By Doug Fine
Regenerative Hemp Farmer,
Author of American Hemp Farmer and Hemp Bound
A one-sentence summary of this essay is, “Please buy hemp/cannabis grown by regenerative, farmer-owned enterprises.” If you want to skip the saving-humanity-by-sequestering-carbon side of things, one reason to consciously support independent regenerative hemp farmers (of all parts of the plant), is because in so doing, you’ll almost certainly get the best quality hemp products.
Think terroir: our regional farmer-run enterprises are already becoming established as the parmesan and champagne of hemp. I don’t know whether the hundreds of hemp farmers in dozens of states with whom I’m spoken about “going entrepreneurial” collectively count as empirical or anecdotal research, but artisan hemp producers all over the world are banking on their top-shelf products winning out in the real world, the way fresh-squeezed oranges beat frozen concentrate. Think “many regional hemp providers” rather than “a few giant McCokeMarts of hemp.”
The indie, farm-to-shelf journey ain’t an easy one, but for any farmer to still be in it a half-decade following federal hemp legalization is quite a bit better than the status of thousands of farmers who jumped into a wholesale cannabinoid trap. I hate typing this sentence, because the world needs more families planting hemp, but the fact is that too many skilled farmers have suffered the usual fate of the cultivator who decides to become a serf to the middleman and the vicissitudes of the wholesale market: they’re suffering as CBD wholesale prices have predictably collapsed. The renowned Kentucky farmer/philosopher Wendell Berry asked me to caution farmers about this in my pre-crash book American Hemp Farmer, which I did.
In a box store-priced era, it’s difficult enough to succeed in any independent enterprise, let alone one whose products depend on mother nature’s mood in a time of climate change. So let’s re-think what we are looking for when we check out a label and price tag. In other words, thanks for looking for farm-to-shelf enterprises in your region, for seeking out farmers who are walking the regenerative farming walk, and for looking to your product’s source more than its price. Your grandchildren will thank you.
Why? Because a growing body of research suggests that each cubic inch of topsoil we restore of the world’s farmland sequesters up to three billion tons of carbon annually. And hemp’s substantial taproots are absolutely stunning at creating the conditions that allow for the building of topsoil. Regenerative farmers (those who build soil) might even sequester sufficient carbon to allow us humans to thrive, rather than panic, as we glide into the post-petroleum future.
Conversely, if you see an enterprise’s label or rep either omitting discussion of farmers entirely or speaking of the farmers as simply suppliers of wholesale material, I’d advise turning instead to products made by farmer-run enterprises. They are everywhere, but to name a few I’ve known a long time, there’s the Fat Pig Society organic farmer’s co-op in Colorado, and there’s the younger generation farming couple who grow and provide the organic Vermont Farmacy line in the Green Mountain State. On the cannabis side, Kama Tree, run by one of the Emerald Triangle (California) farmers I followed for a season in my earlier book Too High to Fail, is still going strong a decade later — impressive for any business.
The regenerative farmer renaissance is a thing. With hemp being planted in all 50 states (welcome home, Idaho!), you can almost certainly find a local farmer-run hemp enterprise, whether you’re looking for hemp flower, seed or fiber products. All you have to do is ask: what you’re looking for is farmer ownership of the enterprise combined with explicit regenerative cultivation, processing, and distribution practices. Farming methods, product ingredients and business mode are important elements, of course, and you can also look at enterprise-wide philosophy: solar-powered processing facilities and compostable packaging are a major plus as we shift to a regenerative society.
A note to farmers: if you are this kind of enterprise, no need to hire a branding expert: “Independent Regenerative Farmer” is your brand. Shout it out so customers understand they are supporting human survival even as they buy the finest craft hemp. Discuss how much carbon you are sequestering, or how much reinvestment a farm-to-table enterprise puts back into its local economy.
Farmer co-ops are awesome, and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms are fantastic too – look ‘em up in your area: you pay a yearly farm membership and you get boxes of healthy food dropped off once a month.
As a customer, in addition to reading labels, you might talk to food co-op managers about sourcing these kinds of regenerative enterprises in all the store’s products. It’s not just hemp that must launch regeneratively. It’s every industry. It’s everyone’s life every day. That means you and me. Hemp is just leading the way.
Also you can check out company web sites, and, to get to the source, shop at farmer’s markets. One of the best things you can do to really know what kind of hemp product you’ll be getting is to meet the plants. If you go on farm tours, I’m pretty confident you won’t regret it. I joked about these Bud and Breakfast tours with Conan O’Brien.
Since we’re all in this together, you don’t have to see yourself as a customer only. No matter your ecosystem or acreage, you can yourself apply for a permit in your state and plant hemp in your front yard or apartment roof, to sequester a bit of personal carbon. Please plant outdoors, use and build native soil, and don’t plant through plastic sheets. We clever humans have had terrific mulching options for millennia. I use alfalfa hay mixed with goat poop.
In our own Ranch garden this season, I feel like I’m advancing my learning about polyculture, especially the many ways and places where hemp likes to grow in a superfood garden. Polyculture is, as the name implies, the opposite of monoculture. Otherwise known as “how humans have always farmed until very recently.” It’s also the reason you and I are here today: folks figured out how to eat, every year. That means keeping soil healthy.
More than a few commercial hemp/cannabis farmer/entrepreneurs are aware of the power of polyculture: as a customer, you can seek out organic farms that plant more than just hemp.
Beyond companion planting, the food coming up in our personal superfood garden here on the Ranch comprises a family, sharing native soil, sun and water in creative ways. In one spot in the garden from which I am typing now with dirty fingers, a hemp plant is a support anchor, shade structure and carnival tent-style umbrella for a local variety of green chile pepper (there are also beans, basil, and okra in this patch). In another cluster a few feet away, one hemp plant is weaving through our thick, algae-green kale leaves, finding the sun as a spindly vine.
I love that the race does not always go to the swift in a garden: later-maturing plants sometimes prove the most productive. You never know, millions of species are discussing things in the soil. We all love watching leaves unfold and robust hemp and other superfood crops mature aboveground, but it’s the microbial interaction at the root level where the dirty work is done. Hemp is strong and wants to live but a lot still has to go right for this interspecies relationship to thrive. It might even matter a bit which way the seeds are facing when you plant. It’s pleasant for me to find new things about which to be appreciative — learning you added goat poop on the right days, factored on moisture and moon cycle, for instance.
As I discuss in American Hemp Farmer, I work with a polyculture mindset alongside friendly plants and microbes, because, well, a healthy, carbon-sequestering farm or garden is directly connected to human survival. No pressure. For me, it’s most of all about contentedness at home—about health maintenance for my human kids and goat kids. I think about these kinds of things as I collect mycelium in my watershed and brew it out in a fungal tea to help facilitate a healthy microbial neighborhood for all my family’s plants.
I make it a point to touch the plants every day. This is a counter-current to the over-sanitized direction farm production rules have been heading lately. Also I kiss, snuggle and midwife them because we have plant members of our family here on the Funky Butte Ranch. We shower love and appreciation on the plants because, like our human family, they clearly appreciate hanging out together.
Also it’s a petroleum-free way to farm. Which leads back to terroir. I’m among those craft farmers who believe hands-on farming produces top-shelf, bioavailable hemp — the hemp my family enjoys. Our hemp, I’m pleased to report, is looking and smelling delightful and our mouths are watering for the coming superfood harvest. Polyculture baby. A how-to on all of this, by the way, is my online regenerative hemp course.
Every morning now I greet plants several inches taller than they were the previous day. A few are already providing palm tree-like share for me care of giant, slowly waving fan leaves. In the midst of wildfire, I feel like I’m on a tropical beach enjoying the fruits of success. This is a good sign when one is at “work.” It strongly indicates that you probably chose the right field, so to speak.
As if all that weren’t enough of a balanced horticultural breakfast, this morning I stepped through the garden gate and noticed that the first Funky Butte Ranch hemp was flowering. I breathed deep as I got dive-bombed by the usual hummingbirds, and immersed myself the rural quiet that allows my sanity.
Terpene inhalation is part of my health maintenance plan. When the dazzling scent of the garden’s flowers emanate into my nostrils, it activates my endocannabinoid system. Yours, too. Whether or not you’ve ever burned a spliff, your body, when it smells a hemp plant in flower, tells your mind, “this is a good plant to befriend for a range of reasons ranging from nutrition to sandal-making to party favors.” At least that’s how my mind would have phrased it, if I had been born 40,000 years ago.
Before I left the garden to feed the goats today, I spotted both male and female plants maturing as the days begin to get shorter: I grow dioecious (male and female) crops because I think most species are happiest when they’re dating. This philosophy will be one of the topics I’ll discuss in my keynote titled, “Rebirth of the Regenerative Farmer/Entrepreneur” at the upcoming Southern Hemp Expo in North Carolina.
Some folks think I’m a hemp cheerleader, and OK, reading the previous few paragraphs, I’ll agree that I believe activating the endocannabinoid system via deep breathing in a terpene-laden polyculture field is about the most fun you can have outside the bedroom. But that’s just a coincidence, or as some would term it, a heavenly kindness. I’m not a cheerleader. I’m a journalist thinking about 9th Inning recovery for my family and yours.
I’m cautiously optimistic that we humans will succeed in our regenerative retrofit mission. My hope is that when people look back on this phase it will have the reverberating impact of the founding moments of Silicon Valley: right now when we 3D print a hemp car part or build a hempcrete house, we’re like Steve Wozniak in the garage.
On this high desert morning, I recognize that our national hemp acreage of 500,000 has a ways to go to catch corn’s 89.1 million acres. It’s our choice. I’m so thrilled to be part of a team helping an organic 125-acre hemp project this season in the Rosebud Sioux nation. Regardless of our backgrounds, humanity’s survival is a unified mission. One field at a time.
As folks who have read American Hemp Farmer will know, for me, the decision to become a full-time soil farmer came after a bear fleeing yet another millennial wildfire killed most of my goats a few years back. Even as our new herd grows up, we can’t help but remember that we’re in the 9th Inning here as a species. The upside is that hemp terpenes do more than keep a smile on my face: they explicitly remind me that in a couple of months, we’ll be harvesting another superfood crop here on the Funky Butte Ranch. If all goes well (our early monsoon season looks promising, thank heaven), we’ll have nutrient-dense, mineral-laden, Omega-balanced protein to supplement our winter diet — from a crop that sequestered carbon along the way.
I like that feeling. I think it’s a primeval one shared by nearly all humans until supermarkets came along. We’re all soil farmers now, and if we’re wise as a society, this time, the farmers are in charge.
About Doug Fine
Doug Fine is a comedic investigative journalist, bestselling author, and solar-powered goat herder. His latest book, American Hemp Farmer, is nominated for the Santa Fe Reporter’s 2021 Book of the Year award, and helped announce the arrival of the regenerative hemp-farming renaissance. His focus for the past 15 years has been regenerative living for regular folks, beginning with his Boston Globe bestseller Farewell, My Subaru. Most recently, Doug has cultivated hemp for food, farm-to-table products and seed-building in six U.S. states, and his own hemp seeds have been used to clean soil in a New Mexico study. In addition to American Hemp Farmer, his cannabis/hemp books include Too High to Fail and Hemp Bound. 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 books and audiobooks, and print, radio and television work, United Nations testimony, Conan and Tonight Show appearances, TED Talk and online regenerative hemp course is at dougfine.com — His global work from Rwanda, Guatemala and Alaska has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the Washington Post, Wired, Esquire and the Los Angeles Times, and before his television and book career, he was a long-time correspondent for National Public Radio from five continents. Twitter and Instagram: @organiccowboy