34: Mike Lewis | Growing Warriors and the Kentucky Hemp Project | Rockcastle County, Kentucky



The Growing Warriors Project

The Growing Warriors Project is a program to train, assist, and equip veteran families with the skills, tools, and supplies needed to grow high quality naturally grown produce for their families, their communities, and their country.

Tell us a little about yourself.

Grew up in Maine, Avon Valley on a sustenance farm with grandfather with Uncles and family. Back in School at St. Catherine’s College at the Berry Farming and Ecological Agrarianism Program

Wendell Berry was the forefather of 1975 and wrote the Unsettling of America

Earning a Community leadership and Agrarian Farming degree from the Department of Earth Studies at St. Catherine’s College in St. Catherine, KY.

Tell me about your first gardening experience?

Lived on a small farm with family til he was 9 and then moved to the city. ABout 10 years ago started farming, working with lots of veterans who have very cool stories about why

Looked at little organic farm wanted to impress the woman who would soon become his wife and said what do you think of this summer internship and she said “I think it’s sexy,” and so he signed right up.

What does organic gardening/earth friendly mean to you?

We have this system that doesn’t even classify the damages of this system we have now on the earth.

Have to as a species need to understand the confines of the system. We live in a world where everything is connected, and we have to where the consequences of our choices, we have very special gifts we have been given. It’s having respect for everything and its value … by not doing it we are giving a discredit to future generations.

Not put here to leave this place worse off then we got here.

“So for me organic gardening or earth friendly gardening means me doing my best to leave this place better then when I got here, I guess I’m paying rent … stewardship.”

Who or what inspired you to start using organic techniques?

Had always before we had children or I met my wife, had always purchased organic foods.

Grew up on land. And that first internship was on an organic farm.

How did you learn how to garden organically?

When you think about what a pesticide is, it’s designed to kill. Doesn’t make sense to do it any other way. There’s a new potato bug killer that you put on the roots, that you’re gonna eat? It’s just the right thing to do. We have decimated our soil over again, and again.

Tell us about something that grew well this year.



We’re in the best climate for it, Kentucky has historically produced about 90% of the hemp this country has ever used. Climate and soil is situated to it.

For example you get a seed pack, and it says tomatoes will take 65 days for this variety to harvest. For all intensive purposes the seed pack for hemp said 110 days. But ended up harvesting 6-8’ plants at 52 days. Blessed with one of the best hemp crops in the country last year.



So what is hemp?

Hemp is a member of the cannabis sativa family, is related to marijuana, but definitely different. Grown for it’s fiber.


The federal limit for THC is .3 of a percent of the THC can be in a hemp plant for it not to be classified as marijuana. Yes, that’s .3% THC.

(Jackie interrupts here with a point about a recent interview with President Obama on the show Vice where he talks to millennials about why they should be more concerned with climate change and the economy among other important issues then marijuana decriminalization. Here is the link to the interview and a few other important blog posts on this issue. This interview from the weedblog has some good connections to how decriminalization can help the economy and climate change. The full interview also plays at the bottom of this blog post here from the Atlantic. )

Up until the Marijuana tax act of 1937 which classified hemp as marijuana 75% of our paper was made from hemp, which is just one example. 1 acre of 1 years growth same as four acre of trees which take about 15 years or maybe 50-60 years to grow.

At hemp exposition last week, got a briefcase out of plastics, drove a BMW that was made of parts made with hemp plastic.

Worked with Ford people on a test that had a car made of hemp plastic that had greater fuel efficiency and higher impact rating.


Waste money on road infrastructure. If we have to build something? Let’s build some infrastructure that’s gonna get farmers growing, gonna get people off this dependency culture with our political and economic system.

There is no infrastructure it has to be built … so let’s do it! When communities build something they own it. Communities have an opportunity.

Hemp seed protein.

Blue zone – there are 8 in the world. longest age expectancy, in China 80% of diet, very agrarian culture – connected to the land, very spiritual, and they eat a super food that is a hemp seed protein which is the bulk of their diet. A huge food source and it produces more then a lot of other grain crops.

Then carries over to textiles. Working with Fibershed and Patagonia

Nylon, not necessarily bad, but the process is polluting, and you can’t recycle clothing … when hemp or cotton clothing is bad it can be recycled into plastics,

When you can bring options to farms and communities, exciting things happen. Exciting that there are so many options …

Working in small rural farm communities, local people manufacturing equipment to harvest crops.

Spent ten years trying to get people to grow local tomatoes, and using it to transform other farmers to convert to organic practices.

Contrariness of Mad Farmer

Is there something you would do different next year or want to try/new?

Ironic, just gave a talk about this. Started thought I was just gonna be a farmer, no idea what I was gonna be a farmer, an entrepreneur, an innovator, an inventor, a marketer, a social media campaigner, a blogger, and what it takes to be a successful farmer in this economy requires you to constantly be learning something new.

Transitioning to using hemp crop for a feed stock, given it’s drought resistence, disease resistence and thrives in almost any climate, … high protein hemp seeds … Excited to see how chickens and hogs respond to a diet of high protein hemp seeds and hand processing of fibers for artisan spinners.

Tell me about something that didn’t work so well this season.

Trying to work with a lot more farmers then we did. Communication was a big issue, hard to get strong minded independent people working together. So constantly retooling our approach and methods to create support networks for knowledge and production.

Sweet potatoes. Lost a lot of time on vegetable production, responding to media requests about hemp crop.

Feel like the great dream smasher, getting emails every day that people say “I decided I’m gonna buy a farm and grow hemp” and just want to make sure the expectations and make sure you understand the struggles, about how much research,

The processing equipment is not there… the entire industry is built for one specific crop, and this needs to be improved before Patagonia can make clothing etc from it.

Jackie and Mike discuss legality of growing industrial hemp in US. Here are links to President Obama signing the Farm Act of 2014 allowing hemp production.





Something that you find is easy to grow and is generally successful every-time.

Grain Sorghum for feeding animals. Tobacco. Tomatoes.

Something you would steer new gardeners away from that you find is typically challenging to grow in your climate.

Collard Greens invites the pests especially cabbage bores.

Which activity is your least favorite activity to do in the garden.

Adopt principal that everything has a purpose and a place and everything needs as much attention and care.

What is your favorite activity to do in the garden.

I like to hoe a row. Scuffle hoe. It’s one of my meditative jobs.

What is the best gardening advice you have ever received?

Instructions for the Cook

Comes from Dogen:

“This is the attitude called nurturing mind. Instead of putting ourselves first on every occasion, we aim to cultivate a true heart toward people and things and put ourselves in the other’s place at every encounter.”

Ties back to stewardship concept, how does everything fit in… being aware of everything in it’s place is one of the biggest things I’ve been advised in the last few years.

A favorite tool that you like to use? If you had to move and could only take one tool with you what would it be.

Scuffle hoe. Has a triangle blade and sits flat on the ground, and all three points are sharpened so you hold it a sort of 45 degree angle and it cuts off heads of weeds.

Eating or harvesting vegetables or fruit on time? 

Succession planting made a big difference for CSA. Instead of putting out 500 broccoli plants, put ten in every 5 days. Planting

Do you have any secrets for preserving food-making it last? 

Good wife who knew how to do it.

Do you have any special techniques for cooking weird or unusual foods?

Bok Choi – pretties thing you might ever grow – a Chinese cabbage used for stir fry, or salads.

Delivering some of nicest organic salad mix for CSA, donated a couple of shares to a local church, and a couple said I’m just gonna put it in a hot skillet and pour some hot bacon grease on it and melt it down … wilted greens in bacon grease …

A favorite recipe you like to cook from the garden?

Radicchio – bitter bright, red, beautiful bitter lettuce. with some balsamic vinegar toss in some garlic and maybe some bok choi, fresh garlic salad.

A favorite internet resource?

ATTRA – division of the natural center for appropriate tech transferred to rural america. They have field reps across the country and understand sustainable ag

A favorite reading material-book, mag, blog/website etc you can 

Unsettling of America by Wendell Barry

If you have a business to you have any advice for our listeners about how to sell extra produce or get started in the industry?

Cultivating relationships with people and they understand why am I different and why they buy from me …

Final question- if there was one change you would like to see to create a greener world what would it be? For example is there a charity or organization your passionate about or a project you would like to see put into action. What do you feel is the most crucial issue facing our planet in regards to the environment either in your local area or on a national or global scale?

Food Security is the biggest issue we have. I’m fortunate to be part of a non-profit – Growing Warriors that teaches people to grow and care for themselves is empowering, replaces a sense


2012 started the Growing Warriors Project.

Doing economic development work in Eastern Kentucky and Appalacian Moutains and was preparing a talk for some councilmen and economic developers and came across a statistic that over a million veterans are on food stamps, being a veteran and coming from a family of vets, the protectors of all the freedoms and rights that we have are now relying on a hand out.

We started with a community garden and we trained 10 families to grow own food. Some of those people have gone on to start food security projects in other communities … has turned into an empowerment project for veterans taking charge of food security in their community and needs are addressed in their own perspective.

Tranquility abound at one of our community gardens in #Lexington. Growing and eating bridges gaps and mends fences Tranquility abound at one of our community gardens in #Lexington. Growing and eating bridges gaps and mends fences

In Louisville going to be building some raised garden beds at a homeless shelter for veterans this weekend and about teaching homeless veterans how to grow, preserve and create food products. We’re basically about teaching people how to grow food and grow community through that process.

Minimum of 22 vets a day commit suicide a day. Roughly 35-40% aren’t in system who are getting assistance.

Direct correlation – there are 2 groups: Farmers and veterans who we wave the flags for but then we don’t truly support them because we don’t know how to act on it.

Do u have an inspiration tip or quote to help motivate our listeners to reach into that dirt and start their own garden?

Dogen quote

“An oven does not discriminate between fancy firewood and thorns. It accepts everything without preference and transforms it into thermal energy to cook rice or to heat bathwater.”

(Zen Master) DOGEN ZENJI’S (道元禅師)

“Make the best of what you have, if you’re doing your job right. We have everything we need”

To connect with Mike: go to Growing Warriors Project or find him on twitter @growingwarrior.




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About the author, Jackie Marie

I'm an artist and educator. I live at the "Organic Oasis" with my husband Mike where we practice earth friendly techniques in our garden nestled in the mountains of Montana.

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