to grab a coffee.

The sun was up by the time we pulled into the farm. We felt its warmth start to sizzle on our skin.

This is going to be a long day...

We began to survey the 30-acre plot of Finola hemp plants, and select what we though would be the best material to cut for the days harvest. The crop was plenty mature with its dark brown seeds drying and stems swaying in the light breeze.

Shortly after 8:00 am, a refrigerated semi, or "reefer truck" - no pun intended - and the hand-cutting crew joined us. We grabbed our tools, mostly small hand cutters, and the harvesting began.

Each "cutter" had a laundry basket and we took turns running the baskets to large white plastic storage bags. When the bags were full, we loaded them into the semi with a John Deere front-loader.

Hand cutting hemp crop in Owensboro, Kentucky.

Kentucky Hempsters co-founder, Kirstin Bohnert, loading hemp tops in basket into storage sack.

There were about 15-17 of us in the field at all time throughout the day. The beating sun got hotter throughout the day - water and sunblock were absolute necessities. For lunch, we had local barbecue, potato salad, coleslaw, and chips delivered with sweet tea and lemonade.

As the sun continued to get higher in the sky, the temperature rose to 95 degrees - it was a hot and humid day - so typical for Western Kentucky. After a total of 8 hours, we had hand cut and harvested close to 5 of the 30 acre industrial hemp field, totaling about 7,000 pounds of prestine cut hemp flowertops. Below is a photo of us celebrating our final bag of 40 being lifted into the reefer truck!

Kentucky Hempsters co-founders Kirstin Bohnert and Alyssa Erickson load last sack of hemp from harvest into truck.

Time to call it a day. We still have a three hour drive back to the storage facility in Richmond.

There, we deliver the bags to the facility and load them into large, walk-in freezers. We have no crew - we are the crew now! Taking them one by one, stack by stack, from the truck to the freezer takes about 2 hours. We got there at 11:00 PM, now it's 1:00 am. Time for another 45 minute drive home.

Alas, we make it back to Lexington. We're exhausted, covered in hemp and sweat, but too tired to shower before bed.

--- Hand Harvesting Hemp

Let's do it again next week! Kentucky Hempsters will be assisting with a mechanical harvest next week so stay tuned for updates on the specially designed equipment from the University of Kentucky.

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