Stewardship and Sustainable Hemp Farming

Author: Sopurkha (“Perky”) Kaur

February 18, 2020

It’s a sincere honor for me to usher in the inaugural article about hemp farming. Even though my own family didn’t have a farm, I squeezed my way into the barns of several neighborhood farmers, begging to let me help them bale hay, feed animals, and yes, even shovel poop! This coercion started almost as soon as I was old enough to tie my shoes (sorry again mom for all the times I disappeared from home).

My deep respect for hard-working and underappreciated farmers was reignited with the freeing of this miraculous plant. Today I’m thrilled to squeeze my way into this journal where I can help many more than just one farmer at a time.

In this article, I will touch on what it means to step into stewardship, highlight the unique aspects of growing hemp, and share stories gathered directly from farmers in a variety of states. You’ll soon learn why growing hemp—in a sustainable way – is an opportunity of a lifetime.

I’ve recently traveled about this diverse country to visit various hemp pioneers. An interesting common denominator surfaced. Every person I encountered seemed to believe that our ability to grow hemp represents our ability to do things right – and to do the right thing by the planet and our health. They’ve enthusiastically and generously shared their experiences in the hopes of helping the newest states continue into the movement toward stepping into their stewardship.

According to Wikipedia, stewardship is an ethic that embodies the responsible planning and management of resources. The concepts of stewardship can be applied to the environment and nature, economics, health, property, information, theology, etc.

Here’s how I summarize it even further:

When we care for the land, the land will take care of us.

Just by growing hemp, we’re already making great strides in caring for the land. Hemp is an astonishing plant on many levels. Most people do not yet realize she has built-in superpowers—characteristics that can transform and upgrade the land and the people borrowing space upon it.

Seed2System Farms

Photo by “Perky” Kaur

Hemp asks for far fewer resources than most (maybe all?) other crops:

· Water – drinks far less water

· Time – a crowing cycle of just 70 days versus 15+ years for timber

· Pesticides – encapsulates its own natural anti-pest properties

· Erosion – prevents soil erosion and makes for a great rotation crop

Even more impressive, hemp actually provides resources:

· Remediation – cleans away some of the nastiest compounds that currently contaminate our soil (learn more about phytoremediation here.)

· Regenerative – adds healthful elements and valuable nutrients into our desperately depleted soil

These are all indications that this plant is highly aware of how to harmonize and help balance the land.

Since hemp is giving us this huge kickstart in the right direction, there’s no better time to support her momentum. Hemp farmers are heeding the call by committing to sustainable, regenerative, and Certified Organic farming practices intending to lead us back to nutrient-rich soil that was originally designed to sustain our human health.

Soil stewardship is not a new concept. Ancient agricultural practices conserved the soil and ensured its continued fertility. According to the USDA National Agricultural Library, there have been written notes dating back to the first century A.D.

“The earth neither grows old nor wears out if it be dunged”

This quote was written by Columella, a Roman regarding the application of animal manure for fertilizer. He also wrote about rotating crops of grain, legume, and then allowing the fields to go fallow – presumably to encourage soil regeneration. Even without our sophisticated modern technology, ancient farmers knew how to effectively steward and nurture the land.

During our First Industrial Revolution, soil conditioning took a back seat and consequently has our nation playing some serious catch-up. Fortunately, hemp farmers are making conscious efforts for a comeback.

Florida and other newly legalized states are very fortunate to be able to learn from the hemp pioneers who have taken one (or two, or 122) for the team. After finishing her second year as a hemp farmer in West Bend, Wisconsin, Angie Curtes of Grounded had much to share.

Angie Curtis, of Grounded

Photo by “Perky” Kaur

“For us, a piece of the sustainability picture includes efficiency and using minimal tools to get the job done. We worked out some really nice systems this year [2019] based on our experiences last year. A big time saver was planting clones versus seeds. Last year, we mostly planted seeds that were not feminized. We spent a lot of time culling to remove the males, so the females would not receive pollination and diminish the CBD value of the flower. This year, instead of our energy being used on culling, it went into normal maintenance of a green cover crop of between our rows – allowing us to stay away from plastic materials to prevent weeds.”

Angie’s family farm has been farming organically for nine years, and Certified Organic for the last two. “When we think about sustainability, we think about not only what’s better for the environment but what’s better for our farm. Plastic weed suppression cloths are allowed in Certified Organic farming, but when we look at our footprint, we are trying to reduce our waste in the long run and that plastic material just goes into the landfill, plus there’s a time value for laying out and managing it. Also, what is that doing to the soil’s breathing capability? What is it doing for our ability to build organic matter? There is a stagnation that can occur and even mold with having a black plastic system.”

When I asked Angie about soil regeneration, she expertly touched on two important factors – cover crops and composting.

“We are constantly trying to build fertility, build nitrogen, boost different micro and macro elements, and organic matter. A question farmers need to continually ask is, ‘how does one continue to build fertility while they are cropping?’”

Angie offers, “One way is to stagger the planting rows for perpetual rotation without having to till up and move to a different acre. This implements a simultaneous cropping system using a cover crop and hemp crop.”

My two-day tour with Angie overflowed with actionable do and don’t tips. Her specialty expertise in biodynamic methods of composting borrowed from 14th century Europe was particularly interesting. “We have no animals on our property and yet, our land, just like every other farmland, needs what animals produce – manure.”

Grounded Compost

Photo by “Perky” Kaur

“Being sustainable means working with local farmers who have to clean manure. We also crop hay on our grounds, so we found a farmer who needs hay and has manure to exchange. This brings fertility that I can transform into compost for our farm. We also receive lake weeds from nearby lakes, so I am getting manure and lake weed from within 3 miles of the farm which minimizes my transportation footprint and my time and energy resources.”

Now let’s shift to wisdom from Colorado. As managing Partner at HGH Seedand the VP of Business Development & Operations at the International Hemp Exchange, Adrian Zelski is a wealth of experience-based knowledge. His passion for regenerative farming practices was downright palpable.

“What you’re seeing with hemp right away is that it has characteristics of what regenerative and sustainable farming have been talking about for decades and are really starting to come to fruition, where you try to reduce your inputs, reduce your toxicity to the soil, reduce your mono-cropping, reduce your overall agricultural practices that destroy the environment, rather than enhancing it. Hemp has that opportunity, not just from the CBD.” He further explained, “Being sustainable and regenerative is a key ingredient in everything we do, from our genetics to our farmer partners to our internal farms, our goal is to be as sustainable as possible. We call it the ASAP agreement – as sustainable as possible – where you do it to a level that works, but you don’t resort to easy tactics of pesticides, inorganic fertilizers, that you keep the process of learning the right mindset. That’s what we do with our farm – being sustainable by design is how we set the tone for this industry.”

Seed2System Plants

Photo by “Perky” Kaur

Adrian’s comments about Certified Organic echoed Angie Curtis. His thought was, “the word ‘organic’ has become a little bit cheapened. A lot of people use it to demand a higher dollar value. It’s still good that they are not using glyphosates and certain additives, but oftentimes they are still using the techniques of mono-cropping or doing things that are not ‘organic’ by Certified Organic standards. There is a second-tier, where we ask, ‘is organic where you stop?’ That’s where terms like ‘beyond organic’ and ‘regenerative’ and ‘sustainability’ really come into play. We also need to reference a practice that – no matter what – is generating a more biodiverse way to farm, where you’re increasing the value of the soil, and the value of the food that provides you more oxygen and fewer carbon emissions.”

“By being sustainable, hopefully, we can set a tone for future generations that they can use resources that replenish themselves, rather than deplete themselves.”

Seed2System is the line of CBD products and an outcome of Adrian’s strong positive influence on sustainability. “Seed2System provides a success story where you do things organically, sustainably, and regeneratively as far as you can – and then you take that into a processing relationship that also shares those values so that when it makes it to the customer, it actually has a pretty clean track record, providing an important backbone that provides a true story of wellness – not just a name or brand but something that goes all the way back to the farm.”

Adrian Zelski of HGH Seed

Photo by “Perky” Kaur

His passion, pure intentions, and vast experience led me to ask Adrian a rather blunt question, “Is there a topic that makes you beat your head against the proverbial wall?” He laughed and paused for a short moment before offering his truthful closing statements. “Sometimes I do beat my head against the wall and sometimes I lose a lot of faith. When you look at the mass production and creation of our systems in the U.S. and abroad, you see we are playing catch up most of the time. It’s a reactive society where we learn a new technology, or we find a new trend or test a new way to supply ourselves and we don’t think about the consequences and we just jump into it. We’ve been doing that throughout the industrial age. I think that there’s more information out there now, more experience, technology, science, and spirit that can be forward-thinking to look for the consequences before just jumping into a massive system. We can honestly live in harmony with our natural environment while creating food systems and medicine systems, transportation systems, everything that comes into the production of our food and our society can actually go back in as it is taken. I know it sounds like an idealistic perspective, but all the signs and all the wonders of nature point out that it can be done. It’s a world thing and I think that in the United States, as a world leader in hemp production, we need to show that we are thinking in that direction and not just jumping into a million ideas without thinking of the consequences.”

Thanks to these – and the many other pioneers – we are starting to see that growing hemp is nothing short of an opportunity of a lifetime to regenerate the land, take back our health, reconnect our communities, and perhaps even create financial permaculture in the process.

About the Author:

“Perky” (Sopurkha Kaur) transitioned into the hemp industry using her background in content creation and writng, which includes ghostwriting for a New York Times Best Selling book. She is infinitely interested in how to naturally restore health to people and the planet. Propelled by her pioneering spirit and first-hand industry knowledge, Perky is now building her legacy by helping the United States shift into hemp-based alternative medicines and sustainable products that heal the earth.

“Perky” (Sopurkha Kaur)