On June 5, Rodale Institute, in partnership with Hemp Industries Association, kicked off the 8th annual Hemp History Week with a Hemp Day on the Farm event. Dozens of people gathered at Rodale Institute to celebrate our new industrial hemp research project. Rodale Institute received one of 16 permits in Pennsylvania to partake in the first planting of hemp in 80 years, as part of the PA Department of Agriculture’s Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program.
The 2017 campaign theme of Hemp History Week, Breaking Ground, focuses on the importance of new advances in hemp agronomy research, innovative product applications of hemp and the need to expand hemp farming legalization to farmers and communities across America. This campaign raises awareness about environmental sustainability, health benefits and new technological applications of industrial hemp. To commemorate the launch of Hemp History Week, the Hemp Industries Association (HIA) and Vote Hemp event organizers partnered with Rodale Institute to present a press event.
Attendees of the press conference listened to eight keynote speakers discuss the hemp farming trials at Rodale Institute and the importance of expanding hemp advocacy so people across the country can benefit from this versatile, high-demand crop.
“As farmers, our job is not to produce food. It’s not to milk cows. It’s not to grow corn. It’s to produce healthy people. Everything that we do in relationship to food and soil is all focused around making people healthy,” said Jeff Moyer, executive director of Rodale Institute.
Over the next four years, Rodale Institute will conduct a research project on Industrial Hemp through two field trials, a Variety Trial and Weed Suppression Trial, and one greenhouse study.
“We are going to be utilizing hemp in our crop rotation as a cash/cover crop that is going to be able to fill in the canopy rather quickly and help to be able to suppress weeds from being able to germinate and grow. From the data that we have, we see that hemp does have a lot of strong interactions with the biology in soil in enhancing the nutrient content, the fertility of soil and soil structure, which are all very important to enhancing soil health,” said Dr. Kristine Nichols, Chief Scientist of Rodale Institute.
Rodale Institute’s hemp farming research project aims to identify which varieties of hemp will be effective for future use by organic farmers to enhance soil health and manage weed pests.
Attendees also had the opportunity to take a tractor ride across the 333-acre farm where they viewed just over an acre plot of farmland reserved for the planting of three varieties of hemp seeds. The seeds were planted early June.
“The fact that this is happening at Rodale gives a stamp of integrity and authenticity to this pilot project concerning growing hemp,” said Dennis Kucinich, former Congressman and two-time presidential candidate. “This pilot project here at Rodale is going to produce information that hopefully will inform the rest of the country about the great potential that hemp has an agricultural product.”
Industrial Hemp has over 25,000 reported uses. In addition to being a superfood, hemp can also be used to make body care products, fuel, paper, fabric and building materials. The seed, oil and fiber of the hemp plant may all be used to create a wide variety of products healthy for people, animals and the earth.
“I think the one message is that healthy soils not only will make healthy people, but we can also make healthy oceans, which are the number one supplier of oxygen and provide so much diversity for species on the planet. Hemp can play a great role in that,” said John Roulac, founder and CEO of Nutiva.
Hemp is an environmentally sustainable crop that sequesters carbon from the atmosphere, therefore mitigating the rising rate of CO2 levels that are responsible for climate change. There is significant potential for hemp to play a role in reducing market dependency on non-sustainable industrial agriculture and energy practices. This crop can be used to create environmentally friendly packaging materials and biodegradable plastics for water bottles, car parts, CD cases, bags, mobile phone cases and furniture.
Not only is hemp an extraordinary crop for the environment, but it also has nourishing health benefits for people. Hemp contains all ten essential amino acids making it a complete protein. It is also an excellent source of dietary fiber and Omega-3 and Omega-6 essential fatty acids.
“Hemp needs be part of a mainstream conversation of what’s in the American family’s pantry. We need parents picking up hemp milk, picking up cereals, picking up whatever it is and understanding that it is an incredible product for their family,” said Colleen Keahey, executive director of Hemp Industries Association.
To finish off Hemp Day on the Farm, Rodale Catering hosted a hemp luncheon on-site. All of the ingredients in the food were organic, sustainable and locally sourced wherever possible. People enjoyed tomato bisque soup with hemp seed crackers, potato salad with hemp seed oil vinaigrette, cobb salad with hemp crusted tofu, grilled vegetables with hemp seed romesco and hemp sliders with sriracha mayo.
Hemp is often overlooked due to its close relationship to the marijuana plant. The levels of TetraHydroCannabinol (THC) in this crop are so low, it is impossible to experience euphoria from smoking hemp. Hemp contains a greater percentage of a different cannabinoid, Cannabidiol (CBD), which actually blocks the marijuana high.
“We need to educate people on the fact that hemp is not marijuana. This is a plant that can create jobs. It’s a plant that can create health and something that can really benefit future generations,” said Ross Duffield, farm manager of Rodale Institute.
Although Industrial Hemp is grown in more than 30 countries, the United States still remains a nation that imposes some restrictions on hemp cultivation.
“Here we are, we have almost a $700 million-dollar market and almost 100% of that has been imported. We’ve got farmers in Canada, farmers in Europe, farmers all over the world that are growing this crop, and they’re shipping it here to the United States. Now we are finally just beginning this breakthrough, and we are starting to see some American-made hemp products, and this is wonderful, but we need to see more of that,” said Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp.
The Rodale Institute Industrial Hemp research project is one step closer to breaking new ground in the movement to expand hemp farming legalization to farmers and communities across America. After this trial period, researchers hope that hemp will become a staple crop in the farming industry.
“If we grow regeneratively, using hemp as part of the rotations and other crops in that rotation, we are able not only to reduce and potentially mitigate climate change, we are able to boost soil health, boost the nutrients within our food, and to help really sustain our fields so that we can be growing food for a very long time for our people,” said Elizabeth Kucinich, Hemp History Week endorser and Rodale Institute board member.
This is a guest post by Communications Intern Amanda Bialek.