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Subtexts — High on hemp: Doug Fine on a new green revolution

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Posted: Friday, May 23, 2014 5:00 am

Doug Fine, a self-described journalist and solar-powered goat herder, tells us right up front in Hemp Bound: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Next Agricultural Revolution (Chelsea Green Publishing) that he has an interest in hemp cultivation. His “Sweetheart” imports hemp fiber from China to make clothing, and Fine wears a shirt she’s made to interviews he gives on the economic value of the plant. He claims to spoon $800 worth of imported hemp oil into his family’s breakfast shakes each year. The author, who reads from his book at 6 p.m. on Friday, May 23, at Collected Works Bookstore (202 Galisteo St., 505-988-4226), plans to plant 10 acres of the crop as soon as it’s legal. And that day, he suggests, is coming soon. Several states have already legalized the production of industrial hemp, and the recent farm bill signed into law by President Obama in February carried a provision to allow universities and state agricultural departments to do research on industrial hemp.

Why hemp is illegal seems a mystery and is barely addressed by Fine. The old argument — if it looks like marijuana, then it must be marijuana — never held water, as anyone who ever tried to get high on ditch weed picked along a Nebraska roadside can attest. But the economic value of the plant is undeniable (hemp planted ahead of World War II for rope making literally went wild). Today, hemp is a profitable and growing business in Canada, where it’s grown for its oil; in China, where it’s grown for its fiber, which is converted into textiles; and in Europe, where it’s harvested for its industrial uses. Demand? That Canadian oil market is growing 20 percent a year. Fine examines the uses that already exist as well as the potential for hemp to be used as a building material and a fuel source. He profiles biologists, geneticists, and entrepreneurs involved in the growing hemp revolution. And he makes a case for hemp as a sustainable food and industrial crop — it requires few or no pesticides, is drought-resistant, and aids in soil improvement — a crop that might contribute greatly to normalizing climate change. His book is researched and just skeptical enough — his conclusions often include the word “promise” — that you don’t have to be high to believe that indeed, hemp might save the world.

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