CHIA PHOTO

Oak Hill Farms is located at 1875 Kummer Road in Simpson County.

Kummer Road is home to one of the county’s beloved traditions — Spray Paint Road. For decades, people, both young and old, have used spray paint to write messages, create art, and leave their mark in this part of Simpson County’s history.

The road, located in the southern portion of the county, cuts through the farmland of its namesake the Kummer family.

Fourth-generation farmer Chris Kummer manages the family farm, known as Oak Hill Farms. He is assisted by his wife Jill, their son Jay, and a handful of team members.

Oak Hill is one of the many farms in Simpson County that produce row crops. In their case, this includes wheat, corn, and soybeans, as well as specialty crops.

Through the years, the specialty crops have included food-grade wheat, white corn, and soybeans, as well as soybeans specifically for Asian markets. These crops have allowed the Kummers to grow and sell products that are seen as value-added and stand out from the crowd.

Their newest crop is chia.

“It was essentially running a startup company. We may as well have been making televisions or something,” said Chris Kummer. “We started with next to nothing and worked to develop the product and market, putting the pieces together and solving problems along the way.”

Adding chia to the Oak Hill Farms’ production, under the banner Heartland Chia, is the most recent effort the operation has taken to continue to stay at the forefront of the agricultural markets.

Along with the University of Kentucky, they have worked to label herbicide safe for chia, develop the food chain for the product, and prove that the strains of chia being grown in the United States are equivalent to that which has been grown in South America, among other necessary tasks.

Currently, they market chia as an opportunity for food manufacturers who purchase the product in bulk as an ingredient, along with directly to consumers who are interested in incorporating the seed into their diet.

Chia is a seed taken from plants native to Mexico and is traditionally grown in countries near the equator. Wild strains of chia have been successful in these climates due to their extended growing season. The Kummers became the first farm in the United States to grow a separate strain of the plant compatible with Kentucky’s climate.

The strain was developed by the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment in order to meet the growing interest in ‘super foods’ as well as locally grown, organic products.

Heartland Chia is a member of the Kentucky Proud program, which is managed by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture and serves as a marketing opportunity for a diverse array of agricultural products. The Kentucky Proud label on a product signifies that it is a part of the program. It allows for consumers to shop local easily because the product was in some way grown, raised, processed, packaged, or developed in the Bluegrass.

The program is not just beneficial to the consumers, Chris Kummer noted. It also provides resources to producers who are looking to begin direct sales and retail marketing. They are able to assist Kentucky farmers in a way that encourages these direct farm-to-consumer sales, without the cost of each farmer having to figure it out on their own.

Jill Kummer said COVID-19 has not hurt business.

“Coronavirus has actually had consumers looking for more products that are grown in the United States, and our chia sales in the last eight weeks have at least doubled,” Jill Kummer said.

All of their chia products are US-grown, gluten-free, and non-GMO.

Heartland Chia products can be purchased on their website heartlandchia.com, Amazon, and a handful of local businesses across the state. Their website also includes more information about the superfood and recipes.

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