Posted by & filed under Biological Cleaning, Food Plants - Annual, Plant Systems, Seeds, Village Development.

I figure this video will stimulate some potentially useful discussion. It features portions of an interesting WWII-era production, titled Hemp for Victory, made by the U.S. government to encourage U.S. farmers into the cultivation of hemp to fill the escalating demand for industrial fibre during the war. This was not too long after the U.S. had introduced, during the height of the Great Depression, the 1937 Marihuana tax, which had had the opposite effect. (It goes to show the power that government policies can wield in rapidly influencing social priorities.)

Some of you will know, and some of you will not, that hemp has been used since ancient times. Sails were made of it, ropes were made of it, clothes were made of it. People ate it (seed), wrote on it (paper), lit their homes with it (oil), and fed their animals with it (what was left!). Indeed, some say there’s very little you can’t make from it. As the video shows, Henry Ford even made cars and car parts out of it. Not only were they stronger and lighter than metal parts, but they were biodegradable too!

By all accounts, Ancient China is where hemp was cultivated from its wild botanic ancestors. China was, up until their recent surrender to modern Agribusiness interests, one of the only nations that managed to maintain their agricultural systems on the same land for thousands of years without depleting its soil — and despite having very high population densities. (See Farmers of Forty Centuries, 300kb PDF.) That hemp played an important role in supplying many of their basic human requirements sustainably over this entire period is worthy of note considering this historically significant accomplishment.

Hemp can be used as a ‘mop crop’ (phytoremediation), to take impurities, excess nutrients and heavy metals out of water and soil. It can be grown virtually everywhere on earth and although it doesn’t like wet feet too much (it prefers reasonably well-drained soils), it is not otherwise particularly demanding.

I personally think that, like pretty much anything we do today, hemp would become a problem if applied at the largest scale. Introduce centralised, monocrop hemp systems and I’m sure we’ll suffer penalties in soil health and chemical use — but on a small scale the plant seems only meritorious. This little report seems to confirm my thoughts here — talking about the difficulties of an economy of scale with hemp’s particular characteristics.

Some of you may recall that I had the privilege of seeing hemp use in its traditional form — by the Hmong people living in the mountainous north of Vietnam, only a couple of clicks from the Chinese border. The Hmong are originally from China (actually, there is a lot of evidence to show that they were in China before the Chinese) and there they grew hemp from seed, harvested the plants, separated the fibres, dyed them with plant dyes and weaved their own colourful clothing, and they did it for century upon century, without a Gap store in sight.

See more pictures from this village here

Today there are all kinds of economic interests and incentives stopping all kinds of appropriate technologies. Is hemp yet another casualty in the competition for our consumer dollars?

It’d be great to hear practical reports from readers who have experience working with the plant and who’ve produced useful products with it. Have permies out there found practical, viable and valuable uses and systems for hemp, the non-THC plant of the cannabis genus?

10 Responses to “Hemp for Victory?”

  1. Hunter

    If the United States was truly following that which was originally set up by the founding fathers it would probably be on our currency, we would revere it as the most useful plant in the world.
    “Make what you can of the Hemp seed, and sow it everywhere” – George Washington

  2. Malcolm

    “Some parties have argued that the aim of the Act was to reduce the size of the hemp industry [6][7][8] largely as an effort of businessmen Andrew Mellon, Randolph Hearst, and the Du Pont family.” Wikipedia 1937 Marihuana Tax Act.
    If this is true its another depressing example of how the power/wealth elite corrupts the system for their own greed and stifles true free market competition.
    On the positive side hemp is being seen more often in garments such as T shirts. That video of the boot of a car being walloped with a sledge hammer is very impressive. Perhaps Hemp could be used for water storage tanks and as roofing material, the possibilities are endless.

  3. JBob

    It’s not “all kinds of economic interests and incentives” that stop hemp from being produced (in the US). It’s government dictate that outlaws it. Period. Ron Paul has made hemp legalization a part of his current campaign.

  4. BehindTheMirrors

    In the EU it is subsidised with payments per ton, even though very few countries use it because of lack of information and this illusionary controversy about cannabis. For instance in Spain the subsidy-money was taken by many so-called “cultivators”, they cultivated hemp (a certain strain given by the so-called “authorities”), and they dumped the final product instead of using it. Well…that’s a way to make money i guess. Now you need to give proof that your hemp will be processed by somebody (Fibres,Seed,Oil etc.)in the end. So there is again the Bureaucracy-Big-Time-Factor which makes it more difficult on the official level. But the reality is here in the EU, the biggest cultivator of Hemp is Romania, and noone of the more developed countries in the EU would bend down to learn from such a “underdeveloped” country like Romania about the benefits of Hemp.
    I am wearing a lot of Hemp-clothing because of comfort and endurance. But they are certainly rare here in a former textile-nation Portugal and of course more expensive than cottonmade clothing washed in blood and chemicals. This is just another thing beyond common sense.

  5. Craig Mackintosh PRI Editor

    Thanks for the link George – although I was already linking to the full version in the first paragraph.

    Best regards.

  6. Øyvind Holmstad

    @ BehindTheMirrors, the use of chemicals for “softening” the fibers has been a major problem for hemp fibers to be used for textiles as well. But this problem is now solved, replacing chemicals with enzymes. See the video “Dr. Wing Sung on New Hemp Fiber”:

    The first Levis Jeans were made from hemp, and clothes of hemp are 3-10 times stronger than clothes from cotton. Further hemp can be grown locally, not needing to import fibers from far away. Even in Northern Norway they grew hemp before the ban.

    I also came to remember that if you twist a little hemp around the young cabbage plant, the cabbage fly will stay away, replacing the need of chemicals.

  7. BehindTheMirrors

    @ Øyvind Holmstad thank you for the link, thats good news! The finished fibre product looks very fluffy! I hope they’ll use this technology, there are already so many inventions, especially in the renewable energy/fuel sector that have been pushed aside into oblivion… But nevertheless I always feel happy to see natural things that have prevailed over hundreds, if not thousands of years. There you go…Sustainable.


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