Industrial hemp has played a significant role in American history. In fact, in the early 1700’s American farmers in Virginia were required by law to grow it. A Popular Mechanics article in 1938 entitled “New Billion Dollar Crop” explained that new developments in processing technology could use hemp to manufacture over 25,000 different products, “from cellophane to dynamite.” In the 1940s, American farmers from Kentucky to Maine to Wisconsin harvested over 150,000 acres of hemp through the USDA’s Hemp for Victory program.
Hemp was last grown in the U.S. during the 1950s due to government confusion over hemp and drug varieties of the plant. New government incentives for industry replace natural fibers with plastics and ultimately bankrupts key hemp processors. In the 1990s the U.S. begins to import food-grade hemp seed and oil. Throughout the last decade new processing technologies arise to commercialize “cottonized” hemp, hemp concrete, high-tech hemp composites and other novel hemp applications. Today healthy and sustainable hemp products are sold across the country, but American farmers are prohibited from growing this crop. In fact, the United States of America is the only industrialized nation not producing domestic hemp and relies heavily on hemp imports.
History with a local flare generally has more interest. In Wisconsin, specific hemp history sticks out like a green thumb. Remnants of the industry are still witnessed throughout our area with feral hemp cannabis (ditchweed) and smoke stacks of former hemp mills. Research shows that Wisconsin played an important role in Americas hemp history. From hemp farms on the state lands in Waupun to hemp innovators right in our backyard. Even Fairwater gets a national mention when the byproducts of their rope manufacture (hemp hurds) were burned to drive a steam engine producing electricity, the 1st documented use of hemp as an energy source. This meshed nicely with the waterwheel across the Grand river, as the hemp supply came in just when the river was running low.
Highlighted in the book “America’s Hemp King”, the Rens family of Waupun and Brandon shared their knowledge and insight into Wisconsin Hemp Farming. Sadly and on a final note, the last American hemp mill in Brandon closed in 1957, but the area is still ripe to be the center of a revived hemp industry once legal impediments are removed. In fact, due to several key factors, some experts say Wisconsin is poised to once again be a leader should legislation allow this industry to flourish once again.
There are so many facts about hemp that people do not know, have forgotten or are misinformed about. Hemp History Week is a great start to make people aware of the solutions hemp can provide.
Did you know that ice-cream, non-dairy beverages and protein powders can be made from nutritious hemp seeds? Or that body-care products like soaps, lotions, and lip balms contain hemp oil? And that hemp fibers can be made into environmental friendly paper, fabric and building materials?
Hemp History Week also seeks to celebrate America’s rich history with industrial hemp and generate strong support for the re-legalization of hemp farming. The 2011 Hemp History Week is recognized the week of May 2nd – 8th. Our local chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws will be conducting a general meeting, Tuesday evening at 6:30pm in the Berlin Public Library. Other statewide events are being held throughout Wisconsin. Please visit Hemp History Week Events for more details.