Is Hemp America’s Next Big Cash Crop?
Hemp is one of the oldest known cultivated crops. Dating back some 10,000 years, it’s woven into the fabric of our human history as closely as, well, fabric (and fiber and rope and food and…). In fact, humans enjoyed hemp’s long reign all the way up until a half-century ago. That’s when a few square politicians and industry kingpins pretty much ruined it for everyone.
That is, until the passing of 2018’s Farm Bill. This opened the floodgates on farming, access, research, and growing hemp as a commodity—putting it in a position to become this country’s next big economic boon. This is because hemp’s fiber is incredibly versatile, a material that can be made into a stunning array of manufactured goods, food, and household items. The only thing standing in its way could be something as simple as public perception.
Why? Well, hemp is a cousin to the lovely flowering female marijuana plant—whose intoxicating properties keep getting her thrown in Drug Jail. First, with 1937’s reefer madness backlash resulting in the Marijuana Tax Act, and then again right after World War II (after a brief lift on the huge, unaffordable tax in the name of cheap war materials). And then in 1970 Congress passed The Controlled Substances Act which classified all forms of cannabis, including hemp, as a schedule I drug (upping the penalties for growing, possessing, and distributing the plant as a federal crime).
Ironically, hemp has none of the psychoactive properties of its alluring cousin marijuana, so the fact that this handy vegetable keeps getting grounded along with his cousin—just for a loose family resemblance—is getting pretty old. Among those in the know, hemp has been hailed the plant kingdom’s Green Buffalo—a reference to how all parts of the plant are valuable and useful (seeds, stems, stalks, flowers), much like how native cultures used all the parts of a buffalo. So now that he’s coming out of his cousin’s shadow, it seems well past time for Hemp to step up and take his dues.
Why hemp makes sense for American farmers, and is an ideal choice for so many applications, is that it’s inexpensive. Compared to marijuana (a notoriously needy shrub that demands lots of attention), hemp got its nickname ”ditch weed” for a reason—it’s incredibly fast and easy to grow, and flourishes with little care. And, compared to other natural fibers (e.g., flax, kenaf, and jute), hemp’s fiber is renowned for its length, strength, and antibacterial properties.
It’s also environmentally benign, good for the soil, and gaining a reputation as something of a health panacea. Which means hemp is a sustainable and renewable alternative in many industries that are notoriously bad for the environment including cotton, petroleum/plastics, oil, and paper (imagine: a replacement for teepee alone!). Hemp could improve our medical system, upgrade our drug laws, and replace nearly everything from cotton T-shirts to junk mail to opioids. Too good to be true?
Which is why some consider hemp a threat—not only to established businesses but even to the cannabis industry itself. Hemp’s pollen can travel long distances and cross-pollinate with marijuana to weaken the integrity of medical and recreational crops. However, professional growers know that with a little cooperation, different cannabis industries can thrive simultaneously.
Until then, hemp is making a steadily increasing appearance in the manufacturing and consumer marketplace, across all kinds of industries, including:
Hemp seed is a protein-rich, high-antioxidant food that contains all the important fatty-acids (a perfect mix of omega-6 and omega-3s), making it an ideal food source for humans. The seeds can be eaten straight, made into a granola or cereal, ground into flour to make bread and baked goods, blended into nut milk, or dried into protein powder—and the oil can be used for salad dressings, marinades, margarine, and so on.
Pet Food and Bedding
Hemp is also an inexpensive protein to include in pet food to supplement the nutrition of dogs, cows, horses, birds. It even makes cat’s coat shinier! The fibers also make a great cat litter or pet bedding.
Body Oil and Beauty Products
Hemp seeds are nature’s highest botanical source of essential fatty acid (EFA), making it an ideal oil to use on the skin, hair, and body (note: pure hemp oil is different than CBD oil, described below). EFA aids in the regeneration of cracked and dry skin, and is an ideal moisturizer used alone or added to beauty products.
Oil Based Products
The oil from hemp can also be used to make any number of oil or petroleum-based products such as candles, lanterns, varnish, ink and even long-lasting (non-toxic, eco-friendly) paint.
Clothing & Fabrics
Hemp’s strong fiber can be used to make fabric, cloth, and clothing (big-name brands like Armani and Calvin Klein have already jumped on the bandwagon ), not to mention linens, twine, canvas, upholstery, auto interiors, and boat sails.
Hemp can be made into a composite material similar to plastic that could supplement disposables, product packaging, and packing material—yet it’s biodegradable and could aid (read: revolutionize) landfill reduction. Even high-end auto-makers like Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar are using hemp in their door panelling, dashboards, and interior upholstery (making their cars lighter and more fuel efficient).
Hemp’s fiber is ideal for making paper products of all kinds—and its fast-growing and renewable properties make it a far more economical and eco-friendly source than tree fiber.
Hemp’s raw oil can be turned into petroleum, biofuel, bio-diesel, and ethanol.
Hemp’s core fibers can be used to form a strong, lightweight, and durable type of concrete that weathers the elements particularly well (insiders call it ‘hempcrete’)—and that’s in addition to outlasting other building materials like fiberboard, paint, insulation, and carpet.
The second most abundant plant compound found in cannabis is called Cannabidiol (CBD) (read: How to find high-quality CBD products), and current studies show that CBD-based tinctures, oils, and vapes), have much potential for treating a variety of conditions of the body and mind, such as stress and anxiety, sleep problems, inflammation, pain, and more.
…And so that’s a lot of stuff. With headway into all these industries, will hemp become the new darling of the commodity world? Will hemp be weed’s helping hand out of the gutter? Or, is it marijuana’s gaining popularity that’s ended up freeing hemp from the shackles of oppression? Who knows. As the nation slowly gets hip to hemp (again)—in the end we know it’s usually the politics of weed that wins out.
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