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Bluegrass Kitchen joins hemp effort

Bluegrass Kitchen owner Keeley Steele supports locally grown and organic food at her restaurant and tries to find environmentally friendly ways to run the business.

She pays extra for disposable items like bags and takeout containers made from compostable and biodegradable materials and searches for items made from sustainable materials like bamboo.

So it was a no-brainer when the national organizers of an event called Hemp History Week asked her to participate.

All this week, Bluegrass Kitchen and its sister bakery and cafe, Frutcake, will feature menu items that contain hemp seed products.

The week is designed to raise awareness about the plant and its differences from marijuana grown for drug purposes.

Hemp is grown for different reasons, and the variety grown for food, beauty products and textiles doesn't contain the level of tetrahydrocannabinol  - THC - that exists in the marijuana plants grown for, well, getting high.

Hemp seeds and hearts - those are the shelled hemp seeds - contain essential fatty acids, protein, fiber and vitamins A, B, D and E. Hemp seeds can be used to make oil and beauty products. The fiber from the plant is used for textiles ranging from clothing to rope and even shoes.

Hemp is widely available in the United States in all of these applications, but here's the rub: It's imported from other countries. A 1930 federal regulation prohibits U.S. farmers from growing it. A growing lobbying effort is trying to change that.

To that end, hundreds of restaurants around the country are participating in Hemp History Week.

Steele said her restaurant already uses hemp seeds.

"We do a multigrain bagel - we make our own bagels - that has flax seeds, hemp seeds and sesame seeds on it. We make a hemp-rye bread," she said. A house-made veggie burger includes the seeds.

"I sell a hemp iced tea from Sweden that wasn't available to get for this week, but we sell it at Frutcake. It comes in sustainable packaging, and it's really tasty."

For this week, Frutcake and Bluegrass Kitchen will feature a few additional items, including an Italian wedding cookie with hemp seeds and a salad sprinkled with hemp hearts.

Steele said hemp fits perfectly with her business model.

"Hemp grows fast and doesn't take up much land," she said. "Part of our business philosophy is to be as sustainable as possible. These are really important things to me."

If hemp could be grown in the United States - and even better, by local farmers - it would fit even more into Steele's goal to purchase food for her restaurant locally.

The movement apparently is growing steam - 19 states have passed hemp legislation and are urging the U.S. Congress to act.

Contact writer Monica Orosz at or 304-348-4830.

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