HIPPO – Hippo resident Todd Howard had never been employed in his adult life when he was laid off as an engineer for the coal industry in 2010. He had also never farmed a day in his life. All that was about to change.
After Howard lost his job as an engineer, the Hippo resident said a key aspect of his personality was revealed in the best way possible.
“They had to make the decision to lay folks off, and I’ve just never been one to sit around and do nothing,” he said.
Howard lost his job in December and by Feb. 10 he had constructed a green house. Construction on that green house led to a crop of 10,000 tomato plants the first year. By the third year, Howard was overseeing the Floyd County Farmer’s Market and closing in on $50,000 in gross sales. But the time required with the market became difficult to manage.
“The farmer’s market was taking up a lot of my time and last year we decided to to try a sixteen-week program with Community Supported Agriculture,” Howard said.
This move launched Howard’s work as a full-time farmer, and now he is at the forefront of the movement to grow hemp in Kentucky in an effort to see Eastern Kentucky’s economy improved through ready resources not always popular throughout the state and nation.
Shortly after his efforts with the farmer’s market got underway, Howard soon became a board member for a statewide community farm alliance, testifying before senate and house agriculture committees, supporting the hemp bill introduced roughly three years ago.
“After getting to know some of the folks who helped get this legislation passed, I made a few acquaintances in that regard,” he said. “Mike Lewis and I got close.”
Lewis, who is a Kentucky farmer and COO with the organization Freedom Seed and Feed, a company with offices in Lexington, reached out to Howard, along with University of Pikeville’s Eric Mathis, visiting lecturer of applied sustainability at UPike.
The organization is a subsidiary of Mountain High Acquisitions Corporation, a Colorado-based company who advocate the legalization of marijuana and industrial hemp.
“He (Mathis) got in touch with me and asked if I’d be interested in growing some hemp, saying Mike had recommended me,” Howard said. “I’m a person notorious for diving in head-first without realizing sometimes I’m diving into the kiddie pool, but in we got a site located, got seed in the ground. So we have crop in the ground. It’s sprouted, it’s coming up, and it’s growing.”
The site is located along what was once strip mine land at the Pikville-Pike County Regional Airport, a section of land difficult to farm, to say the least, according to Howard.
“Growing on these mine sites is like a crap shoot,” he added. “You don’t know what you’re going to get. To date, no one I know has had any success growing at these places. The land is compacted soil and has huge rocks. It’s nothing like a standard agricultural piece of land you’d normally work with.”
Howard said the general goal is to create smaller cooperative models for growing industrial hemp on a larger scale.
“Obviously Eastern Kentucky has a brand right now and has some potential for this,” Howard said. “It’s sort of the elephant in the room to a player on a larger scale with all of this acreage. Let’s find a use for it.”