First American Farmland Trust summit coming to Lexington

Former first lady helps bring national meeting to the state

By Kevin Wheatley, Published:

Although Agriculture Commissioner James Comer has said Kentucky will be the first state with a pilot hemp program, that’s not the reason the American Farmland Trust chose Lexington as the site of its first-ever Farmland, Food and Livable Community Conference.

“I would love to say yes, but I think the biggest draw was (former first lady) Libby Jones,” Comer said Tuesday, when asked whether Kentucky’s expected hemp crop brought the conference to Lexington in October.

“She’s been passionate about the issue when Brereton Jones was governor. He forged a relationship with American Farmland Trust, and I think that played as big a part as anything in luring that conference to Kentucky.”

Comer joined the Joneses, American Farmland Trust President Andrew McElwaine and Lexington Mayor Jim Gray at the Capitol Tuesday to announce the Farmland, Food and Livable Community Conference.

The national summit will bring together experts to discuss farmland protection, environmental conservation and the next generation of farmers, McElwaine said.

The event will also feature a Kentucky Proud opening reception with fare from local farms, businesses and distilleries as well as tours of Fayette County farms, mobile workshops highlighting urban agriculture and food enterprises in Lexington and Louisville, and a farmer-chef connection banquet, he said.

Libby Jones, an American Farmland Trust board member, said she and the former governor are “very, very excited” that Lexington will host the organization’s first Farmland, Food and Livable Community Conference.

“Kentucky’s always been on the leading edge of agriculture, of course we know that, but this will help us to ratchet up our efforts across the board,” she said.

Congress passed a five-year Farm Bill Tuesday that includes a provision allowing universities and departments of agriculture to conduct hemp research projects in states where hemp cultivation is legal per state law, such as Kentucky.

Comer said he will pursue such a program and has spoken directly with officials at the University of Kentucky and Murray State University, and he plans to speak with four others. “There will be at least three that do research and maybe as many as six or seven,” he said.

If hemp is planted by October, a pilot crop could become a stop on the conference’s farm tours and a draw for curious farmers elsewhere, he said.

“It could be,” Comer said, “and we’ve talked about maybe making that a component of our ag-tourism, people that would like to see what a hemp crop looks like.”

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