Past–meet future!

Before World War Two, a particular plant was grown in different parts of the world. It was prized mainly for the quality of its fibre–long and strong, good for rope and textiles.
Recognize it?
It is coming into vogue again, having battled a “bad rap” although it has not won yet. Know it now?
Here is why, in 1998, this is a fine and versatile “plant of the future”:
The seeds are highly nutritious. Oil pressed from them is excellent for human consumption–high in essential fatty acids, low in cholesterol. Other food uses include “milk” (as in soya milk), a kind of tofu, “nut butter” (as in peanut but non-allergenic), and crackers.
Other oil uses include health and beauty products, and the seed is suitable as animal and bird feed.
The fibre is good for cordage and cloth; an additive in pulping for paper; making cardboard stronger; combining with wood in pressed board for furniture; and highly absorbent animal bedding.
It’s hemp, almost a miracle plant. Ah, but:
•The hemp plant is a relative of marijuana–although with almost no THC (the intoxicating agent). The association has made it illegal to grow until now.
Canada still has major restrictions and safeguards. In the U.S., it may not be grown at all. But there is a market for hemp products in the States and in Europe.
•Hemp has been out of mainstream production and use for so long that major new efforts are needed to bring it back into the economy.
But Northern Ontario has made a start!
This past summer, farmers and researchers grew seven varieties of hemp experimentally in Kenora/Dryden, Rainy River, Thunder Bay, Sudbury, Verner, and Manitoulin Island.
The results are being evaluated now. While not every crop was a success, the overall experiment definitely is!
On Nov. 30, a group, chaired by Dr. Lada Malek of Lakehead University, began to think about hemp as a sound economic contributor. Gordon Scheifele, with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs in Thunder Bay, was there as leader of the initial research project.
David Dasti (MNDM-NOHFC) and Doug Stone (IRAP-NRC) represented the funding agencies, and two guests contributed Manitoba’s experience with hemp. Farmers, EDOs, and forest industry people also were there.
I attended because Quetico Centre strongly supports socio-economic development and has been the lead agency for administering the project.
The research demonstrates that hemp can be grown successfully in the north. Potentially, it can help revive and expand farming, and augment the industrial fibre. That could reduce the competition for trees.
The best immediate gain may be from producing and selling the seed, like grain.
There are obstacles to overcome (aren’t there always!) And that’s the challenge of the future:
•Markets need to be secured for hemp products (no point growing it otherwise);
•Processing the fibre requires better, probably new, technology to make it efficient;
•More and broader research is needed (the people and the interests are there but funding is harder to come by); and
•It’s essential to make end products in the north (without the “value added,” the growing alone may not be economical at all).
With it, the north’s economy will be more versatile and stronger.
If you want to contribute to developing a hemp industry in the north, let me know! Fax 1-807-929-1106 or e-mail to
Linda Wiens is an organization effectiveness advisor, editor of a regional newsletter, and vice-president of Quetico Centre.

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