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Reclaiming Hemp in Kentucky’s Historic Hemp District

Updated: Jan 28, 2019

The creative ways in which Friends of Hemp is working on hemp’s comeback in Lexington!

Educating communities about hemp can be challenging. How do you create change, and how to reach new people that feel unsure or skeptical about hemp? We’re inspired by the ways Friends of Hemp is opening the door for hemp in Kentucky, and are happy they agreed to share their story!

Hemp’s roots in Kentucky’s NoLi district

In February of 1918, E.F. Spears & Son, a seed and processing facility originally based in Paris, Kentucky, erected a warehouse in what is now Lexington, Kentucky’s NoLi District. The warehouse was built for the handling of hemp. Almost 100 years after the erection of this facility, Lexington’s NoLi District is re-claiming stake on its past as Lexington’s Hemp District.

The District is now sprinkled with hemp, from a hemp beer at Rock House Brewing, to the restoration of an old hemp processing facility, to a mural representing a historic photo of breaking hemp in a field. And now, nestled on a re-developed street of an old hemp rope walk, is Kentucky’s first hemp house made with US (and Kentucky-grown) hemp!

Building Homes with Hemp

The hempcrete home was a project undertaken by NoLi CDC, an urban redevelopment non-profit created to bring more equitable, creative and democratic Community Development practices to Lexington’s North End. NoLi CDC has re-developed the area with its share of sustainable or re-purposed building materials, like shipping containers, bio composites and tin roofs, but the hempcrete house was the first of its kind.

Kris Nonn, the architect of the house, knew there were many challenges that laid ahead of him, including acquiring materials and building permits, plus the added labor expenses for installing hempcrete, so he turned to Friends of Hemp, a 501c3 non-profit, and Kentucky Hemp Industries Association for help.

The two groups connected Nonn to hemp hurd processors and organized a hempcrete building workshop during the 2017 Hemp History Week, to offer a public learning experience for the community, while reducing labor costs. Attendees came from all over Southern and Midwest states to participate in the course, with several of the attendees expressing desires to construct their own hempcrete house too. The event even attracted 80-year old Lucy Breathitt, the wife of the late former Kentucky Governor and hemp supporter, Ned Breathitt.

Friends of Hemp then took a step further. The organization’s mission is to grow the industry through education and opportunity. This house presented a breakthrough opportunity for the industry-- a chance to measure the energy performance of the material.

Hempcrete is touted for its high insulation value and energy efficiency. European research has generated data about the insulation value of hempcrete. Contrary to Europe, U.S. building code generally requires the use of vapor barriers when building with hemp. Hempcrete functions optimally without these barriers, and more data is needed about the insulative performance when vapor barriers are added. To be able to compare apples to apples and legitimize the U.S. market, these data points are necessary, so Friends of Hemp is fixing this issue. The organization secured donations to install thermal mass and moisture meters in the walls and roof of the house. Over the next year they will work with Alembic Studios, a hempcrete architecture firm in Asheville, North Carolina, to collect and analyze these data points. Once completed, the information will be disseminated to hemp associations in an effort to support energy efficiency claims.

Now that the exterior of the hempcrete home is almost complete, the groups were able to take away key points in the building process that could help any builder:

  • It is important to know that U.S. building codes generally require installing a vapor barrier. Although the exact insulation value of hempcrete with a vapor barrier is currently being researched, it is already known that hempcrete can function optimally without this barrier. Educating building departments about the advantages of building without the use of vapor barriers can encourage adjustments to these requirements in the future.

  • Students are not professionals – while volunteers are a great way to reduce construction costs, it can affect the quality of the insulation. This could create more repair work when the formwork is removed

  • Be careful not to over-order materials. It is hard to estimate the exact quantity of materials needed, but try to purchase materials that can be returned, if un-opened.

  • Consider the location’s humidity when accounting for drying time. Kentucky is humid in the summers and the drying time for hempcrete took months longer than expected.

Kentucky Restaurants Begin to Use Hemp

Kentucky is doing much more than just drinking hemp beer and building hemp houses. Restaurants are now starting to incorporate hemp into their menus. This effort has been led by Friends of Hemp’s Local Hemp Foods Cook-Off. The program brings together chefs and hemp food processors to create unique dishes for the community to taste. The goal is to introduce hemp foods to chefs so they incorporate the ingredients into their recipes and menus.

Friends of Hemp Founder, Annie Rouse, created this idea after reading that caffeine was normalized as an ingredient and not a drug when soda machines began to pop-up in restaurants in the 1920s. She believes that the more restaurants use hemp, the more people become aware of this ingredient, and the more they will understand that hemp is food and not a drug. This normalization is an essential step in the burgeoning hemp industry because the more people understand the nutritional properties of hemp and ways to incorporate the ingredients, the more the industry will grow. With only 1% of the U.S. population buying hemp foods, there is a significant growth opportunity!

In only two-years running, the Cook-Off has already had substantial benefits. By 2017 the organization brought the Cook-Off and hemp foods to center-stage in Kentucky by partnering with Crave Music + Food Festival. This increased the educational platform from 120+ attendees to 20,000+ attendees. While the event currently only takes place in Kentucky, Friends of Hemp, hopes to expand the program and its educational benefits into other states as the organization grows. It is also easy for anyone to help the initiative, just ask a local chef that is intrigued by working with and being challenged by new ingredients to try something new!

Beyond these specific efforts, in 2018, Friends of Hemp’s goals include:

  • Create Core Content for classrooms

  • Initiate its 3rd annual Local Hemp Foods Cook-Off

  • Measure & monitor energy efficiency performance in a Hemp House

  • Continue to host Farmer Seminars

  • Establish an endowment for grants for farmers and small-businesses

  • Initiate organization and fundraising strategy to produce and publish, A Comprehensive Guide to Growing Hemp

If you would like to support Friends of Hemp in achieving these goals, you can! Click here for more information.



Friends of Hemp is a 501c3 non-profit with a mission of growing the hemp industry through education and opportunity. The organization is currently participating in a Good Giving Challenge from now through December 31, 2017. The organization has secured a $10,000 matching donation, meaning every dollar raised during the Good Giving Challenge will be matched up to $10,000! If you are interested in donating, you can donate directly to the organization by clicking on the link below. All donations are tax-deductible! You can also help the initiative through in-kind donations, in particular by helping to spread the work that Friends of Hemp is undertaking!


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