For the first time ever — at least since WWII, when hemp was grown for the war effort — industrial hemp was invited to have an information booth at the recent Washington State Farm Bureau Convention. For the historic occasion, Sandy Soderberg of Evergreen Hemp Co and I had the pleasure of hosting the most visited booth at the convention.
What does that say?
Attitudes toward industrial hemp are almost as varied as the uses of the plant itself. There are many who still believe that growing hemp is letting a dangerous narcotic out of the bag. Others, like the Canadian Hemp Trade Association, are anxious that they are missing out on a valuable health market by not developing the laws and infrastructure to meet a growing demand.
This health benefit, as we learned in a Skype call with Albert Dun of Dun Agro in the Netherlands, is not just for humans. The Dutch have discovered that feeding just 80 grams of hemp to dairy cows cuts down bacteria, mastitis and the need for antibiotics while increasing milk production.
Another potential of this amazing plant to solve a major health issue!
Before we even put the seed in the ground, the hemp excitement about new markets is electric. We know that hemp used in building results in the greenest, most integrated and lasting wall system we can imagine—with just lime, hurd, water, and sand. (Clay can replace lime in some climates). The fiber is in demand for high end automobile production. Paper, OSB, fuel, animal bedding … the list is too long to mention.
Then, of course, there’s the farming itself.
Sandy’s been talking to farmers about hemp in Washington for about three years now, and was able to influence the Washington State Legislature to pass a bill to study hemp for animal food. That’s progress, but not as much as we’d like.
While we know that hemp is a fantastic source of the omega fatty acids that are optimal for human health (the Germans say that eggs from chickens that eat it are the best tasting ever), we don’t actually have permission to plant the hemp and feed it to Washington chickens. The federal government’s Drug Enforcement Agency still controls the seed and the planting.
There is still a lot of need for education.
In a state like Washington, where marijuana is legal to grow with a permit and to buy if you are an adult, we have the opportunity to demonstrate industrial hemp has nothing to do with getting high. This situation should prompt farmers, small businesses and citizens to ponder the reasons why hemp should remain so rigidly controlled. It should make us think about who benefits from the strict regulations.
On the other hand, advocates and rebels should be talking to farmers and agronomists and processors—growers and builders of infrastructure -- about both the challenges and the contributions of this very plastic, prolific, durable, and versatile plant.
Like the splay of fingers in the Cannabis leaf, there are many facets to growing and utilizing this generous plant. Deprived of discovery and development by regressive laws for nearly a century, it is time to apply a multi-level approach to emerging new hemp-based solutions, markets, environmental repair, health, and hope.