September 16, 2022
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. – Recently, U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, recognized Heartland Chia of Franklin, Kentucky, as Senate Small Business of the Week.

Dr. Paul entered the following into the Congressional Record:

Mr. PAUL. Mr. President, as Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, each week I recognize an outstanding Kentucky small business that exemplifies the American entrepreneurial spirit. This week, it is my privilege to recognize Heartland Chia of Franklin, Kentucky as the Senate Small Business of the Week. 

Chris Kummer’s small business was founded on an idea that virtually no one thought possible: successful chia crops planted and harvested in the United States. But as a fifth-generation farmer, Mr. Kummer is no stranger to the challenges posed by mother nature. Thus, with decades of farming experience under his belt and a tireless dedication to his crops, Mr. Kummer has turned this once crazy idea into a thriving business. Founded in 2012, Heartland Chia develops and markets locally grown chia to buyers across the country. Chris’ wife, Jill Kummer, joins her husband at the helm of their business, handling most of the marketing and administrative duties while her husband works with the crop directly in the field. Together, the Kummers are proud to be the only chia seed growers in the U.S.A, a tremendous feat that adds to the biodiversity of Kentucky’s burgeoning agricultural industry. 

Mr. Kummer will be the first to tell you that his business would not be possible had it not been for the visionary researchers at the University of Kentucky College of Food, Agriculture, and Environment. Since his great-grandfather planted his first crop on their family farm in 1889, the Kummers have grown crops traditional to the Midwestern U.S., such as soy, wheat, and corn. It never occurred to them to plant chia as the plant requires a very long summer in order to grow and produce seed, meaning that most of the world’s chia plants are grown in regions near the equator, such as Central America. Farmers everywhere took it for granted that this plant could not be grown north of the U.S.-Mexico border, but the breeding program over at the University Kentucky sought to change that. Over a period spanning six to eight years, researchers Dr. David Hildebrand and Dr. Tim Phillips, both plant and soil scientists, used decades old breeding methods to create a new strain of chia that would flower earlier in the year, allowing the crop to survive in less temperate climates than those near the equator. Once the scientists created a product they were confident in, they were careful in selecting a steward for their new “Early Flowering” chia seed. Dr. Hildebrand knew Chris Kummer from his days as a student at UK and knew of his farming background therefor he immediately came to mind. 

In 2011, Dr. Phillips and Dr. Hildebrand gave Mr. Kummer half the world’s seed supply of this new strain of chia. In the first year of planting, the Kummers lost most of their chia crops, as they and the researchers over at University of Kentucky were still learning best practices for growing this new crop. But through the persistence instilled in him from his farmer forebears, Chris and his wife absorbed as much knowledge as they could from this first planting season and put it to the test the next year. By the end of their second planting season, the Kummers had already entered into commercial production. The success of this second season led UK to purchase a patent for the seed, ensuring that it only be used for benefit of American famers, domestic food manufacturers, and domestic consumers. 

Today, Heartland Chia works with several farmers across four different states that all use the Kummer’s chia for manufacturing processes. By producing this previously ungrowable plant in the U.S., the Kummers have not only added to the biodiversity of the state, they have created a reliable source of what is now widely considered “a superfood.” In a recent publication, the Mayo Clinic listed chia as one of the few foods truly deserving the distinction of “superfood” due its long list of health and nutritional benefits. Given this growth in consumer demand, it was only natural that Mr. Kummer would embark on this experimental journey with the support of his family, University of Kentucky scientists, as well as food manufacturers seeking top-quality chia. 

Chris has been celebrated for his innovative spirit as several food companies encouraged him to pursue this unlikely feat of growing chia on American soil. Chris has fulfilled a need within the U.S. market as many food suppliers lacked a reliable source for top quality chia seeds. After overcoming the odds, the Kummers continue to grow and produce their own chia and market their products direct to consumers and to food suppliers alike. Not only are they doing a great service to the economy and ecology of Kentucky, they are spreading the good word about an unlikely food that greatly bolsters our body’s health. Through persistence and dedication, the Kummers have made their dream a reality, to the great benefit of Kentucky and beyond. Congratulations to Chris and Jill Kummer along with the entire team at Heartland Chia. I thank you for your innovative outlook and entrepreneurial spirit, and I look forward to seeing your continued growth and success in Kentucky.

As Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, Dr. Paul continues the tradition of honoring America’s small businesses and entrepreneurs. The Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship oversees proposed legislation on matters relating to the Small Business Administration and investigates all problems relating to America’s small businesses.