Hemp Advocates Turn Up the Volume

May 18, 2010 – Industrial hemp advocates will talk for hours about the strength and versatility of hemp fibers, the health benefits of its seed and the injustice being done to the Oregon and U.S. economies because the crop isn’t being grown domestically.

Hemcrete house in North Carolina Last summer, Oregon became one of 16 states to legalize the growing of industrial hemp, but federal regulations require would-be farmers to get a permit from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to grow the crop.

The movement to legalize industrial hemp is making a national push this week to call attention to the crop’s long history in the United States — hemp was grown on the current site of the Pentagon and was used to make military products during World War II.

Hemp History Week comes to Portland on Tuesday with an event at the Bridgeport brewery in the Pearl District, a building that used to house a hemp rope factory.

David Madera, cofounder of Hemp Technologies of Asheville, N.C., is importing hemp from Canada and Europe to manufacture a carbon-neutral building material called “hemcrete.” He is coming to Portland this week both to support the effort and to find a partner to build a hemcrete house in the Portland area.

“When I started looking at green building products, there was a lot of green-washing,” Madera said. “A lot of it was petroleum-based.”

Madera said hemcrete — hemp fibers combined with a lime-based binder — will continue to sequester carbon dioxide even after the building is built.

On the food side of the hemp business, Hans Fastre, CEO of Living Harvest Foods of Portland, said the legalization of hemp farming would increase his business’ gross margins by 10 percent.

Living Harvest, which makes hemp milk, foods and supplements, has a steadily growing business; revenue has jumped from $3 million in 2007 to $5 million last year. But Fastre said that a federal law requires his company to make sure any imported hemp does not include “viable” seeds or seeds that could be planted. The process of making sure the seed can’t sprout adds an extra logistical hoop for the company to jump through.

“Today, our Canadian counterparts are not forced to go through this expensive step and it puts us at a significant disadvantage,” Fastre said. “Local hemp farming would change our business dynamics and would result in cheaper products on the shelves.”

Lisa Sedlar, president of New Seasons Market, said sales of hemp products are up around 23 percent year-over-year among the chain’s nine stores.

“I really can’t think of a more versatile crop,” Sedlar said. “We’re supporting legalizing the growth of industrial hemp primarily because it’s good for the health of the people, the land and the regional economy.”

Sedlar said that hemp doesn’t require the pesticides of other industrial crops.

But a 1998 article on the topic by now-deceased research scientist and professor at Oregon State University, Daryl T. Ehrensing, concluded that industrial hemp may not be a miracle crop for Oregon. Without irrigation, the crop is unlikely to thrive in Oregon’s dry summers, Ehrensing concluded, and without the subsidies made available to hemp farmers in some European countries, the crop would be unlikely to pencil out for Northwestern farmers.

Still, hemp advocates argue that they just want to give farmers the option.

“This is the first time we’ve done a unified national campaign about hemp,” said Christina Volgyesi, the Portland-based project manager for the Hemp History Week campaign. “We just want farmers to be able to grow industrial hemp again.”  Source.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *