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Hemp Returns to Ashland, the historic Henry Clay Estate in Lexington

Updated: Jan 17, 2019

Kentucky Hempsters are facilitating the first hemp crop at Ashland, The Henry Clay Estate since the late 19th century. On Tuesday, May 2nd, 2016, history was made as the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment planted the first plot next to the Lexington icon. The small demonstration plot will be used to educate Ashland visitors about the crop, and it’s significance to the state throughout the season.

UK Agronomists Rich Mundell and Mark Sizemore planting the hemp plot - May 2, 2016
UK Agronomists Rich Mundell and Mark Sizemore planting the hemp plot - May 2, 2016

Ashland was once a 600-acre plantation and home of Kentucky’s favorite son, Henry Clay. Clay grew thousands of pounds of hemp at his Ashland Estate, having it manufactured primarily into rope and cotton bagging. Today, The Henry Clay Memorial Foundation owns and operates Ashland, maintaining the estate as a national historic landmark and educational center for the cultural and social history of the 19th century and speci cally, interprets the life and times of Henry Clay, the Clay Family and other residents of the estate for the public.

“The return of hemp to Ashland is timely and underscores Clay’s foresight as an entrepreneurial farmer and visionary politician,” stated Jim Clark, Executive Director of the Henry Clay Memorial Foundation.

Hemp was a principal element of Henry Clay’s personal economy and it greatly influenced his public career. It even inspired major elements of his political plan called The American System.

“There can be no doubt that hemp played a central role in Henry Clay’s life and that he was key to the Kentucky industry in the antebellum period,” said Ashland Curator Eric Brooks. “Clay was the staunchest and most recognized supporter of the industry and he was known to work tirelessly for “’American Hemp – Kentucky Hemp – Ashland Hemp.’”

Even after Clay’s death, Ashland continued as one of Lexington’s esteemed establishments by be- coming the rst campus of the University of Kentucky. This year will be the 150th anniversary since the estate opened as the administration building for the Kentucky Agricultural and Mechanical College. Significantly enough, UK agronomist Rich Mundell is lead researcher on the project and will be planting the small plot at Ashland. It will showcase both a ber and grain variety to illustrate the difference between the two types and their varied uses.

Kentucky Agricultural and Mechanical College at Ashland, 1866 - Courtesy of Kentucky Digital Library
Kentucky Agricultural and Mechanical College at Ashland, 1866 - Courtesy of Kentucky Digital Library

“The University of Kentucky is beginning its third year of industrial hemp research and one of the most challenging things for us is to get people to understand that this plant is very different from it notorious cousin,” said Mundell. “We are excited to be a part of a project that has a unique historical signi cance, the predecessor of UK found its beginning at the estate, but more importantly a project that could potentially educate the many people that visit the estate about the bene ts that hemp could bring to the economy of Kentucky.”

The project is facilitated by United Hemp Industries as part of the Kentucky Hemp Pilot Program to conduct small scale, on-farm processing. Kentucky Hempsters will be assisting in project maintenance throughout the season, and will process the crop after it’s harvested. We have partnered with the Henry Clay Memorial Foundation and the University of Kentucky as Kentucky Hempsters to create this historical hemp experience.

“It’s important for us to shed light on our hemp heritage as the crop begins to ourish once again. Not only does our history give us an opportunity to discuss what hemp is and how it can be used, but it helps put into perspective how signi cant the industry could be to us today,” said Kentucky Hempsters co-founder and UHI Principal, Alyssa Erickson. “We’re grateful to be a part of this historic educational opportunity, and to commemorate Henry Clay’s legacy as ‘the prince of hemp.’”

On June 11, we will host Henry Clay’s Hemp Symposium to revisit this important legacy and consider the future of this crop in the Bluegrass state. The symposium will include historical speakers, hemp advocates, and people involved in the current hemp revival in Kentucky.

Kentucky Hempsters will also formally unveil the new hemp plot at Ashland, the first planted on the estate in over 130 years. The event will culminate in a dinner for 75 prepared by a local celebrity chef featuring dishes infused with hemp ingredients.

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