Farm Tour near Louisville with animal encounters Thursday, Aug 6 2020 

Black Horse Manor offers custom farm tours for families Alpacas, horses, donkeys, and other farm animals will greet you on this farm tour near Louisville.  On the edge of Shelby County and available for a farm tour near Louisville, you will find Black Horse Manor. Luckily, someone visit it recently and reached out to us to make the connection. We [...]

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Day trip to Josephine Sculpture Park in Frankfort Thursday, Jul 30 2020 

Tips for visiting Josephine Sculpture Park in Frankfort, a unique Kentucky space for families Day trips are so important in 2020 so families can find new ways to be together and have fun. During this unique time, we are seeking outdoor fun options to present to Louisville families. Check this one out! Josephine Sculpture Park is in Frankfort and open [...]

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Sunflower Picking at Huber’s Friday, Jul 24 2020 

Huber’s Orchard and Winery is now offering sunflower picking U-pick sunflowers are available, plus they are beautiful for visiting and taking photos Sunflower picking in a gorgeous sunflower field near Louisville will lift your spirits! This summer has been hard on everyone. The beautiful things in life need to be enjoyed! We were so pleased to see that Huber’s Orchard [...]

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Top 10 Places for Spring Farm Family Fun & Berry Picking near Louisville Thursday, May 7 2020 

Strawberry picking and other spring farm family fun near Louisville. We are all so excited for Spring and it’s just as fun in spring to head to the local farms as it is in the fall. It’s a different set of crops but the same family fun! I also encourage you to check out the Kentucky Farms are Fun website [...]

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Feed Animals and Go Hiking at Blackacre Thursday, Apr 23 2020 

Blackacre is open for hiking and to feed animals in Louisville. Their historic homestead is free to visit! Blackacre State Nature Preserve and Historic Homestead offers over 280 acres of land and so much more. Enjoy this beautiful place with your family, even during social distancing and quarantine.  Many people have asked “Where can we take our kids to feed [...]

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These Two Farmer’s Markets are Winning during Quarantine Tuesday, Apr 21 2020 

It’s spring and Louisville loves farmer’s markets. Can you still shop a farmer’s market when social distancing restrictions are in place? Yes! There are farmer’s markets that are catering to everyone’s needs even during a global pandemic.  Are farmer’s markets still open now? If you are looking for great variety, these two great markets provide many options from local farmers [...]

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Coronavirus Concerns Rise As Ohio Valley Meatpacking Workers Fall Sick Friday, Apr 10 2020 

As the number of coronavirus cases surge across the country, some meatpacking facilities have been temporarily shuttered due to workers falling ill to the virus. Three workers in Georgia have even died.

With workers at some Ohio Valley facilities now testing positive for the virus, worker safety advocates are raising concerns about how adequately workers are being protected and the implications for the food supply.

West Virginia’s poultry and livestock industries bring in the large majority of the state’s agricultural revenue, with poultry and eggs bringing in approximately $387,884,000 in 2017. Most of that production happens in the state’s eastern panhandle in places including Pendleton County, where Steve Conrad raises turkeys for a regional cooperative.

He said a worker tested positive for the coronavirus last week at the cooperative’s poultry processing facility across the state border in Hinton, Virginia. While Conrad believes the situation at the facility is under control, the potential for spread of the virus at such processing facilities could be substantial. 

“I would think it would spread like wildfire, to tell you the truth, if it’s as infectious as what they say it is,” Conrad said. “The people are standing probably within three feet of each other as either they’re taking the meat off the bones or taking the feathers off the carcass, and pulling the guts out.”

He said the cooperative has taken measures such as removing microwaves used by workers at the facility’s cafeteria, using masks in the facility, and monitoring the health of workers. Executive leadership at the cooperative could not be immediately reached for comment regarding social distancing and other measures at the facility.

Conrad also said unlike the other industries, it can be difficult to slow down the meatpacking production. 

“If you’re building cars, you can just shut down the line. You know, that steel is going to be ready for you whenever you start up again,” Conrad said. “But in the poultry business, or the cattle business or hogs … they’re growing so many pounds on a daily basis. We can’t shut off the feed. They got to be harvested.”

Cargill is one of the latest meatpacking companies to close a processing facility to protect their workers’ health. And more cases are beginning to pop up in Ohio Valley facilities elsewhere. 

Growing Risk

Caitlin Blair is a spokeswoman for the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 277, a union chapter representing people working for Pilgrim’s Pride, Specialty Foods Group, Tyson Foods, and JBS USA, at meatpacking plants throughout Kentucky and in southern Indiana. 

She said there have been some positive coronavirus tests among these facilities, and the union has been pushing meatpacking companies to better protect union workers.

“A lot of our employers are doing really well, social distancing, especially in public areas, or common areas like break rooms. But there’s also a lot of room for improvement,” Blair said. “The machines are loud, and it’s a dangerous shop, normally. And the coronavirus has just made that job even more dangerous.”

Blair said while Kentucky already considers meatpacking workers essential, her union is trying to get the state government to classify workers as first responders to get better access to personal protective equipment and access to child care services. The union is also asking companies to slow down the speed of their processing plants to allow for more protective measures.

Blair said some companies have offered some union members one-time bonuses, ranging from $300 to $600. But she said these bonuses may not be paid out for months and are sometimes tied to worker attendance.

“Various employers have tied that to perfect attendance at a time when day cares are closed, schools are closed, people are having to scramble for childcare,” she said. “Those bonuses should be paid immediately with no attendance strings attached.”

Protections and bonuses vary among the major meatpacking companies in the Ohio Valley. Tyson Foods said the company is checking the temperature of workers before they enter plants, building dividers between workstations, and adding space between workers. Pilgrim’s Pride and JBS USA is also setting up “triage tents” to test temperatures and stagger break times for workers.

Yet one worker safety advocate argues the mismatched protection standards across the industry could leave some workers more vulnerable to the coronavirus, and says the federal government should do more.

Deborah Berkowitz is worker health and safety program director for the National Law Employment Law Project, an advocacy group for workers’ rights. She said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has released guidance for employers regarding coronavirus, but there isn’t a required standard for COVID-19 among the meatpacking industry. 

“What you’re finding is a lot of companies, because there’s no mandated requirements, are just doing a little bit here, a little bit there, but not enough to protect workers,” Berkowitz said. “That is a devastatingly dangerous situation for workers to be in.”

Berkowitz, who served as a senior policy adviser for OSHA, said by having a standard of mandated social distancing and extra precautions for sanitizing, these plants can better protect their workers.

Supply Concerns

For Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles in addition to concerns about worker safety, the state’s most lucrative agriculture industry is at risk. Livestock and poultry products brought in more than $3 billion to the state in 2017.

“One of my biggest concerns is keeping our meat processors open for business,” Quarles said. “A short disruption or shut down of a processing plant can ripple all the way down to the farm level instantly.”

Quarles also said the Kentucky Department of Agriculture is still developing guidance with the Kentucky Farm Bureau to be issued to farmers regarding appropriate coronavirus measures. In the meantime, he asks those in the industry to follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Over-Hyped Hemp? Amid Price Drop And A Big Bankruptcy, Some Farmers Feel Burned Monday, Feb 10 2020 

Bobby and John 2 - Hemp

John Fuller is waiting for another farmer he’s never met before to talk about a situation he never imagined he would be in.

It’s an overcast January day on his farm in west Kentucky, where he grew 18 acres of hemp last year, investing more than $250,000 of his own cash. He’s one of nearly 1,000 licensed hemp growers in 2019 who helped grow Kentucky’s biggest hemp crop since the state reintroduced it, trying to cash in on what could be a $1 billion industry for CBD products made from hemp.

But now, Fuller is wondering how much of that investment he’ll get back.

“There’s some pirates that are out here. Just pirates. Us trying to get with a good, ethical processor has been a real, real challenge for us,” Fuller said.

Later that morning, Bobby Huff arrives after driving more than two hours from Clinton County. By coincidence, both men are pharmacists turned hemp farmers, who saw potential in the alleged medicinal properties of CBD.

Liam Niemeyer | Ohio Valley ReSource

John Fuller (left) and Bobby Huff (right) inside Fuller’s high tunnel.

Both men are also among dozens of hemp farmers who had contracted to grow the crop for the hemp processing company Bluegrass Bioextracts in Owensboro, Kentucky, owned by local businessmen who would dry the hemp and turn it into CBD oil.

But in November, the local business owners announced they were selling the company to a Nevada limited liability company, DTEC Ventures. The same month, Fuller received emails from the company saying the deal was off: the company said their crop tested positive for heavy metals and couldn’t be accepted. But Fuller was suspicious.

“We went back and tested our soil and tested our product…and our independent labs that we’re sending it to say ‘no heavy metals,’” Fuller said. “So what’s the deal? You know, Bluegrass has stopped accepting hemp?”

One of the new operators of the company in an email to Fuller then claimed the company couldn’t accept farmers’ hemp because of “increased scrutiny” from state and federal regulatory agencies. When Fuller reached out through email to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture to verify this claim, a KDA official said there had been no regulatory change.

The contracts that Huff, Fuller and dozens of other farmers had signed — promising potentially around $40 per pound of CBD-rich hemp for thousands of pounds of their harvest — were now just pieces of paper.

“It really makes me angry,” Fuller said. “I can get by with my day job if this whole farming thing tanked, but the farmers that used hemp in place of tobacco for last year, they’re not going to get paid for their crop.”

Liam Niemeyer | Ohio Valley ReSource

Huff (left) and Fuller (right), next to a small hemp processing machine.

The former local owners of the company now have sued DTEC Ventures for $69 million in part for failing to fulfill contracts to farmers. John Fuller held a press conference at his farm with several other contracted farmers to raise awareness about their situation. The former company owners declined to comment because of the litigation. Representatives for DTEC Ventures didn’t respond to several requests for comment.

For many other farmers in Kentucky and across the country, the hopes of a financial windfall from hemp to be a saving grace from faltering markets in tobacco, soybean and corn, has hit a harsh reality. Amid boundless rhetoric touting the potential of the new crop that many still see, some farmers suspect they’re facing unfair treatment and empty promises, wondering who and what they can trust.

Boom To Bust

With the federal government legalizing growing hemp in the latest Farm Bill, Kentucky saw a rush of interest in cultivating the crop, particularly to make CBD products. The 972 hemp growers licensed last year were over four times more growers than in 2018. The number of hemp acres harvested also quadrupled, up to 24,900 acres, and 92 percent of those acres were grown for CBD products.

Several states also grew hemp for the first time last year, with other leading hemp states including Colorado and Montana seeing a spike in their production. That large supply led to a nationwide glut of hemp. CBD-rich hemp is often sold by the percent of CBD measured in each pound of hemp.

“When we started out 2019, I had $5 per percent CBD. Fast forward to the end of 2019. Now, we’re looking at less than $1 per percent CBD. That’s a huge change,” said Tyler Mark, assistant professor of production economics at the University of Kentucky.

Mark said that glut has led to a subsequent price crash for CBD-rich hemp, and the substantial profit margins expected have now disappeared for many.

Colorado-based analytics firm PanXchange tracked the average selling price of hemp at $4.35 per percent CBD in each pound of hemp in July of 2019. By January, the price was at 74 cents. Mark said the crash is also partially because the true demand for CBD products and hemp isn’t yet known.

But because of that uncertainty, some hemp processing companies could be struggling to fulfill contracts signed with farmers when hemp markets were booming.

“If the processors did not have a contract locked in to sell those final products so that they could afford those types of contracts that they originally signed at the beginning of the year, they’ve got definite cash flow problems,” Mark said.

Another prominent Kentucky hemp processing company has struggled to pay its bills in what’s turned into a prolonged court dispute over an unfinished construction site.

Liam Niemeyer | Ohio Valley ReSource

An overview of GenCanna’s unfinished processing facility in Graves County, August of 2019.

GenCanna, based in Winchester, Kentucky, announced in late 2018 it was investing $40 million to build a second hemp processing facility in Graves County, signing up farmers throughout the state to grow hemp for the company.

As construction continued at the site, the first lien against the property was filed in early September: the Hannan Supply Company in Paducah alleged their company was owed over $250,000 for construction materials and labor.

Dozens of construction-related liens have been filed against the facility site since then, ballooning to more than $32 million combined as of late December. GenCanna also had to lay off 60 employees last year, after being a title sponsor of the Kentucky State Fair, buying billboard space across west Kentucky, and sponsoring a statewide tour for Kentucky Sports Radio.

In late January, construction company Pinnacle, Inc., based in Benton, Kentucky, pressed for GenCanna to enter Chapter 11 bankruptcy because of the overdue bills. GenCanna relented on Thursday, filing for bankruptcy in federal court.

“[GenCanna was] trying to float too much money and grow way too quickly. I think that is probably one of the biggest problems in the hemp industry is greed, and not working for what a company is worth,” said Tate Hall, President of the Kentucky Hemp Industries Association. “They should have never announced or upgraded that facility if it wasn’t going to be built in time or they couldn’t finance the building.”

Hall said GenCanna’s situation isn’t unique, as some processors in the state and elsewhere in the country expanded too fast for the hemp market to stabilize. He said that left contracted farmers in many instances out of luck in getting paid. In the case of GenCanna, he’s concerned construction companies with more resources may be paid back by GenCanna before contracted farmers.

“Just because they filed ‘Chapter 11’ don’t mean anything with GenCanna. That’s a long way from being over, and I can guarantee you those contractors are not going away. You can’t just wipe your debt off,” Hall said. “I’m 100 percent for those contractors and farmers.”

Liam Niemeyer | Ohio Valley ReSource

The unfinished construction site of GenCanna’s processing facility in Graves County, in August of 2019.

GenCanna representatives did not respond to several requests for comment. The Associated Press reported last month GenCanna said that contract payments to farmers were up to date.

Acela CBD in Maysville, Kentucky, is another hemp processor where farmers are concerned about their contracts.

“If I’m going to go down, they’re going to go with me,” said Marty Voiers, who grew two acres of hemp in Lewis County for Acela. “My dad said ‘you better be careful doing it.’ He warned a bunch about it. I didn’t listen to him.”

Voiers said he took out a line of credit to pay for labor and infrastructure to grow his hemp, including a new water line. While he said he did get paid for a single bag of hemp, because there isn’t any language in his contract on when farmers are required to get paid, he’s not sure when his full payment will come for the more than a dozen of other bags of hemp he harvested.

Kevin Burton, another farmer in Mason County who grew 1.5 acres of hemp for Acela, said he’s considering selling other parts of his farm if he doesn’t get the full payment he’s expecting.

Burton said in his experience raising cattle, stockyards have escrow accounts to pay farmers immediately when they bring cattle in, instead of waiting until cattle are marketed.

“I may have to sell some cows or sell some equipment. I got payments I have to make.” Burton said. “They contract you to raise the crop. You raise the crop and deliver it, and they say ‘well, you’re going to have to wait on your money.’”

He believes something similar should be set up for the hemp, and that farmers shouldn’t have to wait for payment. “That’s a bad job. That should not happen,” he said.

Acela CEO Andrew Culbertson confirmed that contracts with their more than 100 growers did not have language on when payments have to be made. He said their company is still paying out contracts to farmers.

But he said a reason the payments to farmers might be delayed is because of the glut in supply. Other competitors to Acela are also trying to sell hemp in an already flooded market, making it difficult to sell Acela’s hemp and reimburse farmers.

“We cut checks last week, we’re cutting checks this week, and I’m sure we’ll be cutting checks next week,” Culbertson said.

Over-Hyped?

As contract disputes and court battles continue, some farmers feel led on by processors, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, and other stakeholders in the industry.

“Ain’t that one hell of a selling point for your industry if you’re going to go out here and spout off all this stuff about how it’s gonna be the agricultural savior of the state,” said Jamie Shaddock, a Shelby County farmer contracted with Bluegrass Bioextracts. “And then at the end of it you say ‘but don’t invest more than you can lose.’ Now what kind of bullshit is that?”

Shaddock said he doesn’t raise burley tobacco anymore because the prices for the crop have stagnated for decades, and he isn’t sure what he can raise now that will be profitable. He’s currently sitting on 25,000 pounds of harvested hemp that he’s invested at least $140,000, weighing his options.

The Burley Tobacco Growers’ Cooperative in August voted to purchase $1 million in hemp to sell CBD oil, as a way to diversify and save the faltering organization. Now, an attorney is pushing to have the cooperative dissolved and $30 million of its assets distributed to growers.

Others in the turbulent industry also believe hemp’s financial potential was overhyped and the risk underplayed, but the answer of who is responsible is less clear.

“That hype came from all over the place. I mean, even Kentucky legislators and regulators who were excited about hemp maybe inflated the value of what the crops would be,” said Katie Moyer, owner of hemp processor Kentucky Hemp Works and member of the state industrial hemp advisory board.

Moyer believes that farmers, processors, and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture all had a role to play in overhyping the industry.

Liam Niemeyer | Ohio Valley ReSource

Misting devices are set up in John Fuller’s high tunnel, filled with hemp.

She said many farmers came into the industry without having backup plans or an idea of what to do with the crop when it was harvested. While she considers some processors like herself acting in good faith in building honest relationships with farmers, other companies did not. She said certain regulations, like the prohibition against selling raw hemp, also hampered options for farmers.

“Some of that fault does lie with the regulators and KDA, who forced us into having to sell to processors,” Moyer said. “Because we can’t take that crop straight to market, we can’t just go sell hemp as flower, as animal feed. There’s no backup plan.”

Sale of raw hemp is prohibited because police are concerned the crop may be mistaken for its botanical cousin, marijuana. But Moyer said she still is optimistic the industry has a positive future ahead of it, and that the industry will stabilize on its own.

“In the free market, those processors that screw over one farmer, or they dropped the ball for one farmer, they won’t ever get another contract,” she said. “I think if we saw less government regulation and less intervention in the market, we would have less of these problems to begin with.”

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles said he understands the anger that hemp farmers are feeling, and that his department is considering ways regulators could force processors to obligate contracts. Quarles instead puts the blame for industry turmoil on federal regulators.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been in the process of considering how to categorize CBD, whether as a more tightly regulated pharmaceutical or as a nutritional supplement. That decision has substantial financial implications for the industry.

“The biggest cause of this is the federal government’s lack of response towards giving an indication of how they’re going to regulate this product,” Quarles said. “We’re entering year number seven of products being on the shelf, and the FDA has yet to give us a framework in which our processors, innovators and entrepreneurs can expect to operate.”

Quarles also said the dramatic crash in hemp price is a part of the “price discovery” process that comes with a new industry. Once the true demand is found for CBD, then the industry can more easily stabilize. He said his department did emphasize risk appropriately, particularly in orientation sessions he said that licensed farmers and processors take.

But little of that matters to farmer Bobby Huff, who’s looking at the potential for big losses.

When Quarles ran for re-election as Agriculture Commissioner last year, he advocated repeatedly for the potential of hemp. Huff feels like that campaign rhetoric led on farmers like him.

For now, he’s done with it.

“It’s going to shit,” Huff said. “I’m not gonna make anything. There’s no doubt about it.”

This story has been updated to clarify Marty Voiers has received partial payment from Acela.

Apple Picking & Apple Orchards near Louisville Wednesday, Aug 14 2019 

Apple Picking near Louisville! Here are a few places you can go to pick-your-own apples.   Apple picking is so much fun. Bring bug spray! And, have your recipes ready because you will surely go home with plenty.    Apple picking near Louisville and even right in town takes place in late summer. We will update this post later in [...]

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Extraordinary Property of the Week: Highpointe Thoroughbred Farm (4600 Stone River Dr, La Grange) Friday, Apr 5 2019 

Highpointe Thoroughbred Farm is a wonderful opportunity to purchase an exceptional thoroughbred training center in the heart of Oldham County horse country which is 25 minutes east of Louisville. The location was originally chosen to allow trainers to easily ship horses to Churchill Downs (@40 minutes away) or to Keeneland (Race Course), and Turfway (Park) […]

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