Growing Organic Hemp Fiber in Kentucky

Farmer spotlight: Kathleen and Lane Butler from Butler Farms...

Kathleen and Lane Butler did not grow up as farmers but were determined to find a way to live a better life. That life included raising food that they felt comfortable feeding their family and working with the land to produce sustainable farm products.

Today they are owners of Butler Farms. A 95-acre farm in Bourbon County where they produce organic hemp fiber for Patagonia (see video here), a global outdoor clothing company, and raise thousands of meat chickens and hundreds of pigs on organic pasture annually.

In 2019, Butler Farms became the first farm in the United States to grow hemp fiber for Patagonia.

They formed this partnership to help become a part of something bigger, a more sustainable fiber supply chain. Patagonia for many years has sourced hemp for their workwear line from China, but when the 2018 US Farm Bill passed (that legalized hemp production in the U.S.) they decided to start sourcing some of their hemp fiber closer to home.

Hemp has a lot of positive environmental benefits that make it ideal fabric to include in sustainable clothing. When hemp is grown for fiber it can get up to15 feet tall and each plant has an incredibly deep root system. This means more living roots in the soil which can sequester more carbon and build more soil organic matter.

Patagonia leans on hemp in their clothing line because of its strong fibers that help make their fabrics abrasion resistant, ability to give fabrics a natural softness that feels broken in right away, and its natural resistance to mold and mildew. There are many steps to take hemp fiber from "seed to shirt" (see steps here), but producing it organically ensures that no harsh chemicals are used during this process that would be detrimental to the environment.

(Photo credit: Patagonia Iron Forge Hemp workwear)

Although it wasn't easy to leap into hemp production, Kathleen and Lane were able to lean on the knowledge and experience of neighbors, longtime farmers, and trial and error to not only succeed with their endeavors but to continually scale up their operations. Butler Farms has gone from 15 acres in 2019 to 40 acres of Certified Organic hemp in 2021.

Learn more about Butler Farms on their OAK Find-A-Farm Directory profile here. For any fellow farmers, check out their OAK Field Day May 24th, 2021 on organic hemp for fiber and raising meat chickens on organic pasture here.

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