Kentucky Hempsters has become the voice for Kentucky hemp as a content-driven, social-based media platform that engages users with the past, present and future of the industry. Working with farmers, processors, manufacturers, brands and other organizations KY Hempsters creates awareness and demand for all industrial hemp products. Since launching in 2014, they've grown to include a number of volunteers, partners, and sponsors. However, it all started with a passion for hemp for founders (and best friends) Alyssa Erickson and Kristin Bohnert. While studying at Murray State University, Alyssa and Kristin discovered the amazing potential of agricultural hemp. After researching current industry practices and realizing how they were affecting our environment, economy, and human rights – Alyssa and Kristin agreed – they had to make a change. Working to bring industrial hemp back into Kentucky, they believe it's important everyone has the ability to see first-hand what hemp can do. Which is why they've dedicated their time to sharing this information online and offline. Through education, outreach, and creative content Alyssa and Kristin aim to create a thriving Kentucky hemp demand. Their passion for this plant is evident in everything they do. We are inspired by their ambition and huge hearts!
In the beginning, what motivated you to first get involved with hemp?
This is an extremely long story, but we’ll try and keep it somewhat brief!
Our senior year in college both of us experienced a shift in values and purpose. After witnessing the decline and devastation of the tobacco and coal industries here in Kentucky, we became passionate about promoting sustainable agricultural practices and finding cleaner, healthier ways of stimulating the economy. This inspired us to look more into our state’s economic and agricultural history. Through our research, it became clear that industrial hemp had played a significant part in the development of Kentucky agriculture, manufacturing, and its overall economic system.
After discovering Kentucky’s rich hemp history, on top of all of its benefits and uses, we couldn’t believe that it was illegal! Our state’s number one cash crop had been banned by nothing more than propaganda and greed. In fact, we truly believe The Marijuana Tax Act (1937) was sparked by industries threatened by an agricultural revolution (i.e. paper/timber, oil, and petrochemicals.)
All of this motivated us to start brainstorming ways to help bring the industry back to Kentucky, and the United States. We spent our senior year researching and acquiring all the knowledge we could about industrial hemp. Ironically enough, that winter congress passed the Farm Bill containing Section 7606 allowing states to research industrial hemp through pilot projects. Shortly after, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture announced it was launching a hemp pilot program.
As if that wasn’t motivation enough, our alma mater (Murray State University) was the first school to plant hemp through the pilot program and it just so happened to be on the day we graduated. Once these series of events unfolded so harmoniously, we knew that this was an opportunity of a lifetime and we were being called to fulfill some sort of mission. That mission remains our daily motivation! We were in the right place at the right time and received all the signs we need to assure us that this was our path.
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
We enjoy inspiring conscious conversation. Whether it’s about industrial hemp, sustainable agriculture, healthy living, climate change, renewable energy, local economy, or federal policy. These kinds of conversations motivate what we do and make us feel like we’re making a positive impact through our work. There’s nothing more rewarding than expanding, learning, growing and evolving consciously with others!
What does a day in the life of Alyssa/Kristin consist of today?
Oh my! There’s really no way to sum up what we do in a day, because it always something different! During the season, we could be at the farm one day and hosting an event the next. We had educational plots in Louisville, Lexington and Shelbyville this year, so we were constantly on the go.
Now that it’s winter, we’re catching up with clients and preparing for next season’s plots and programming. Of course, hardly a day goes by without sending emails, creating content, and managing our online platforms!
Why is education so important to the industrial hemp movement?
The general public still tends to misunderstand how industrial hemp differs from marijuana as far as its genetic make-up, how it’s grown, what it’s used for, and why it’s still illegal. So long as the public remains uneducated and unaware, there’s no reason for the government to legalize it. Education is the only way to create a demand for domestic hemp products and manufacturing, which is the only way to encourage congress to legalize commercial hemp production in the United States.
Are there any habits or mindsets that have helped make you successful?
Understanding all of our talents and skills are essentially tools for the universe to use in fulfilling its ultimate evolutionary goal. We truly believe in working for the greater good and on behalf of the Earth. No idea is too big, and no accomplishment is too small. When times get rough, we know it’s all part of our journey and learning process.
Knowing we’re part of a bigger plan and purpose gives us the confidence to keep pursuing this passion. We’re constantly relying on a higher power to guide us.
Name one thing most people would be surprised to learn about hemp.
Hemp isn't a miracle crop - and by that we mean that it's just like any other agricultural crop. It's sensitive to soil, climate and weather. There's been trouble finding stable varieties than can outperform the Kentucky weeds that conventional farms are used to spraying with chemicals
Hemp can be grown without fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides and with less water than other crops, but because of current farm practices and lack of reliable cultivars its going to be a process transitioning the industry into full commercial scale. It could be a miracle crop, but we're not naive in thinking it won't take some time.
What has been your biggest struggle working in the industrial hemp industry?
The illegality of hemp is by far the biggest struggle. There technically is no hemp industry according to the federal government, and that’s keeping a lot of interest and potential investment away. We can’t grow an industry if everything has to be managed through a research program and the crop remains on the Controlled Substances List.
Do you have any advice for women looking to break into the industrial hemp industry?
Now is our time! The cannabis industry as a whole is booming, and so is the number of entrepreneurial women looking for new opportunities. If industrial hemp is something you’re passionate about, there’s been no better time not only for women but for anyone to get involved.
Being a young female entrepreneur in the cannabis industry can definitely have its challenges, but it’s worth it when you're doing something you love and truly believe in with all your heart.
What would you say are the top 3 skills needed to be an industrial hemp entrepreneur
Communication – Whether it’s is in-person, online, or on the phone, the ability to communicate with clarity and professionalism is key to succeeding in the cannabis industry. This includes being intuitive in conversation and understanding how to lead discussion based on someone’s tone of voice, facial expressions, body language and overall demeanor. Cannabis can be a sensitive topic to someone who has been misguided on the subject, so it’s important to find common ground and use that as a bridge to better understanding.
Self Discipline – Being an entrepreneur means being your own boss, setting your own goals, planning, scheduling, and learning to balance work with life… it can be overwhelming sometimes when you realize you're totally responsible for your income in an industry that “technically” doesn’t legally exist. You have to let your passion drive you every day and keep following through with everything you commit to and more.
Passion – By far this is the most important quality. It’s not so much a skill, but it is essential to be an industrial hemp (or cannabis) entrepreneur. It’s going to be hard and there’s no manual, guidance, or anything to rely on other than pure passion and the belief that this is what you’re meant to do. Again, at the end of the day passion is what ultimately drives an entrepreneurial endeavor through the struggles to success.