Wednesday 22 June 2016

harvesting liberty : legalize industrial hemp

This blog was written with my American readers in mind, though I suspect there is plenty of good stuff in here for all of you.

Harvesting Liberty is a short, 12-minute documentary, that tells the tale of the Growing Warriors organisation – consisting of farmers and veterans – and their campaign to the US federal government to amend restrictions to growing industrial hemp. It’s beautifully shot and directed, and I’d be hard pressed to find anyone not moved by this tale of love of land and love of country.

I hope you'll watch this clip, and then sign the petition that will be presented to Congress on the 4th of July asking them to legalise industrial hemp.

The documentary features a US flag created from the hemp that has been hand-processed (with the aid of a special tool purchased with a grant from sustainable pioneers, Patagonia), including hand-spun thread that has been naturally dyed, and hand-woven fabric, created with the help of Fibershed. The flag was made to signify the collective history and future of a people who are suffering a lost connection with the land, a loss of community and, as Mike Lewis of Growing Warriors says, “our sense of place”.

Photo credit: Donnie Hedden

It's highly likely the first American flags were made of hemp. This crop was mandated to be grown by all of Britain’s colonies at the time because of the multiple uses of the one plant. George Washington was known to extol the value of the crop, as was Thomas Jefferson who stated, “Hemp is of the first necessity to the wealth and protection of the country.”*

A closer look at the crop explains why this was considered a ‘wonder-plant’. As indicated in the below graphic this one plant can provide “food, feed, fiber and fuel”**

It can be used to create fabric, of course, but also paper, ropes, building supplies, plastic-substitutes, and when eaten is an ideal source of omega-6 and omega-3. In addition, it’s incredibly healthy for the soil, as compared to cotton, corn, and other nutrient-depleting crops.

Image c/o

Despite the crop’s low concentrations of THC, which essentially eliminates the psychoactive potential of the plants, industrial hemp was included in the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 because of its relation to cannabis. Some states have allowed growth of the crop in recent years, and some states have legalized marijuana, but many farmers remain reluctant to grow industrial hemp because of lingering resistance from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

There is debate about whether it was the Controlled Substances Act or the onslaught of cheap synthetic materials that numbered industrial hemp’s days, however. Polyester and other fabrics were becoming widely available at that time in history, and they now make up approximately half of all textiles produced in the world. However, there is no doubt that hemp will play an important role in the shift to sustainable fashion. Already we’re seeing beautiful hemp-silk blends from the likes of KitX, and the durability of the fiber makes it ideal for denim, as seen with the Hemp Blue label (not to mention many products by Patagonia).

KitX Crushed Silk Hemp corset dress, Hemp Blue men's dark denim.

I’d urge you to watch this lovely film and sign the petition that will be presented to Congress on the 4th of July urging the federal legalisation of the cultivation of industrial hemp. 

It’s an ideal opportunity for US farmers and manufacturers to participate in the growing green economy, but also an important step toward thinking holistically about issues of sustainability and what it means to create opportunities for our fellow Americans that give back to, rather than take from, the earth.

As spoken by Mike Lewis of Growing Warriors:
In the end, there’s more than just fiber that tears and fades when you use cheap goods to hold things together.
U.S. veteran and Growing Warriors director Michael Lewis
with his hand-made hemp processing machine.
Photo credit: Donnie Hedden

* * * *

*I suspect that to some of you the use of the flag in this way could be construed as insincere or overly saccharine, but I must admit I was moved when listening to the story.

I also want to acknowledge that the colonisation and subsequent American Revolution were conducted at the heavy expense of America's First People, and as such am also weary of romanticising any non-indigenous groups of Americans when referring to American history. In addition, both Washington and Jefferson were known slave owners. It's a troubled history and I don't mean to gloss over it with this harkening back in time. I merely wish to suggest that the possibilities of this crop were relied upon by those who were establishing new settlements because it provided so much in one plant.

**As spoken by Michael Bowman, Chairman of the US National Hemp Association.

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