Embarking on the next stage of the life journey…
As I have been exploring what next to do, often revisiting ‘old’ ideas, thinking about what are my interests, what would I want to do out of simple interest as well as what are my passions, and what could possibly generate some income, I am currently following some trains of thought…two ideas that have followed me for years is that of the wonder plant of hemp and pot.
Part 1 – Hemp
In a nutshell: “Hemp seems to be a relatively easy crop to grow. It’s strong, it doesn’t require pesticides, it grows pretty fast (~4 months) and it even renews the land in which it is grown. The more substantial challenge is harvesting and processing it.” (Bhudeva blog, 2010, – where’s part 2?)
I came across this comment when I was netsurfing all things small scale hemp production. This was the case back in 2000 and it appears somewhat to still be the case. Why am I not surprised.
The original plan was to start hemp farming back in the early 2000s when we headed to Nova Scotia to buy rural property. I can’t remember when exactly – I had to have been in Vancouver – when I saw the documentary, The Hemp Revolution (1995) and was blown away. You can watch it at https://topdocumentaryfilms.com/hemp-revolution/. Hemp was this amazing revolutionary commodity and it was so utterly absurd that it had and was still banned because of its connection to pot. Then years later, I saw The Union: The Business Behind Getting High (2007) while I was in Kelowna. You can watch it at https://topdocumentaryfilms.com/the-union-the-business-behind-getting-high/. Also good viewing but of course with a greater focus on pot.
I was with someone else at the time, and as we made our way across the country from west to east beginning the next chapter in our lives, we visited several actors in the hemp industry. In Vancouver, we visisted a retail outlet that sold a range of hemp products from oils to clothing. This place was co-owned by a farmer who was growing hemp in one of the prairie provinces. We had wanted to visit the farm but this just didn’t work out logistically. While passing through Barrie, Ontario, we visited another retail outlet that specialized in hemp seed products, also undertaking some cultivation of the crop. Next was a visit in Quebec outside of Montreal to what was supposed to have been an operating hemp fibre processing factory. Well when we finally found the place and the person who had agreed to meet with us, it was then we found out that the factory had gone bankrupt and was up for sale. Here is where we really got a much more complete picture of the nature of hemp industry as a not so financially viable crop. This put a big damper on our plans. It was just not to be at least in terms of fibre at this time.
It turns out the fibre is very heavy and so trucking it long distances to a factory that can process it becomes quickly very cost prohibitive. It was said that such a processing plant needed to be within 100 km from the farms where it was being grown. Back then, hemp fibre was being grown in China and some Eastern European countries, far cheaper than it could be growing in North America. Seed was a different matter but in the early 2000s it was still considered a new super niche market so you needed market access of a particular kind – larger urban area with many having significant disposable income.
When we arrived in NS, we did meet with a farmer who was growing some hemp in smallish plots mainly as an experiment. Not sure whatever happened to this farmer and his experiment, but I do remember that it was a challenge in terms of just being able to plant the crop in the first instance thanks to bureaucracy and the government’s supposed infinite wisdom. The paperwork was substantial, prohibitively so. Remember farmers aren’t necessarily good business people – they know how to farm. You had to complete pages and pages of forms where you almost had to sign over your life or at least let the authorities know everything about you and your land, opening up your private life. You had to provide GPS coordinates of the acres where you would grow the crop. You had to have a criminal record check. You had to have an assigned researcher/scientist who would do testing of the plant for THC content (less than 0.3%) – there was still this crazy idea that you could get high on hemp – well maybe if you smoked an acre’s worth but you would be dead before you got this far since you just couldn’t smoke that much in such a timeframe.
The reasons for all of this is that hemp is deemed a controlled substance, regulated by the Office of Controlled Substances under the jurisdiction of Health Canada. So in actual fact and still to this day, hemp does not fall under a department of agriculture which would have been logical (common sense?) no? Being a controlled substance was and is still so utterly ridiculous, an indication of how governments that are supposed to be filled with ‘smart’ people, and have been completely coopted for decades by those who don’t want to see this wonder plant replacing industries where just too much money is at stake – that of the petrochemical industries. Watch the documentaries. Fascinating stuff.
Hemp as the wonder product
In case you didn’t know, hemp fibre can be used for:
yarn, twine, cord, rope
linen fabric for clothing, for cloth bags, for sails of boats or yurt tarps
components for cars: thermoset compression molding for car panels, biofuel
building materials: e.g. hempcrete, insulation
Hemp seeds can be used for:
a variety of beauty products from essential oils, body lotions, shampoo & conditioner,
a variety of food items, e.g .oils, protein powders, burgers, energy bars, flavoured water, hemp beer, milk, flour, granola
Check out https://ministryofhemp.com/blog/hemp-products-list/ where I got some of the above ideas.
So as I have been exploring what to do with some of the fields on our land that are being encroached upon by the ever prolific alder bush and of course weeds, I am turning once again to hemp. There are two fields in particular that I am eyeing, one about 10 acres, one about 20 acres. Alas we don’t have the heavy equipment, e.g. tractor with all the implements to do the prep work on the field – removing alder shrubs & roots, plowing the field and then planting so we would have to pay others to do this work. This is an endeavour I am willing to invest some of our meagre (retirement) savings. I actually feel we could do the harvesting by hand, that is the actual cutting of the fibre stalk, however then comes all the steps in processing from:
1) ‘drying the plant’ aka retting: a process of decay whereby the pectin that binds the fibres together decomposes on exposure to light and air, and the long bast fibres are exposed, those that occupy the inner bark),
2) separating fibre from other parts of plant: aka decortication: the removal of the central woody core from the stem
At this stage the hemp fibre can be manipulated for different end purposes.
I had sent an email to firstname.lastname@example.org as this was the only way to get the actual industrial hemp application forms – why are the forms not simply available on the website you might ask? Who knows. Within a few days I received the necessary paperwork in order to apply for a license to grow hemp (and other activities related to hemp, e.g. processing of hemp, plant breeding, research, etc…).
Along with this was mention of Health Canada’s Notice to Industry dated November 22, 2016, regarding the Section 56 Class Exemption in Relation to the Industrial Hemp Regulations. The Notice to Industry stated, “The Exemption better aligns regulation of industrial hemp with the demonstrated low public health and safety risk of the crop [like duh!]. The Exemption is an interim measure to simplify the license application process as the Government moves forward with its commitment to legalize, strictly regulate, and restrict access to marijuana.”
Fortunately there have been some changes which making growing it a little less bureaucratic. As Health Canada states: “It has reduced and simplified the licensing and regulatory requirements placed on growers of Industrial Hemp. These changes include:
A cultivation license will be issued without the need to pre-identify planting sites.
There is no longer a minimum acreage requirement for Industrial Hemp cultivation [there were different licenses if you cultivated more or less than 10 acres previously];
One Industrial Hemp license will cover all cultivation sites and activities, reducing the number of licenses and license amendments required [you used to have to get one license per plot under cultivation];
The requirement for THC testing for most crops (grain and fiber) has been eliminated.” [If you use approved cultivars of which there are several from which to choose from whether you want to focus on seeds or fibre or dual purpose, you don’t have to get your crop tested for THC content.
I continued my online research but I’m not sure I am making much headway in seeking clarification or a way to make this happen without selling the farm to the bank. It seems in Canada, the prairie provinces and to a lesser extent Ontario are the only ones really doing anything with hemp.
Or the information really pertains to big ag – why is there so little info for the small scale producer?
I have since found out that the equipment that would be needed is still too costly for one person/family/farm to acquire unless of course they want to go into debt which we will simply not do. Taproot farms with their fibrelab is a great initiative designing and manufacturing equipment but still too out of reach for the individual farmer.
I have yet to investigate if there are government grants available, having been suggested to check out ACOA (Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency) not loans since in the latter case this means you go into debt! available. I am hopeful but then perhaps I am just being naive.
So at this time I can see we could grow a 10 acre plot. We just wouldn’t be able to process the harvest but then it might just be good to recondition the soil. At this time I am looking to connect with others who are interested in getting a small hemp industry off the ground on the North shore of Nova Scotia. I am offering the following: I would be I) the lead organizer in this whole initiative taking care of the paperwork, looking for partners & $, ii) a grower of some of the hemp fibre crop, and iii) marketing hemp products. I am hoping there are folks out there who have $ to spare not expecting a great or quick return on investment but rather want to invest in the future of the area, their legacy being to help set up the industry to create some employment in the region, employment that does not pollute but actually can benefit the environment and at the same time people. (You know what I mean when we have things like the pulp mill in Pictou, the proposed gold mining in a watershed area, and opening up communities to fracking).
So this is where I’m at with all this. I really do want to grow some bloody hemp! Whose with me?
Part 2 – Pot – Vape cafe anyone?
Part 3 – The Dark Green Mountain Survival Research Centre education and media campaign!