DUCK SOUP: Good Things from the Garden

Wouldn't it be nice if every book you owned and loved had pages as tough and durable as those in a bible? The imported paper used in most bibles is not only thin, but acid free to boot, which means it might last hundreds of years without deterioration.Wouldn't it be nice if your favorite jeans and sneakers would last twice as long?Wouldn't it be nice if the brown grocery bags made of recycled paper didn't bust out at the bottom so easily?Wouldn't it be nice if farmers didn't have to spray tons and tons of pesticides (the greater part of all pesticides used in this country) on cotton crops?Wouldn't it be nice if the case of your computer was completely recycleable? Wouldn't it be nice if there was a healthy meat alternative that tasted beter than tofu?Wouldn't it be nice if there was an alternative to mega chip mills that are grinding our forests into paper towel feedstock? Wouldn't it be great if there was a single answer to all of those questions? Well, there is! Bibles, tough jeans and sneakers, better quality recycled paper, insecticide free farming, biodegradeable computers and delicious healthy protein are a few of the benefits of industrial grade hemp. It is far past time to re-legalize hemp production in the United States, and join the growing number of hemp exporting countries in the world. Hemp is not a cure- all for the pressing needs of industrial society, but it is clearly part of the answer.At present, American bibles, hemp clothing, hemp seed and oil, hemp paper and hundreds of other hemp-based products all depend on imports from France, Germany, Poland, Hungary, and as of March first of this year, Canada has legalized the crop.To hemp's many advocates the story is a familiar one, but for others I will briefly recap. Hemp is the one of the oldest and arguably most valuable plant known to agriculture. It has been a major fiber source for almost ten thousand years, used for paper, rope and clothing. Hemp was an important crop in colonial America, and farmers even used it to pay their taxes. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were major producers and exhorted their fellow citizens to grow it for the good of the young country. Early drafts of our Constitution were written on hemp paper, and hempseed cakes fed settlers and livestock alike.By the end of the nineteenth century, the U.S. was a major hemp producer and with the introduction of new technology for separating the long strong fibers, we were poised to become the first high-tech hemp society. Headlines declared it to be the billion dollar crop, Henry Ford produced an automobile almost entirely derived from hemp, and the Navy's demand for rope in World War I made the growing of hemp a patriotic duty.Then one man with a ton of money, a publishing empire, and major investments in tree-pulp production decided to kill the burgeoning hemp industry. William Randolph Hearst used his newspaper monopoly to villify hemp and twist public opinion. Joined by Andrew Mellon who feared competition in his oil market, and Lammot DuPont with an empire founded on petroleum-based chemistry, Hearst wielded money and influence to convince Congress to make it illegal. The fear of Reefer Madness replaced environmental and agricultural sanity. We are all the losers.Today's clearcuts, paper plantations, chip mills, pervasive pesticide pollution, and even the failure of small family farms can in large degree be laid at the feet of three rich men, and one stupid Congressional mistake. In the meantime, hemp research has not stopped elsewhere and the number of uses for the plant has exploded. In addition to producing four times as much fiber per acre as trees (and better quality fiber at that), it has found use in paints and varnishes, medicines, renewable biomass fuel, snack food, biodegradable plastics and upholstery.Some people say that they can find answers to all of life's questions in the Bible. If they are willing to include the paper beneath the print, I'd say it would be very hard to disagree.

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