"Your Natural Fiber Lifestyle"
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San Luis Obispo, CA
Industrial Grade Hemp
by Lawson Schaller
In 1941 Henry Ford built a car with a plastic made partially from hemp and wheat straw. The extraordinary versatility of industrial hemp is absolutely fascinating. Given our growing dependence on petroleum for plastics, adhesives, etc., it is exciting and comforting to know that we have sustainable and renewable alternatives available.
That is, if our federal laws relax the regulations around growing it. According to NORML, "More than 30 industrialized nations commercially grow hemp, including England and Canada. The European Union subsidizes farmers to grow the crop, which is legally recognized as a commercial crop by the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). Nevertheless, US law forbids farmers from growing hemp without a federal license, and has discouraged all commercial hemp production since the 1950s."
There is a believe that starting last century, wealthy influential industrialists' campaigned successfully against hemp in favor of trees and petrochemicals (of which these industrialists allegedly had significant holdings in). Read more at Examiner.com.
Industrial grade hemp is grown and studied around the world for a variety of industrial applications. These uses do not include getting high. This column refers strictly to the benefits of industrial grade hemp, distinct and separate from its more controversial cousin. Industrial grade hemp was once grown widely in our country and our government used to encourage its cultivation.
The use of industrial grade hemp goes back centuries. James Cook's Endeavour and the ships of its era had their sails and ropes made of hemp. Most of the paper from the 1800's was made from hemp and its long fibers make for high quality paper. A recent article in Chemical and Engineering News talked about a current shortage of good quality used paper that contains long fibers. Paper with long fibers makes for a higher quality recycled paper.
George Washington, Ben Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson grew industrial hemp on their farms. While many believe the Declaration of Independence was written on hemp, it wasn't. But the drafts of that document, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution almost certainly were.
Beyond the patriotic association and historical use of hemp, it is also interesting to note that in 1942 the U.S. government produced a film entitled "Hemp for Victory." The film encouraged hemp cultivation in order to help with the war effort. With the Philippines and East Indian hemp supplies cut off due to Japanese control, we needed American grown hemp for industrial production.
Hemp is a hardy crop. It is said to be drought, pest, and cold resistant, and is easy on the soil. Many folks feel it is a very good renewable resource that will lead to a more sustainable world. In comparison to trees, one acre of usable hemp fiber is equal to the usable fiber of four acres of trees or two acres of cotton. Some trees can mature in 50 - 100 years, while hemp does so in as little as 100 days.
Throughout the 1800's and early 1900's, industrial grade hemp was used for a variety of products. The original Levi jeans were made from hemp. Many clothing articles today are made from hemp. Hemp is said to be softer, warmer and more durable than cotton. (These clothes and accessories are available at retailers like Hempshak in San Luis Obispo.)
Back to practical applications. Hemp is identified by the Department of Primary Industries in Australia as a source of natural resin for the construction industry, allowing less dependence on petroleum. One site goes on to say "the main challenge is to make it financially viable for farmers to grow crops for this purpose." According to Hemp.com, hemp has many other applications for building materials—such as foundations, wallboard, carpets, bricks, roofing materials and the list goes on. Hemp seed also produces oil that can be used in or as bio fuel. Hemp oil is the highest source of essential omega 3 and fatty acids and has other associated health benefits.
It seems that industrial grade hemp needs renewed consideration. A number of psychological, cultural, political and legal barriers may exist. However, times may be a changin'?
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