I just waved goodbye to our state hemp inspector, a delightful, overworked woman in a successful program. I’d call our New Mexico hemp effort top-tier, with everyone at the New Mexico Department of Agriculture wanting farmers to succeed. More than two thousand acres are sequestering carbon as we speak in the Land of Enchantment. In terms of stress, the worst part of having a hemp inspection, for me, is having to shave and put on clean clothes. OK, clothes at all.
Our inspector took her sample while we shared some fresh veggies from the polyculture hemp garden with her. What I’m most proud of is the hemp/tomato/basil/bean/kale/arugula love in this year’s garden here on the Funky Butte Ranch. We Southwest desert dwellers were clearly undercounting when naming our famous “three sisters” crops of bean, corn and squash: they’re all kin, and hemp in the soil is a returning sibling.
These plants hug and shade one another and, in the view of a few select humans, goats and rabbits, make one another taste better: the basil in particular comes alive on the tongue. Plus, a varied food garden allows me to play this fun guessing game with the members of my human family: “Which is the only one of our nutrient-dense superfood crops that requires a $700 permit annually?”
And from this multi-species field, a place easily five degrees cooler than the wildfire-scented air everywhere else at this moment here in the high desert, the samples of my family superfood are on their way to a testing lab. Why this happens is the part that’s tricky to explain to my sons, who are once again helping me grow our family’s food security plan. That we pay to give the government permission to enter our ranch in exchange for exercising our human right to grow our superfood – that is really odd to a ten-year-old. “Just the hemp?” my younger son wondered not too long ago. “The tomatoes (which, by the way, are coming on by the bowlful), are free?”
Nothing like the wisdom of a ten-year-old to spur a policy initiative. And that initiative is changing the definition of hemp to 1% THC. First, a request for well-meaning non-farming folks, especially those who are filling up my inbox with attempts to steer hemp farmers toward meeting McFood protocols: If you really want to help hemp farmers succeed, ask a farmer, ideally a ten-year-old one, what our priorities are. Our plan is to change the protocols, not the farmers. Don’t get me wrong, we want best practices, but maybe one week can we get an email about something else besides solicitations for certification programs? We’re not all that interested in earning badges that at best do nothing and at worst benefit a very specific sector of an industry. We want to change unhelpful laws so we’re free to cultivate how we like, just like any other farmer.
If you’d like to know specifically what we would appreciate from our policy-oriented and legal friends, ask us, please. Seriously, if you aspire to work for a hemp company, or in hemp law, or work for a hemp organization, or invest in a hemp enterprise, but you don’t grow hemp yourself: ask ten independent farmers in every hemp state, “what are the most vital policy directives for the independent farmer?” The first thing you’ll hear is, “may we please change the definition of hemp to 1% THC, like yesterday?”
After that, you’ll hear a variety of other priorities, but prominent among them will be a lot of folks asking for modifications to FSMA (the Food Safety Modernization Act), a 2011 federal law, drafted by large grocery trade groups, that expands FDA powers in controlling how food is grown and prepared. Parts of FSMA put forth exactly the kind of requirements from which we regenerative craft producers should be at least partly exempted. Or else we might have to float our own counter bill, let’s call it the Food Safety Antiquating Act.
The goal is to allow hemp’s leading brand at launch (independent, top-shelf craft products) to thrive as a counter-current within the over-sterilized marketplace that the unhealthy mass food system’s lawyers are aiming to put forward – it was supermarket chain lawyers who wrote FSMA, for heaven’s sake. We don’t have to take that. After 80 years during which an insane law unconscionably starved humanity’s collective endocannabinoid system, we’re endeavoring to bring this plant back to our bodies in a way that we believe is healthiest. If rules encourage less healthy modes, we’re going to change the rules.
Indeed, many aspects of the entire global food safety initiative support only the biggest (and generally not most nutritious) producers of all food. It’d be one thing if most folks were getting healthier, and there weren’t just under 110 reported cases of salmonella per day. As things stand, force-feeding farmers certification programs we had no hand in crafting in an attempt to create yet more homogeny in the food system is about the last thing hemp farmers require from our allies. There’s no reason to hurry to conform to a broken system. That’s anathema to the living foods approach that the top-shelf independent hemp farmer favors.
The win-win for customers is superior hemp products – of course your region’s regenerative hemp cooperative is going to provide better quality hemp than fungible McCBD in a drug store. Furthermore, we independent farmer/entrepreneurs are going to show that our living foods are not only of highest quality but also flat-out safer, from a best practices perspective, than the obesity-era foods that conform to current food production rules.
Promoting an Independent, Craft Hemp Market
By establishing distinct craft-market rules, we will codify our independent, regenerative hemp brand. Just as craft beer gains one percent more of the market from mass market beer every year, the independent craft hemp market has a shot at prevailing because it is of highest quality; it is bioavailable, organic and regionally produced.
So, these goals (1% THC, special regenerative craft hemp regulations) are explicitly part of our branding effort. We will indeed appreciate having lawyers and industry groups to help us achieve those goals in the regulatory process. But we ask these folks to recognize two things: 1) Uniform homogenizing food rules don’t work for what is most special about top-shelf hemp: terroir and diversity. Both product diversity and broad genetic diversity, with seeds owned by farmers. And 2) All of us work for a plant. And not just any plant, but one that is going to buy humanity several generations during which to migrate to a post-petroleum future. All while rebuilding not just rural communities like mine, but food deserts everywhere. Farmers aren’t the serfs of a boardroom. We run this industry. We are going to launch it according to our parameters. Please come aboard. We can use all the allies we can get.
Back home on the ranch, while we wait with baited breath for our official THC results – I’m cautiously optimistic, as this is a cultivar I’ve been developing for a half decade — I and my sons know my grandchildren (their children) will laugh when we tell them hemp was once defined as cannabis with .3% THC or less. “You’re telling me,” they’ll ask from my knee, “that the government came in to test this crop for levels of one cannabinoid? For what possible reason?”
“Sometimes even a pretty cool society missteps into truly insane policy,” is all I can think of for an answer. “That’s when we change it.”
From a biological standpoint, it’s easy to explain why cannabis/hemp has, and wants, THC: plants (not just cannabis) produce cannabinoids because they serve a range of purposes including predator defense, climatic adaptation, and pollinator attraction. And also, as Michael Pollan postulates, to please us.
The hemp plant sure pleases me. The variety I’m growing happens to be a terrific tri-crop cultivar: I grow for seed, flower and fiber. And I’m very proud of the roots, too: this variety I’ve been developing has just been shown to pull radioactive uranium out of contaminated mining soil, in a New Mexico State University study. The plants do most of the work, by the way. I’m more of a midwife.
“We’re Trying to Save Humanity Here”
We’re trying to save humanity here, cleaning the world’s stressed soil and providing superfood. We independent famers would like to stop worrying about micro levels of THC. One percent is nothing. Both major national farmer groups support it: the Farm Bureau and the National Farmer’s Union (in fact the NFU wants 3%). And with as much as 30% of hemp crops going mildly hot in the initial years of the modern industry in some states, a 1% definition solves 90% of the problem. It’s not the final policy step, but it will save the young industry, allowing independent farms to thrive without fear of hot tests. There is no reason for the .3% definition. The war on cannabis is over, my friends. Cannabis won.
THC concern at all is going away, and it’s going away soon. With your help, very soon. For now, thank you for getting active in the 1% THC effort – in addition to signing the Vote Hemp 1% THC petition, please call your senators and congressperson. We’re on a timeline. We have until October to supersede troubling provisions in initial USDA hemp regulations by leapfrogging them with a 1% definition.
Thousands of farmers like me will never rest until hemp is as easy to grow as her friend the tomato. Rest assured, we are not activists. We are entrepreneurs. Regenerative entrepreneurs, trying to do good for soil, climate and customer while making an honest living. In our own lives and diets, we see, smell and taste the nutrient-dense food growing in our garden.
All of us farmer/entrepreneurs who possess a long-term outlook (and thus a chance at making it) realize we work for plants, fungi and other unnamed kingdoms, invisible to us but as important to our hemp crop as our seeds and the sun. We want living soils, living products, living foods. We want a healthy society. That is a key part of the regenerative hemp brand. Thanks for helping us get there by asking farmers how we’d like to see this vital industry evolve. A 1% THC hemp definition is the immediate first goal. But please keep asking once that’s accomplished. There are other goals, and achieving them is a win-win for farmers, customers and climate.
About Doug Fine
Doug Fine, a NoCo Hemp Expo keynote speaker since his Hemp Bound tour stop at NoCo1 in 2011, is a true leader in regenerative hemp. His latest book is called American Hemp Farmer: Adventures and Misadventures in the Cannabis Trade (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2020). Doug will be offering an online regenerative hemp course with Acres USA in the fall. Willie Nelson calls Doug’s work “a blueprint for the America of the future.” The Washington Post says, “Fine is a storyteller in the mold of Douglas Adams.” A website of Doug’s print, radio and television work, United Nations testimony, and TED Talk is at dougfine.com and his social media handle is @organiccowboy.