Kentucky Hemp

Thanks to grants from Patagonia’s Environmental Grants program and the Blackie Foundation, Fibershed has been in collaboration with various organizations to support the raw plant processing and cloth creation processes for this historic project.

On June 1st of 2014, the fields of Eastern Kentucky became the site of a healing return of veterans and an age-old tradition of hemp agriculture. The Growing Warriors non-profit organization, in collaboration with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture and the University of Kentucky, were able to work together to bring in seeds of a fiber strain known as Futura 75, originally developed by the French.

hemp seeds being planted

Utilizing hand-planting techniques and a grain drill for planting; just under 2 acres was seeded.

Rows were 1 foot apart
Seeds were ½-inch apart
Planted ½ to ¾ inch deep
30 pounds of seed to the acre

The plants were ¾ inch tall within seven days of seeding, and within 14 days they were 7 inches tall. Within 51 days the plants were over 5 feet tall and by July 20th the males had flowered and were ready for harvest. Harvesting took place by hand as well as with the use of a sickle bar mower. Next year there are hopes of working with a reaper and binder that was originally designed in Italy, and will work well for small scale agriculture.

harvesting hemp

Crop was rain fed:
June: 10 inches of rain
July: 6 inches of rain
August: 8 inches of rain

Once the crop was harvested, research was done to create on-farm, people-powered methods to separate the fiber from the woody hurd—the first step in processing for textiles and other goods. On-site engineer Kevin Lanzi built the decorticator shown in the photos below using plans that originated with Thomas Jefferson. This machine folds up and fits into a car or truck, and can be transported to do the task of breaking, scutching and hackling the hemp in an ‘all-in-one’ method.

hemp decortication

Next Steps:
Working with BastCore (an in-field decorticator) and Tersus Solutions, we are currently in the process of developing a recipe for de-gumbing the hemp, for use in both artisan and more modern and scaled textile manufacturing equipment. Our next update will include images of our ‘mill-ready’ fibers and details on the collaborators that are helping to make that happen. Kentucky Cloth is on its way.

Photo credits: Seeds and planting by Megan Hollenbeck, harvesting by Erin Axelrod, decortication machine courtesy of Growing Warriors.