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Grass Roots Hempowerment

by Dylan Muhlenberg / 30.07.2009

Not that religion is anything worth basing this argument on, still, it’s worth noting how God, right off the bat, says the following in Genesis 1:12 ‘I have given you all the seed-baring plants and herbs to use.’

And, whether He said it or not, for 8 000 years or so hemp was the world’s largest agricultural crop, producing the majority of our fibre, paper, fabric, oil (food and lighting) and medicines. Today it’s often confused with its narcotic cousin, marijuana, and farming hemp is banned in most countries, even though you can’t get high off of it. Not farming hemp is like not farming the button mushrooms you buy at the Checkers because there are some psychoactive strains out there. Kind of makes you want to say fuck more times than Joe Pesci in Goodfellas.

Now I’d be the first person to stand up for the virtues of the narcotic – I love me my dagga! – but then my civil liberty issue comes second to the have-not’s not having. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs lists food, clothing and shelter at the base of his pyramid, and the wonder plant, hemp, provides for all three of these physiological needs.

Tony Budden is a green consultant and founded the Hemporium. He wears shoes. He doesn’t smell of forest discharge. You see, the environment is far too important to leave in the hands of the Granola Brigade, and it’s guys like Tony who will do more to stymie this whole shithouse going up in flames than all the dreadlocked dream-catching dudes digging on Naomi Klein. So we met up to talk hemp. Over coffee, thankyouverymuch.


Mahala: How did you get hip to hemp?

Tony: Thirteen years ago Hemp was very much counter culture, the wear-what-you-smoke brigade, and we fell into it by chance after a friend’s father brought back a fabric sample, he was a textile importer, and we started making bags for our friends. It grew from there and the more we learned the more we discovered that the smoking side is not what it’s about at all.

How so?

You don’t make clothes from dagga. Some strains of cannabis give you good fibre, some give you good seeds, some give you good flowers, heads, which makes you high… but there are more non-psychoactive strains than there are psychoactive strains.’

Still, you can’t grow hemp in the states. Why?

‘The theory why America refuses to recognise the difference between hemp and dagga is this: In the 30s there was that whole Reefer Madness campaign, and the Hirst corporation was behind that, running propaganja in their papers. So it started way back then. Today the DEA gets a massive budget to eradicate marijuana in the wild. They come back at the end of the year and tell the government that they’ve eradicated 20 million plants and get their big budget for the next year. But most of it is hemp – what the kids there call ditch weed. Nobody would smoke it – it’s not psychoactive – but because they’re only destroying about one million psychoactive strains, they’re blissful in their ignorance.

And here?

‘The pressure is coming from the States. We’re indebted to the states. In the 80s America got a whole lot of third world countries into debt – loaned them money knowing that they wouldn’t be able to pay them back – and when they couldn’t pay back that debt they took their oil, their forests and if there’s a UN vote then they’d have to align themselves with the states. So through that they tell us what we can or can’t do. So that’s why none of the third world countries are benefiting from this wonder plant. Even though it’s a third world solution. It’s just this crazy control where they give us foreign aid for agriculture, but then we have to buy all our fertilizers from an American company…’

So who is growing hemp?

About 40 countries farm hemp, and they’ve just built a 55 million pound processing plant in England. China aims to bring three million people out of poverty by 2020, because the farmers are doubling their crops with hemp.


You have fibre on the outside in the bark on the stalk, on the inside you have your stalk matter that you can make bricks and paper from, and at the top you’re still getting the flower with seeds, you got your oils, your seeds, so that’s nutrition (essential acids, amino acids, omega 369 and a very good protein).

So it truly is a wonder plant.

Food, shelter, job creation from a plant that doesn’t need pesticides or fertilizers! It’s one of the most efficient users of sunlight, doesn’t need much water, is very versatile… The biggest demand for fibre is the car industry. Because it’s such a long, strong fibre, they’re replacing door panels, dashboards and everything with fibre-grass, which is bio-degradable, safe to work with, doesn’t take a lot of energy to make and is just a better material than fiberglass.

Is the fabric any different to what most other clothing is made from?

Hemp is anti-bacterial, so your feet won’t smell if you wear the socks, the shirts breathe better, so they don’t smell as badly. Cotton is a pesticide crop, and that’s why they push it because it supports the agri-chemical industry and cotton uses 25% of the world’s pesticides. Hemp uses none.

Sounds frustrating.

It is. We’re holding a solution to something that can make huge changes and I’m stuck in the clothing industry and making locally, which is the worst short-term business decision ever. The cost of landing fabric here and turning it into product is huge. We have to deal with four different factories to make a t-shirt, whereas in china you have a machine where the yarn goes in one side and a shirt comes out the other end.

So what do you need to do?

Our aim is to grow it here. We use the clothing to spread awareness. People have such a stigmas against the plant, and most people only know about smoking it, but the minute you can touch and feel and have a tactile experience with it then it’s able to change your perceptions.

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