Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Going bio

For those who might be a bit discouraged with the state of the union, check out how one family is responding over at the Path to Freedom Diary, and read the entries beginning around January 12—they're making their own diesel in a re-fitted hot water heater from used vegetable oil. When I stopped by to pick up my weekly order of organic salad mix earlier this week, I was invited to watch part of the preparation for processing the fuel. The excitement is catching when you see the possibilities in person!

In other news about alternative resources, last Sunday's LA Times Magazine ran an interesting article on the hemp industry and why it is so vehemently opposed by the U.S. government (free registration required): "The Demonized Seed" by Lee Green.
Among the world's major industrial democracies, only the United States still forbids hemp farming. If an American farmer were to fill a field with this drugless crop, the government would consider him a felon. For selling his harvest he would be guilty of trafficking and would face a fine of as much as $4 million and a prison sentence of 10 years to life. Provided, of course, it is his first offense.

This for a crop as harmless as rutabaga.

Prejudiced by nearly 70 years of government and media propaganda against all things cannabis, most Americans have no idea that hemp crops once flourished from Virginia to California. Prized for thousands of years for its fiber, the plant rode commerce from Asia to Europe in the first millennium and sailed to the New World in the second. American colonists grew it in the early 1600s. Two centuries later, hemp was the nation's third-largest agricultural commodity. The U.S. census of 1850 counted 8,327 hemp plantations, and those were just the largest ones. California farmers cultivated it at least into the 1930s. [. . .]

Hemp has attracted many passionate advocates over the years simply because of its relation to the illegal drug. But a glance at hemp's résumé makes it clear why a mere vegetable could inspire a devout constituency that transcends the counterculture. Hemp's products, its proponents insist, are interchangeable with those from timber or petroleum. The fiber volume supplied by trees that take 30 years to grow can be harvested from hemp just three or four months after the seeds go into the ground—and on half the land. Hemp requires no herbicides, little or no pesticide, and it grows faster than almost any other plant: from seed to 10 feet or taller in just a few months. Unlike most crops, it actually enriches rather than depletes the soil. As a textile it has proven stronger than cotton, warmer than linen, comfortable to wear and durable. As a building material, its extraordinarily long fibers test stronger than wood or concrete. As a nutrient it contains one of nature's most perfectly balanced oils, high in protein, richer in vitamin E than soy and possessing all eight essential fatty acids.

But because hemp contains traces of the chemical intoxicant known as tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the U.S. government lists cannabis as a Schedule I drug, a category reserved for the most dangerous and medically useless drugs. Methamphetamine, PCP and cocaine don't warrant that classification, but hemp does, right alongside heroin and LSD. The word hemp doesn't actually appear on the list, but the drug-war establishment, particularly the instrumental DEA, behaves as though it does by recognizing no distinction between varieties of cannabis.
(I'm not able to track what search strings lead people to my site, but I'll bet posting excerpts from this article will attract a somewhat different audience than usual!)

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