From Hemp Mazes to Asian Carp, How Agritourism Can Grow Kentucky's Economy

Sep 30, 2017

Kentucky is within a days drive for a large percentage of Americans. Kentucky tourism officials see this as an opportunity.
Credit Matt Markgraf, WKMS

Horses, bourbon, arts, music, culinary, outdoors and cultural heritage are the seven pillars of Kentucky tourism. That's according to Kentucky Tourism Commissioner Kristen Branscum. She recently presented the commonwealth's tourism potential at a UNESCO Creative Cities meeting in Paducah.

She said the commonwealth has economic potential in offering visitors an 'authentic Americana' experience. And says Kentucky is on the brink of being a top-tier tourism destination, from interacting with family-owned bourbon distilleries to dining at restaurants that use food grown by local farmers.

"Because what we're seeing from an international perspective, a lot of people have gone to the LAs the New Yorks, the Orlandos and they want that true Americana. And I think Kentucky is the 'Great American State,'" she said.

When it comes to agritourism, she said people want to meet farmers, understand where food comes from and learn the science of modern-day farming.

"Being with Kentuckians is our greatest selling point. I think Kentuckians are full of character. And I believe that once we get our visitors to come in and truly experience Kentuckians, they'll want to come back for more," she said.

According to the National Travel and Tourism Office, 27.2% of overseas visitors went to small towns and countrysides in 2016.

Hemp growing at Murray State University
Credit Matt Markgraf, WKMS

Navigating through a maze of industrial hemp could become a fun, family activity in the commonwealth. Branscum says, why not? She sees an economic and cultural opportunity in the state's budding hemp industry, from the history of the once abundant crop to modern-day processing for fiber and cannabidiol. "We have corn mazes, I don't know why we wouldn't have industrial hemp mazes in the fall. That's a great opportunity for a younger generation," she said.

Some hemp varieties can grow well above the tallest human. The crop is currently grown under tightly-controlled conditions, but Kentucky officials at federal and state levels are looking to change that. Congressman James Comer of Kentucky's First District has filed bipartisan legislation seeking to ease hemp restrictions. Kentucky ag commissioner Ryan Quarles and other state ag leaders have described the crop's potential to be an economic boon and spoke with high school students about considering hemp's diverse uses when thinking planning for a future job. Historically, Kentucky was once the leading produce of hemp in the country.

Seafood fans might find Asian carp to be quite tasty.
Credit Erica Peterson, WFPL News

One way to win the battle against invasive Asian carp is to eat them. Chefs and state officials across the country have been cooking up ways to convince the public to consume the fish that chokes out native species in the waterways.

Branscum said the carp presents a culinary opportunity for the commonwealth. "I think we have an opportunity to not only eradicate the invasive species, but really provide a culinary experience that you can't get anywhere else while taking them out of the water and having people make some money for it," she said. Asian carp processor Two Rivers Fisheries in Ballard County announced plans earlier this year to double its export production. State agencies called this past summer for public private partnerships to remove the some five million pounds of Asian carp in Kentucky's waterways.

Branscum envisions more foodie potential in Kentucky's country ham production and suggests a statewide 'barbecue loop' showcasing regional differences. She encourages communities to think beyond horses, bourbon and bluegrass and find economic and cultural potential within other existing resources.