By Daniel Isenstein.
Henry Clay (1777-1852) is arguably one of the most important politicians of the antebellum period and certainly the most important political voice to emerge from my hometown of Lexington, Kentucky. Clay is best known as being a former Secretary of State, a Senator, Presidential candidate and author of the Missouri Compromise. In history class he is known by his nickname, “the Great Compromiser”.
I grew up within a 2 mile walk of his estate. Ashland, his mansion is now a museum that I toured as a child when I moved to Kentucky. As a student at Henry Clay High School, my friends and I used the surrounding estate grounds as “base” for our neighborhood shenanigans. We would take candles and boom boxes into the ice houses and party. Or, if I was lucky a special friend, bottle of wine and a blanket spread under the giant ash trees for which the estate is named.
During Clay’s lifetime Lexington, Kentucky in the heart of the Bluegrass Region, was the center of the hemp universe. The 10 Counties that comprise the Bluegrass Region produced 90% of the hemp consumed in the United States before the Civil War. In 1803 the Hunt & Brand Company was established to manufacture the first hemp bagging made in the United States. In the 1840’s Fayette County had 65 operating ropewalks for processing hemp. And one of the crops that Henry Clay raised on his Ashland Estate near downtown Lexington, Kentucky was hemp.
After approximately a 125 year absence from the grounds hemp has returned to the Ashland Estate. On June 11, 2016 the Kentucky Hempsters and United Hemp Industries sponsored an event at Ashland to publicize the return of the crop that was once the life blood of Kentucky.
The Kentucky Hemp Pilot Program is a research project created under section 7606 of the 2014 Federal Farm Bill. In an effort to help promote hemp awareness United Hemp Industries and the Kentucky Hempsters planted a small demonstration plot behind the mansion on the grounds of the estate. There are 2 different varieties planted and a plaque next to the plot provides educational information about industrial hemp.
The truly amazing part is that there is no fence around this plot. It is open and accessible to the public. Those who stop to read the plaque will be informed that the plot is hemp, marijuana’s straight laced cousin. But there’s a high school within walking distance. Countless teenagers wander the grounds of the estate regularly. That hemp plot is almost mature and it has barely been touched.
I took pictures at the June 11 Kentucky Hempsters event. I went back the week of August 22 to see if the hemp had survived. To my amazement it has flourished. I found one stalk someone had clipped for the terminal bud. Outside of that one stalk the plot had filled in nicely and provides another important exhibit for the estate.
When I was in high school we would have cut it down and either smoked it or sold it. But back in the 1980’s we did not really know about hemp. Obviously today’s youth are much better informed.
It makes me wonder. Our state police officials still trot out all the tired disproven lines about people hiding marijuana in hemp. Or that “policing” hemp fields will make their jobs more difficult. I mean if a bunch of high school kids can tell the difference between hemp and marijuana; then why can’t a highly trained law enforcement professional?
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