What Does Hemp Mean to Humboldt? Q&A with local hemp advocate and entrepreneur Anna Owen

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Anna in an industrial hemp field in Canada

Abbreviated version originally published in the April Edition of the Emerald Magazine:

With all the attention on cannabis these days, some may overlook the low THC seed and fiber crop varieties commonly known as hemp. In fact, there is a lot of confusion around what hemp is, how it can be used, and what role, if any, hemp can play in our local Humboldt scene. To gain some insight and understanding I interviewed Anna Owen, sole proprietor of Redwood Hemp – a local organization which organized the “cannabis stalk” drives at events such as the 2015 Hempfest. She’s also a grassroots organizer for the national Hemp History Week and volunteers with Hempstead Project HEART (begun by John Trudell) – a group currently working with Hemp Production Services, a Canada-based hemp food distribution company.

Tell us how you became the local hemp advocate lady in Humboldt County?

I have been collaborating with various groups of people for the last six years to bring back hemp farming. I began at Humboldt State as a student in the Environment and Community Program, and became very concerned about the ecology of our planet and also about social justice and the rights of people, specifically land-based communities. I learned about hemp through various workshops and events and I was blown away to find out that hemp is one of the healthiest foods that we could be eating, and that hemp could replace a lot of our petro-chemical as well as timber-based materials as a renewable resource. From that point I became really obsessed.

How is “hemp” different from the cannabis we smoke?

Hemp has very low THC, 0.3% or less according to industry standards. There is more opium in your poppy-seed muffin then there’s THC in hemp. It is the same species as the cannabis sativa that you smoke, ingest, or use topically, but it is a different variety. Think of it like different types of corn, like sweet corn and field corn. Some corn is grown for us to eat and some is grown for livestock. They are both corn but with different purposes.  Hemp is to be processed into different products, such as textiles, paper, body care products, and food products such as protein powders, hemp seeds and oil. Essentially, hemp is an oil-seed fiber crop.  There are also some hemp varieties of cannabis that are grown for their high CBD medicinal uses.

hemp look slike this

A big difference is that when growing hemp, both male and female plants are grown together, which is a big difference from the cannabis grown for buds to smoke, as those are all female plants.

Also, hemp processing requires specialized machinery and skills, and so is more complex and intensive than growing cannabis for smoke. Furthermore, it takes a lot more agricultural land to grow hemp; some say it takes 60 acres minimum to grow enough hemp to make it worthwhile for a farmer; as a grain crop as it takes a lot of plant material to make products and the economics for hemp grain is comparable to a corn or wheat market. Depending on what product you are growing the hemp to produce will depend on when you harvest the plant and how it is processed. For instance if you are making textiles, you harvest before the plant sets seeds as that is when the stalks are more green and pliable. Obviously if you are growing the plant for seed oil, you have to wait for the plant to set seed, etc.

Note that there are indigenous people, such as the Hmong people in Thailand, who use hand tools and make hemp products and have been doing that for centuries. So it is very possible to make hemp products by hand but it takes lots and lots of labor.

While hemp is different from the medicinal and recreational cannabis, we have to remember that the common ground is that it is all cannabis; I really promote that holistic look at the plant-we have all the different varieties but it is all cannabis. There are two camps of people forming and it can sometimes seem like hemp versus marijuana and we need to focus on what we have in common, as it is all cannabis.

What are the current legalities around growing hemp?

While nationally banned for commercial production in the United States, The Farm Bill has allowed 27+ state governments to vote yes on allowing pilot programs to operate; these states include Kentucky, Indiana, Hawaii , Tennessee, Vermont. The good news is that hemp is gaining traction for the first time since 1957, but it is all through research programs, mostly through universities and state departments of agriculture. Colorado is the one exception as it is the one state where the state is issuing commercial licenses to farm hemp. Hopefully Cali will get on board soon.

The problem is that cannabis is classified as a schedule 1 drug under the controlled substance act (meth is schedule II, so meth is safer than cannabis according to these standards). Therefore, most farmers are nervous about hemp farming as the acreage required to grow hemp is so large, and they rely so much on government subsidies, that the farmer would literally be betting their farm and livelihood, and it could ruin a family farm business completely. Also, there have been reports of farmers not being able to access planting seed, or enough seed, to grow hemp, even in the states where is has been legalized.

There is also SB566- the Hemp Farming Act through the CA Dept. of Agriculture signed in 2013. The language is such that only large-scale farmers can legally grown hemp, there is a five acre minimum, so real small mom and pop type farmers cannot operate under this Act.  This bill poises CA to grow industrial hemp when the federal government gives to go-ahead to cultivate.  It is interesting that this bill passed with bi-partisan support from diverse groups of people.

If medical\recreational cannabis becomes legal in Cali later this year, will that also make hemp legal?

No, in this case hemp got the short end of the stick, or, stalk. Legalizing medicinal and recreational cannabis will NOT necessarily also legalize hemp since it is not included in the language.  To clarify: legalization will make THC-laden varieties of cannabis legal but THC free hemp grown for fiber, grain, and seed, will remain in a grey area.

That seems a little backwards- the variety that gets you high will become legal but the variety that won’t get you high is also not being considered for legalization at the same time?  

Yea it is crazy, the hemp movement is struggling compared to the medicinal marijuana movement. But I don’t think there is an active conspiracy to put hemp down, I think a lot of it is to get the economic, farming and manufacturing infrastructure in place for this industry to move forward.

What does Redwood Hemp do?

Redwood Hemp collects cannabis stalk, the remaining stalks from local cannabis grows- to do research about the usefulness of this often-discarded resource. While not collecting currently, Redwood Hemp has to date collected 1\4 ton of material, some of which has been used to make experimental “canacrete” bricks (alternative to hempcrete), some of which has been used for soil amendments, compost and mulch, and there is research for the resource as a potential paper sources. Some has been inoculated with various mushrooms.

Hemp Fest poster_small

Cannabis stalk is different yet similar to industrial hemp. Mainly, there tends to be a higher quantity of “hurd”- the short, woody fibrous material in the stalk- in local cannabis fiber than in traditional “industrial” hemp plants.  This does not mean it cannot be used, it just needs to be researched as to how it can best be utilized.  For instance, it does not seem economically feasible to use cannabis stalk to make textiles such as yarn as it would be very labor intensive; so we need to do research on what cottage industries could use this resource realistically.

The way we can legally collect stalks is that under federal and state laws the mature stalks are excluded from the definition of marijuana via the Controlled Substances Act and the CA Health and Safety Code Section 11018 excludes mature stalks.

Do you see hemp being grown and \or processed locally? What are your visions for hemp here in Humboldt County?

I am very careful when addressing this topic and I try to keep an open mind as there is still a lot to figure out…. I am not advocating for hemp being grown locally at this time, I am just advocating we learn more about it and work to become an all encompassing cannabis movement. Because we do not have a lot of flat farmland available, and because hemp takes up so much space, I am not sure I see a future for large scale industrial hemp farms in Humboldt County except maybe in certain little pockets if it’s properly zoned.

The pollen is another issue and why zoning is important; because of the high concentration of THC flower cannabis grows here, there is a concern that male hemp pollen will contaminate the cannabis buds-to-be. It has been said that if you keep the hemp farm at least three miles from any other grows you should be OK, but this needs more research and could be a point of contention as it was in southern Oregon. Sweet corn and corn for animal feed is a good example of managing cross pollination Both are wind pollinated crops that require ¼ acre distances.  Again, this needs more research.

I do see an opportunity for more hemp products being distributed locally, even if they are made from imported hemp (most hemp is currently grown in China where it has been grown for centuries).

What are some of your favorite local hemp products and stores?

Satori Movement is a cool local clothing company making hip urban skateboard culture-style apparel and skateboards; Solutions is a great store in Arcata that sells hemp clothing and household items; Humboldt Hempwick is a favorite; and there’s Hemp I Scream (you have to try this!).

You mentioned hemp being a healthy food. What are some of your fave ways to eat it?

You can make your own hemp milk by blending hulled hemp seed (which you can find in bulk at health food stores and even at Costco) with water, approximately a 1:3 ratio. (Note: there are hemp milk recipes online that add more ingredients, check them out and play with it until you find what works for your taste buds.) Store it in a jar in the fridge and shake before use. It is great with cereal or in smoothies.  (Note: hulled means the outer part has been removed; the soft edible inner part that remains is called the “hemp heart.”)

You can also just throw the hemp seed hearts on anything such as granola, yogurt, or whatever. You can also bake with them.

Hemp seeds and seed oil have as much Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty essential acids as fish oil, and is a complete protein. It is easily digestible, anti-inflammatory and yummy !

What are some of the little known uses for hemp that our readers may not have heard about?

The technology industry is taking hemp on…”Graphene”—using nanotechnology as an efficient energy storing and charging source for super capacitor batteries- is becoming the new thing. Hemp is superior to toxic graphite as it is renewable, sustainable, and safe.

Hemp is also very useful in ecological remediation, and hemp products can be more sustainable and ecologically friendly so we hope to see more hemp-based packaging and products come into the marketplace.

hemp look sthis 2

There is huge economic potential too.  Last year the national hemp industry made about 600 million on all sales of hemp products. The medical and recreational cannabis industry, by comparison, made billions. There is a huge untapped potential to make money with hemp in this country. If industrial hemp is legalized then national companies can begin to process American made hemp goods of all kinds which can be sold in local stores. It can create jobs for people in this country as well as wholesome products.

What can people do if they want to get more information about hemp?

Knowledge is power. The “bible” for hemp information is “The Emperor wears no Clothes” by Jack Herer so that is a good one to read.

Watch the Bringing it Home hemp documentary for up to date info. (at HSU library or on-line)

Follow the National Hemp Association at:

nationalhempassociation.org

hempsteadprojectheart.org

HempHistoryWeek.com

Stay informed with state level hemp initiatives:

Parker Initiative – California

The Industrial Hemp Farming Act – Federal

Sign petition at the VoteHemp.com: Take Action tab

Ultimately, help change the stigma! Reverse the war on drugs! Spread the word!

Thank you Anna for your time, this was awesome! 

And thank you readers for tuning in to the Humboldt Underground for your local cannabis information ! Peace!

*This was a collaboration by Anna Owen, Sarai Lucarelli & the Humboldt Underground

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