(Courier-Journal.com) - Sizzling on grills at the Kentucky State Fair, Kentucky Hemp Dawgs will be served as a first-time competitor with commodity beef hot dogs, rib eye sandwiches and hamburgers trucked in from out-of-state.
A dash of hemp oil lends "roasted nut flavor," while a sprinkling of crushed hemp hearts adds bite to the quarter-pound bratwurst to be sold for around $6.
"Some people will assume it tastes like marijuana but there is a major difference," said Webb's Butcher Block manager Trey Webb, who is overseeing production of 2,000 Hemp Dawgs from two Henry County steers at the family business in Paynesville. "It has a nice, roasted nut flavor to it."
The Hemp Dawg represents a breakthrough for Kentucky cattle farmers, whose young steers are shipped out west to be fattened in feed lots. For decades, fair goers have chomped on conventional beef trucked in by Sysco from all over the U.S. to grills manned by 40 workers at Kentucky Cattlemen's food outlets. Hemp contains no THC, the high-inducing compound in marijuana.
Hemp added to locally-produced meats shatters a barrier for a little-understood crop local farmers hope proves lucrative enough to secure a future for small, family-owned farms.
This week, farmer David Neville got help from U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie's office to navigate U.S. Dept. of Agriculture guidelines for USDA inspectors' approval required to process hemp hearts and hemp oil into new meat products.
"Marijuana is not a permitted ingredient," in foods approved by the Food & Drug Administration, the USDA told Massie's office in an email. "Hemp oil and hemp seeds may be used ... for the purpose of flavoring in meat and poultry products without any additional approval."
Massie's a beef farmer and longtime advocate for crops Kentucky farmers can raise profitably to replace lost revenue from tobacco subsidies. He authored an amendment to the current farm bill allowing hemp to be grown and marketed for research purposes.
“As a producer of grass-fed beef, I am familiar with the difficulties small producers face when marketing directly to consumers,” said Rep. Massie, who owns 50 head of cattle and whose 4th Congressional District stretches across northern Kentucky from Shelby County to Ashland.
“Despite consumers’ desire to know where their food comes from, federal inspection requirements make it difficult for them to purchase food from local farmers they know and trust," Massie added. "These onerous federal rules also make it more difficult for small farms and ranches to succeed financially. It is time to open our markets to small farms and producers and give consumers the freedom to choose.”
As a result of Massie's help, the USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service gave the green light on the Kentucky Hemp Dawg Wednesday. By Thursday, Henry County cattle farmer David Neville cooked up hemp dogs for fair officials to taste. He left with an order for 2,000 brats from Maxine Bracken, a beef restaurateur at the Kentucky State Fair since since 1986.
The hemp dogs "are really good," Bracken said. "It's a lot like a Polish sausage. We'll probably serve it with sauerkraut or peppers and onions."
"I'm not going to crow but I will say there was a bunch of people that said it will take months to get this done," Neville said. "I've been dead driven to get a Hemp Dawg into the state fair."
Hemp Dawgs join Kentucky Cattlemen's other menu offerings, including $5 commodity hot dogs and five-ounce rib eye sandwiches from Sysco to sell for around $8 or $9 at the fair August 18 through 28, Bracken said. Inspired by the local beef Hemp Dawg, Bracken said she's also in talks to procure Kentucky-grown hamburger meat from Homestead Heritage Meats, a farm based in Springfield.
Sysco's commodity beef patties retail for 86 cents apiece, she said while the Kentucky hamburger runs $1.16 for each four-ounce patty.
Hemp oil derived from Kentucky-grown hemp comes from Victory Hemp Foods, based in Campbellsburg. Since the crop is so new in Kentucky, hemp hearts have yet to be harvested here on research crops overseen by that company, owner Chad Rosen said. To fine tune the taste, Neville will test his Kentucky beef hot dogs Saturday with hemp on top incorporated into green tomato relish at the Henry County Harvest Showcase prepared by Falls City Smokers, Neville said.
In its 17th year, the July 30 agricultural festival showcases locally-grown foods, country ham, crafts and tractor display. Besides hot dogs, the harvest festival features pulled pork from a hog raised in Henry County. The event is free at the Henry County Fairgrounds, Highway 421, in New Castle from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
"It's really hard to put your marketing hat on while you're fixing fences, cutting hay and making sure the calves are OK," Neville said of his investment of $5,000 in the form of two of his Capstone Farms steers in Hemp Dawg production. "I'm just a farmer sticking his neck out and hoping the public is ready."
Jere Downs can be reached at (502) 582-4669, @JereDowns on Twitter and Jere Downs on Facebook.