Hemp and the New Green Revolution are game changers

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Winona LaDuke with Alex White Plume (second from left) and others at the New Green Revolution Pre Party - Farm Day at Winona’s Hemp held in May. (Photo courtesy of Winona LaDuke.)

By Winona LaDuke

Mid May’s New Green Revolution Pre Party – Farm Day at Winona’s Hemp went well. Alex White Plume, known as the “Hemperer”, took a road trip with grandson Mato White Plume to rural Osage, Minn. Alex White Plume’s work in hemp restoration has been inspirational to many projects nationally and a number of people were very happy to see him in northern Minnesota. Winona’s Hemp and Anishinaabe Agriculture in Osage sponsored the gathering to learn about construction and paper making with hemp.

An informal gathering of about 50 people from the region and beyond came to the educational event. Red Lake, White Earth, Sisseton, Nett Lake and other tribes were represented, as well as many local people who came to visit and see the work. Hemp was featured in foods, salves, paper and construction materials. The word canvas comes from cannabis, and hemp indeed has the potential to transform the building, materials and textiles economies. That’s why it’s called the New Green Revolution.

White Plume served as a co-host of the gathering, sharing stories of his work in hemp, community healing, and offering suggestions as the various projects were demonstrated. White Plume built a house in rural Manderson, So. Dak. in the l990s out of hempcrete, had the Drug Enforcement Agency seize his crop and is now heralded as the “Hemperer” as the plant is part of a renaissance. “I liked seeing the work of our relatives and how this plant is making a come back,” White Plume said.

Roman Vyskocil finished off a hempcrete greenhouse, putting some plaster on the outside of the greenhouse, dug into a hill. “ I’m really pleased with how it turned out”, he said, and then tracked down Alex White Plume for another picture. The greenhouse was sponsored by the West Central Minnesota Foundation.

Hempcrete is a valuable alternative to concrete in many forms of construction, and produces about four times the amount of fiber in a fraction of the time of wood. That has good opportunity and potential for not only construction, but also the pulp and paper industry. This spring, the cost of framing lumber, Oriented Strand Board (OSB) plywood and other materials has increased steeply, adding an average of $36,000 to homes. That’s causing the building industry to take another look at the centuries of hemp building, and new innovations in hempcrete blocks, which add structural integrity as well as create a reduced carbon house.

“We have been working to decarbonize the construction sector for 10 years now and we remain 100% convinced that the hemp block has a crucial role to play,” Charlotte De Bellefroid, spokesperson for Belgium-based IsoHemp, wrote in an email to Hemp Build Mag. The company manufactures 1 million hemp blocks per year and will increase production to 5 million blocks per year with a new robotic factory to keep up with demand. It will be “impossible” to halve U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 “without rapid decarbonization of the building sector,” Alliance to Save Energy (ASE) President Paula Glover said in a statement in May.

Henry Red Cloud, of Oglala on the Pine Ridge reservation, sent along a hempcrete block maker, and the participants worked with various block making composition. The hope is to make an adobe like block for construction. Red Cloud called in over the phone and gave instructions. With the more glamorous cousin, cannabis sativa, in recreational and medical form, going through major expansion, industrial hemp has been sidelined. That’s about to change.

“According to the research study, the global Industrial Hemp Market was estimated at USD 5 Billion in 2019 and is expected to reach USD 36 Billion by 2026. The global Industrial Hemp Market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 34% from 2019 to 2026”, according to the Industrial Hemp Market Research Report by Type report.

Anishinaabe Agriculture is interested in making sure that Native farmers have a place at the table, not on the menu.

George D. Weiblen, Science Director at the University of Minnesota’s Bell Museum, came to the conference to meet Alex White Plume and other Native farmers in the region. White Plume is a hero to the museum director. Weiblen has been working on hemp and cannabis varieties for the past decade, and is keen on building new collaborative relationships with tribes, starting at Sisseton S.D., where his department has helped the Sisseton Oyate with their hemp work, and another colleague has been working with the Red Lake Reservation in Minnesota. Indeed, Weiblen represents a new era of collaboration between universities and Indigenous peoples.

That’s what the hemp economy represents well, the need to learn together and work together. An integrated hemp and cannabis economy represents a multi billion dollar industry, which is a brand new industry- a brand new pie. That is a game changer.
Hemp is considered a carbon sink, meaning that the plant grows so quickly (up to twelve feet in four months), that it absorbs huge quantities of carbon. More than that, the plant can replace carbon intensive manufacturing from plastics to concrete, creating a new carbon friendly economy. Add to that the legalization of cannabis, state by state, and that’s a brand new multi billion dollar economy.

That’s what we need to survive the decades ahead, and hemp can be a part of that – the New Green Revolution. The New Green Revolution Pre party was this spring, let’s see what the fall brings to the north country for the hemp economy.