(De)Construction: Hempcrete, The Walls Between Us and Its Mass Utilization

In the 1970’s, Hunter S. Thompson was originally sent to Las Vegas to cover the Mint 400 for Sports Illustrated, a less-than-stellar and mildly unimportant stock car race, and instead returned with a novel length screed on the death of the American dream. I, too, have been inspired similarly by the deluge of information that came to light as I attended a hempcrete building workshop in the Trinidad Rancheria, located in Trinidad, California. I thought, at first that I was going to be attending a quirky and creative arts and crafts workshop, but was quick to realize over the course of the next three days of guest speakers that there was so much more that I hadn’t grasped. The issues that presented themselves spread out like a family tree.

First thing is first, the production and utilization of hempcrete, as explained by American Lime Technology:

“is a bio-composite made of the inner woody core of the hemp plant mixed with a lime-based binder. The hemp core or ‘Shiv’ has a high silica content which allows it to bind well with lime. This property is unique to hemp among all natural fibers. The result is a lightweight cementitious insulating material weighing about a seventh or an eighth of the weight of concrete.”

hempcreat

In layman terms, in place of standardized insulation or some concrete supports, hemp stalks are harvested en masse, broken down, dried, and then mixed with the regular lime that is a standard mixing agent found in regular stone concrete. Furthermore, hempcrete bricks have the capacity of being self supporting, potentially removing the need for a timber frame.

Over the course of the days to follow, we were educated as a group on how to mix the lime with the Shiv and it’s construction with wooden framing. It was a unifying experience to watch all attendees mixing, building, measuring, and getting their hands dirty to use such a sustainable product, and here’s where the issues begin to stem out like the Greek pantheon. The first being that hempcrete, according to American Hemp LLC, “creates a monolithic structure, which acts as your OSB, insulation, and drywall. No cavity is necessary, but framing is still required,” as such, the house or apartment that you reside in is likely suffering from a condition that I didn’t know existed beforehand known as Sick Building Syndrome. Essentially, the insulation and materials used in the construction of your home are cheap, and loaded with chemicals that can create an insular stew which can lead to a an array of health issues. According to the National Institutes of Biotechnology Information, these symptoms can manifest themselves in the form of “headaches, dizziness, nausea, eye, nose or throat irritation, dry cough, dry or itching skin, difficulty in concentration, fatigue, sensitivity to odours, hoarseness of voice, allergies, cold, flu-like symptoms, increased incidence of asthma attacks and personality changes.” Hempcrete, on the other hand, is more breathable, and also, is immune to mold and mildew.

On day three of the project, I spoke with Annalisa Rush, one of the directors and organizers of the event, and asked her about the background and significance of industrial hemp in the future. “It’s a cannabis culture here in Humboldt, but when I was studying at HSU, industrial hemp really peaked my interest because of the sustainability element… The California Senate Bill 566 [passed] in the spring of 2014 so I set on a course to tell as many people about that as I could. I created a vision for a business plan for our local region in the form of a hemp demonstration center, which if we were to grow industrial hemp we could showcase all of its virtues and in incorporate it into local businesses so it could find its niche here.”Screenshot 2016-08-31 13.38.07

As it stands right now, thanks to its classification from the DEA, the hemp that you can acquire right now is awfully expensive, isn’t it? Currently standing at 39 cents per pound for seed, $1.20 per pound for certified seed for planting, and $200 per ton for hemp stalks, foregoing the market inflation and infrastructural cost. Why is this? Because it’s more than likely imported. Our largest suppliers of refined hemp being China, Romania, Hungary, Canada, and India, and that crop that these countries enjoy is one of the more sustainable crops they utilize, as hemp naturally suppresses weeds and returns nitrogen back into the soil.

The issues press on. The stranglehold that the timber industries and large American agricultural lobbies have on keeping pressure against positive hemp legislature is ubiquitous, beginning with a smear campaign from William Randolph Hearst in the 1940s who saw production of the plant to be a threat to the timber industry. However, those that are invested in industrial production of hemp have no interest in conquering the timber industry, as Klara Marosszeky, guest speaker, sustainability educator, and President of the Australian Industrial Hemp Alliance pointed out, “they simply want to work with them to yield the best results for both the environment, the farmer, and the consumer.”

From there, an issue that has seemingly been ignored is the immense possibility that the plant has to lift communities up, especially amongst farmers and indigenous populations. I spoke with Lisa Sundberg, member and representative of the Trinidad Rancheria, and organizer of the Hempcrete workshop, who shared with me her vision for the incredible positive change that legalization of industrial hemp production could have on our nations tribes. She began, “I knew that my tribe could participate in the economy of this industry as legislation progresses, and beforehand we’ve just been put on the sidelines. Even though there’s a tribe that’s been operating in California for over 10 years, they’ve been faced with so many of the challenges of other growers, but are often even denied a seat at the table.”

“Aside from the amazing possibilities of hempcrete, I believe that there’s a lot of great medicine here. Being tribal, being native, I believe that it’s our duty to see how we could use this plant as a medicine to help us heal, both in our bodies and the structures around us.”

“We want to create a legal framework for hemp, but we also want to do it in a way that’s going to help us leverage a prosperous economy. We don’t want the sharks taking this away from us, both the tribes and the rest of the deserving small farmers in our country… I’m looking to see how we can complement the communities around us…”, she said.

“We want people to help us develop opportunities for our tribes and have their heart in the right place. Because one thing that I’ve learned with this whole hemp project is that the industrial revolution annihilated our whole world. Hemp is showing what it really can do, and it’s been suppressed for so long, all of this knowledge.”Screenshot 2016-08-31 13.38.43

How To Get Involved:

Direct participation is paramount. This event maxed out at 14 attendees on its busiest day. You must ask yourself, as these issues come before us, how one thinks any possible benefit can come when we sit on the sidelines.

The Adult Use of Marijuana Act or Prop 64 will be on the ballot this November. In case you think that this is a fringe issue, it has the backed support California Medical Association, California Democratic Party, California NAACP, ACLU of California, California Cannabis Industry Association, Drug Policy Alliance, MPP, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and national NORML. In case you think this is a purely liberal issue? The utilization of industrial hemp also has the public support of those patchouli drenched hippies Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul. The passage of this legislature would also open the door to greater possibilities for industrial hemp production as well as recreational marijuana.

 Written by Sam Greenspan

Lastly, for more education, please visit CANorml.com and VoteHemp.com, EarthIsLand.org, and HempHistoryWeek.com.

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