A symposium held Monday at the Bohemian Moon restaurant in Norwich addressed topics related to hemp from several angles: agricultural, industrial, entrepreneurial and legal.
The event, which drew a crowd of about 50 people, was sponsored by the citizens group Chenango Links. It was hosted by Aidan Woishnis, co-founder with Keith Klingman of Whatcannado, a limited liability corporation founded to promote cannabis production. Woishnis is also treasurer of the board of directors of New York Hemp Industries Association.
Hemp, also referred to as industrial hemp, is a variety of cannabis sativa grown specifically for commercial uses.
The drug cannabis and industrial hemp are derived from the same plant. Both contain the psychedelic tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, but hemp has lower THC levels and higher concentrations of cannabidiol, which decreases or eliminates the psychoactive effects.
“America is the largest importer of hemp. We are sustaining the industry as it stands today,” said Woishnis, who said he would like hemp to become a platform for economic growth. “What is really great is that people can be a part of the beginning of an industry.”
Jen Gilbert Jenkins, assistant professor of agricultural science at SUNY Morrisville, spoke about the process of growing hemp.
“We need to bring our knowledge of the agronomy of growing hemp up to the 80-year head start wheat and corn have on it. People have been researching those crops for 100 years,” she said.
Jenkins is involved in a program in which hemp was grown on 60 acres at SUNY Morrisville. She also worked with partner farms growing hemp on a total of 100 acres. The program looked at pressures from pests and the nutrient needs of hemp.
“Hemp is one of the highest nitrogen-demanding crops. It requires a ton of nutrients,” she said, adding that one advantage of growing hemp is that, unlike hops, farmers do not need new equipment for planting and harvesting.
Jared Nelson, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at SUNY New Paltz and chief science officer for Sunstrand, a Louisville, Ky.,-based company dedicated to promoting the use of sustainable materials, spoke about various applications of hemp fibers.
Composite compounds are used for road, air, sea and rail transport, as well as construction, sports, and leisure products. Natural fibers are increasingly used in composite compounds because they are efficient reinforcements. They are also recyclable and environmentally friendly, Nelson said.
If the projected rapid growth of the hemp industry is in fact achieved, there is “a ton of potential” in hemp fiber, Nelson said.
Hempfully Green CEO Emily Peyton also spoke about her business, which she runs with partner Tim Simon.
“We have so much hope for this plant. It’s an ally for the people,” Peyton said.
She has developed a juice called “zemp” made from pressed hemp.
“It makes your body feel wonderful,” Peyton said. She brought with her a sample of “hempcrete,” a kind of rock used in building.
“Houses are now full of a lot of toxic stuff, but hempcrete sequesters carbon, regulates humidity, and is thermally efficient,” Peyton said, adding that it takes five acres of taller fiber to build a 3,000-square-foot house.
Joy Beckerman, president of the Hemp Industries Association, a nonprofit trade association, reviewed the ambiguities and inconsistencies regarding the legal status of hemp since the 1930s. She urged attendees to visit www.hempsupporter.com to support legislation that would classify hemp as an agricultural commodity and remove it from the Controlled Substances Act.
Both Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., support the legislation, she said.
HIA’s website (www.thehia.org) lists various uses of hemp. As a food, HIA states, hemp seeds “contain high levels of vitamins A, C and e and beta-carotene and are rich in protein, carbohydrates, minerals and fiber.” A recent study conducted at Spain’s University of Seville indicates a potential for hemp seed to reduce blood pressure and help prevent heart disease and cancer.
Hemp has been used in textiles for thousands of years. In sailing, hemp was used for cordage, canvas, sailcloth, sacks, rope and paper. Considered one of the strongest, most durable fibers, hemp also holds shape well because it stretches less than other natural fibers. Products made from hemp include apparel, shoes and home furnishings.
Hemp is also used for building materials — replacing synthetic, petroleum-based materials whose production requires more energy — and as insulation. Hemp oil, pressed from seeds, can be used to finish wood and stain decks.