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The Dawning of the Age of Hemp

December 27, 2011 - Perhaps one of the most telling historical facts about the use of hemp in the United States is this one, which I found in the Wikipedia article about hemp: "Hemp was used extensively by the United States during World War II.  Uniforms, canvas, and rope were among the main textiles created from the hemp plant at this time.  Much of the hemp used was cultivated in Kentucky and the Midwest."  In other words, when the chips were down, we knew what we could rely on.  Cloth made from hemp can be handed down from father to son, it is so strong.  Materials like canvas and rope, which must be able to withstand long, hard use, are at their best made of hemp.

Herbicides and pesticides are unnecessary when growing hemp, although I did get the impression from my reading that hemp is a heavy feeder, and would require significant amounts of fertilizer.  It does, however, grow in almost any kind of soil.  It is truly a Plant For All Seasons, and can be used in making biodiesel fuel, plastic, medicine, clothing, food, paper, and mulch.  Hemp seeds are an excellent source of protein, and contain two essential fatty acids that can help rid the body of cholesterol.  Hemp oil can be used in cooking, and is said to taste like safflower oil.

According to an issue of Popular Mechanics published in 1941, Henry Ford's Model T was intended to run on hemp gasoline.  Ford, however, didn't stop there.  In fact, the Model T was made, in part, from hemp plastic!  No wonder, either - the strength of hemp plastic was and is vastly superior to that of steel.  Ford believed in the practicality and viability of hemp so strongly that he grew it on his estate (one suspects he believed it was his own hemp that would be powering Ford vehicles!).

Twentieth-century humans have depended heavily upon trees for their commercial value.  As a result, trees have been over-cut, resulting in the devaluation of their role in keeping our world livable.  As 21st-century humanity wakes up to the fact that we need our uncut forests more than ever, hemp's usefulness as a stand-in for wood in the process of papermaking should impress us.  Hemp's long fibers, when combined with recycled paper and wood, produce a strong, bright paper that requires little bleaching.

The logical question, of course, is "why aren't we doing all of these things right now?"  Why don't we extract the oil in hemp plants in order to run our vehicles?  It would be so much easier on the environment.  We all know the answer, don't we.  The oil industry fights all would-be competitors tooth and nail.  Why isn't our clothing made from hemp?  Clothes that last a lifetime do not fit in with the American economy's growth mandate for planned obsolescence.  If it will grow almost anywhere, why isn't this high-protein food being grown in order to stave off starvation?  Because our complex society demands complicated, value-added solutions.  Where hemp is concerned, we are our own worst enemy.

Want to learn more?  You can go to Google and enter the search term "hemp," or try visiting the websites shown below.


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