By Doug Fine
I think we can now say that the independent regenerative farmer renaissance is a real phenomenon. In New Mexico, our state government is showing it appreciates independent farmers having a voice in our state’s economic trajectory – we’re a thing. A party to the discussion. You see, when a legislative committee advances a bill written by a state agency to the next committee with a “pass” recommendation, it is very often fast-tracked to become law. Not so, thankfully, with HB 88 in New Mexico this legislative session.
Regenerative farmers inside the Land of Enchantment rallied to outlast a dancing legislative hearing schedule until this deeply problematic bill was finally and very graciously pulled from consideration by its sponsor, Representative Derrick Lente (D-Rio Arriba, Sandoval and San Juan Counties). Lente said via the chair of the New Mexico House Judiciary Committee, Gail Chasey (D-Bernalillo County), that our hemp production rules will be best formulated following further discussion with stakeholders. That was a big gesture by an elected official who is performing as a leader. He was listening and accessible all along, and seemed in our discussion to be a bit surprised about all the hubbub. Heck, when an agency sends a bill with a “pass” recommendation…
In the end, representative democracy worked. I can’t tell you how happy I am to be able to type that sentence. It makes me very proud to live and work in New Mexico. As a journalist, it was interesting, excitingly fast-moving and downright time-consuming to learn how the governmental sausage is made. While I was waiting at zoom hearings for the troubling hemp bill to come up, I could hardly believe the topics grownups were debating: creating new crimes for stealing copper, a constitutional amendment so the government could be more for-profit, and a lot of great things too: hunger relief, community banking (didn’t go anywhere this session but California has it), and, I’m proud to report, an excellent cannabis legalization bill that’s looking promising for passage. It contains all the baseline elements necessary in any cannabis legalization protocol: home cultivation allowed, encouragement of regional, independent enterprises, and cannabis “criminal” record expungement. It is, ya know, one of humanity’s longest utilized plants.
The hemp bill we were tracking kept popping on and off hearing schedules. I found myself setting alarms for unrealistic times on weekends. But something was happening. This was clearly no longer a must-pass bill. Ears were getting bent. Brows were sweating as each delay was announced.
Fans of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy will know that the book’s hero, regular guy Arthur Dent, once found his planning department’s public notice records in a broken lavatory’s locked cabinet, guarded by a leopard. At one of our recent state hearings, the bad hemp bill was buried fourth of eight bills on the agenda — that was the leopard. At another point, a hearing time was announced as “3:00-3:30 p.m. Mountain Time or after the Floor Session ends.” Man, how I wish I could have that elastic a schedule. Given that reality, we, this coalition of independent farmers that we didn’t realize existed in New Mexico, had to want it more.
And then there’s this: you know how at the end of a lot of action movies, the bad guy gets up one more time? Well, our more experienced legislative colleagues from all over the country are advising us even now to stay vigilant for the remaining 18 days of this year’s New Mexico legislative session. It would be unlikely, but not unheard of, for a bill to be revived so late in a session.
Sigh. Some of us would rather be outside ranching under the bluest New Mexico skies full of courting red-tailed hawks. But there was no time for reflection. This was on, and the other side knew it was in a fight. A polite, respectful, Land of Enchantment one. Then came the moment when our band of inexperienced farmers realized that we had won, on an important issue. The bill was pulled. Wow. Look at the scoreboard: we won. A couple weeks prior, some of us weren’t even sure that was a realistic hope.
When the dust cleared, a solid couple dozen independent farmers realized we had spontaneously come together to have a voice. And we found to our mild surprise that what actually is happening is, in the real world, we’re moving from the drawing board phase to the implementation phase of the regenerative farmer/entrepreneurial project: to build soil and regionalize economies so humanity can transition as smoothly as possible from the petroleum to the biomaterials era.
Also to our pleasant surprise, our legislature and governor appear to have our backs. People who know the nuts and bolts of governmental operation gave us the sometimes leopard-guarded email addresses to which to send officially recorded testimony and properly worded amendment protocols at least 24 hours before a hearing.
As soon as we realized HB 88 had to be stopped, zoom meetings began happening with – and this is the important part – farmers. Defined as folks who were taking a break from their farming day to meet. I’m prepping soil, my colleague Jeff Castillo of High Lonesome Hemp, has greenhouses to tend in advance of the outdoor hemp season. And all of us gladly made time to say this to our state regulatory agencies: “Any hemp production bill should be called ‘The How Can We Help Our State’s Regenerative Farmers Build Soil And Rural Economies? Production Act.“ At first, I think we were just so relieved that there were others who felt as we did. But the tone of the meetings progressed from muttering to energized to jubilant over the course of a lively week.
Now, before we get into the meat of the issue, let’s state an obvious truth. All parties to a food grade production policy discussion have the same goal: safe products, and thriving farmers. There are great production bills out there (think Vermont, more on that to come). HB 88 wasn’t one of ‘em.
So what was wrong with HB 88, which would have amended New Mexico’s existing hemp production bill? A lot, if you’re an independent farmer trying to mitigate climate change and produce top-shelf hemp. Let’s start with not being asked to help discuss a production bill before it was drafted by folks at a regulatory agency with limited understanding of hemp. This nearly guaranteed a bill that would be out-of-step with the farmer-friendly legislation in other states. I mean, imagine drafting a legal bill without talking to lawyers, a dental bill without talking to dentists, or a teacher’s bill without talking to teachers. And we have examples of top-shelf, would famous craft delicacies in New Mexico – most notably our Hatch green chiles. Yum. My colleagues at Seebinger Hemp in Albuquerque have had green chile/hemp products for half a decade. Point being, we know what small-batch, farmer-based entrepreneurial success looks like.
Now on to the threats in HB 88. Instead of supporting the industry, the bill menaced producers with multiple potential misdemeanors. This is hemp, people, in 2021. Get over it. Or better, get behind it. Here are just a couple of examples of its inappropriate approach, from an amendment I and two other farmers filed to our House Judiciary Committee on February 21:
We propose to the HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE the following amendments to:
HOUSE BILL 88
1. On page 10, line 7, strike Section E, “Transporting hemp without a harvest certificate or [hemp-derived material] hemp extract without a [harvest certificate] manifest shall constitute a petty misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to five hundred dollars ($500).”
The reason for this amendment is that federal law says hemp possession in any quantity is legal.
2. On page 10, line 10 strike section F: “Product in excess of eight ounces that has the appearance of hemp and is in the possession of a person suspected of violating the provisions of Subsection E of this section may be seized by a law enforcement agency until such time as the agency is able to identify the product, in cooperation with the department of environment or the New Mexico department of agriculture, but for no longer than five days.”
The reason for this amendment is that federal law says hemp possession in any quantity is legal.
Our proposed amendments go on from there, questioning the burdensome fee ceiling for farmers and ambiguous wording about whether seed and fiber were exempted from the bill. But really, the underlying problem was the mistake of making legislation for bad players instead of the good players who are trying to sequester carbon and build our rural New Mexican economy by growing a regenerative crop.
An independent farm-to-product-friendly model is the future of agriculture and frankly the future of humanity if we’re interested in sequestering carbon and mitigating climate change. And if humanity’s survival really is the goal, regenerative farmers (of hemp or any crop) are the last folks we as a society want to be threatening. That kind of thinking is not only ignorant and unpatriotic, it’s suicidal: it will guffawed at by our grandchildren.
As I reported in AMERICAN HEMP FARMER, 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. If the regenerative farming mode catches on, farmers might even sequester sufficient carbon to buy us humans a crucial century to get our underlying infrastructural cards in order—the goal being to thrive, rather than panic, as we glide into the post-petroleum future. HB 88 was simply not a bill drawn up with the interests of independent farmers and producers even considered. And New Mexico’s independent farmers dug in our heels.
At the end of our proposed Amendments (the process of filing these was pretty formal and we got it right, with big credit for that going to my colleague Stephen Sisneros of New Mexico Hemp Enterprises, who is great at the procedural stuff), we did two things. One was, we told our legislators that we looked forward to discussing this further with the Committee and appreciated the discussion.
Which was true, but we didn’t have to continue that discussion: the bill went away 48 hours later. Big thanks to the slew of individual folks and groups from across the nation who supported our farmers by writing letters, including Vote Hemp and DCMJ in Washington, DC, and The Leaf in California. And now, of course, the real work begins.
Which leads to the second truth we dropped at the end of our Amendment letter: we suggested a terrific alternative to HB 88. Namely, we put forth the nation’s best hemp production program, Vermont’s. Here are links to Vermont’s hemp rules, and its hemp law; fun reading for all, but especially for folks working on improving hemp policy in their state:
There’s much to love in this policy (beyond the absence of threats to farmers). Those who have read AMERICAN HEMP FARMER know that I grow Organic hemp with the fellow who runs the state hemp program for the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Cary Giguere. So I’m biased, because Cary’s an awesome guy, a fine farmer and a great public servant. But I mean, you’ve got to love:
–Reasonable fees, including honoring the right to grow one’s own superfood with a $25 personal harvest license option (I pay around $700 in New Mexico).
—Farm-to-Product friendliness to independent farmers, with farming and production all handled together in a lightly regulated way.
–A “Vermont Grown” label option and requirements, providing farmers with built-in branding.
–Honoring and legislating for good players by simply requiring that testing records be kept. No transport limits without paperwork or other undemocratic nonsense.
–A person is not required to register with the hemp program to sell hemp products or hemp-infused products in Vermont.
–THC protocol that anticipates and supports the coming federal definition change of hemp to 1% THC (you’ll see below that Cary and his team were clever: there was major progress on that national issue this past week as well).
For these and many other reasons, here in New Mexico we’re going to suggest farmer-friendly policy like Vermont’s to our regulators. The has the added oomph of coming from one of the safest food states.
However it plays out here in the high desert, we’re ready to talk. We’re increasing in numbers and only going to increase in influence. We’ve halted a misguided policy trajectory and now offer solutions. From now on, indie farmer voices are going to be heard in the Land of Enchantment. We’ve already kept the promise in our testimony to work with agencies this coming year to develop a top-tier hemp production policy. Our first move was to meet this week with our state’s influential food advisory council, to learn how to most effectively approach regulating agencies (specifically the folks in our environment department who handle food policy – we already have a great relationship with our state’s department of agriculture folks, who have launched one of the best cultivation programs in the nation). This democracy stuff is all new to many of us farmers.
Hopefully our regulators will say, “great, let’s basically do things like Vermont.” The fact that the discussion is on means our state government appreciates that farmers are not just real people who matter in the digital age. In fact. when allowed to do our work, we have the potential to extend humanity’s tenure here via carbon sequestration and nutrient dense food – maybe Diabetes cases, a major state problem (partly because of what many of us pile on top of those green chiles), will decline.
I haven’t made a ton of bitcoin as a farmer, but I unabashedly include “lucrative farmer livings” as part of the agenda. When I go here, I often find myself thinking about comedian Kevin Hart’s bit where he describes being surprised, upon achieving success, to find himself living not among other actors and comedians, but among dentists and lawyers. Therefore he’s nudging his kids to become dentists or lawyers, so they, too, can live in froofy neighborhoods.
To “dentists and lawyers” I’d like to add “farmers and healthy-product makers.” There is no Dentist Aid concert. Much as I adore the music, it’d be fantastic not to need Farm Aid. I hope you also keep this desired result in mind: living in a world where parents tell their kids, “Work hard and someday you might grow up to be a farmer.”
With that goal in my heart, my message to everyone reading these words today, from Madagascar to Norway, from Chile to Montana, is that this is much more than a minor New Mexico legislative victory. It is a rallying cry. Yes, it’s important in its own right that in our humble southwest state (or any state) we’re encouraging friendly legislation that’s going to result in better products and high safety standards. But take with you the knowledge that the regenerative direction, the one that gives humanity’s survival a chance, can be chosen in your backyard too. It’s up to you, in every community. It’s a pain to speak up. But it apparently works.
To me the legislative trench-sloshing part of it is not the most fun. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: being in a regenerative polyculture hemp field is the most fun you can have outside the bedroom. The more hawk courtship dances I watch, the healthier I am. But you gotta look out for you own backyard.
Plus, this isn’t a game. This is my diet, my own well-being on which I’m working all these hours. I know why supporting regional food producers is so important. I love growing my family’s food, and I love going to the food co-op and farmers market and seeing regional products of every kind — regional chilies, regional oranges, regional hemp.
Thank you for seeking out and supporting these kind of regionally-made products in your own communities. And if you think at first that you’re paying more for these than you would for McFood at a box store, my advice is to add up your local food costs in 50 years versus your medical and pharmaceutical bills.
I’m grateful to see that the dream of an independent regenerative farmer/entrepreneur renaissance emerging as a major economic factor has become reality. Folks who embody the practice of “many small producers rather than a few Kmarts of hemp” are not just a niche – we are the core of this new ancient industry. This mode is real. It has arrived. Think variety. Think terroir. Think Hatch green chiles. Please oppose so called “standardization” protocols put forth by non-farmers in trade groups. These mean over sanitized food products made by large players. We want diversity. We want worms in the apple every now and then. Fat, healthy worms. Odds are that’s a tastier batch of apples. More bio-available. Monoculture in field and economy has nearly killed us.
Thank you for supporting and joining the independent farmer renaissance wherever you live. The saga of halting one unfriendly-to-farmers hemp bill in one high desert state showed that regenerative farmers’ voices will be heard from now on. Ideally everywhere. Each such victory is a step forward for the coming regenerative society, for climate change mitigation, and for the rebirth of independent farming economies.
Since I believe independent farming is the future of our economy, I think it’s important that any agricultural legislation come as a result of deep consultation with a region’s independent farmers. Accordingly, my personal takeaway from my dip in the political arena is this: I think cannabis/hemp is making such a smashing comeback to teamwork with humanity, just in the nick of time, because we regenerative-destined humans now have a critical mass of friends in high and friends in low places.
Starting with high, a big thanks to America’s secretaries of agriculture, who voted by a wide margin to support the federal legislative shift to 1% THC hemp. This happened last week at the winter policy conference of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA), even as we were tabling HB 88 in New Mexico. American hemp farmers are so ready for that fix. It is huge for making cultivation smoother for independent farmers nationwide. We’ll be able to sleep at sampling time. Any policy that makes life easier for regenerative hemp farmers is likely a wise policy. The coming era of THC irrelevance is discussed in AMERICAN HEMP FARMER. We’re getting there.
Here again, on this national 1% THC push, we seeing the power of united independent farmer voices. Big CBD isolate tycoon wannabees don’t care about the farmers cultivating the actual hemp that goes into their products. If these kind of Twentieth Century thinking enterprises consider farmers at all, it’s akin to the way a duke thought of serfs. For these folks stuck in an antiquated model, hemp is just another fungible commodity on which to profit by selling out to a hedge fund or stock traded company as soon as feasible. For now, these kind of entities just want to save three cents on their per-gram cost of wholesale isolate from who knows where. Terroir? They’ve never heard of it.
We’re not operating by that model any more, if we’re wise. The really good news is when you support farmer-owned enterprises you’re almost definitely getting much better hemp, regardless of what part of the plant we’re discussing.
And what a difference a year makes. Last year the 1% vote failed at the same NASDA meeting. I wish I had space here to document the amusing discussion and blessedly lopsided vote in favor of this obvious and sensible move in support of farmers. All I’ll say about the NASDA discussion last week is that only one state opposed the 1% fix during debate, using the argument, if you really translated it, that its public servants were too lazy to change its policy and support its state’s farmers. That state’s position was spanked down explicitly by other speakers (go Florida and Alaska!), who said their farmers need and deserve the flexibility of 1%.
Independent hemp farmers and those who love them know that 1% is essential, this year. The chorus of “aye”’s when the vote came was music to my ears. Next step: congress makes the change official. You can call your U.S. senators and congressperson to urge this and sign the Vote Hemp 1% THC petition at: https://www.votehemp.com/petition-1percent-hemp-definition/
Now, on to friends in low places; the microbes. We’re engaged in our over-winter soil building here on the Funky Butte Ranch. Fortunately, we’re not the only species midwifing our hemp crop by planting time. We’re gathering local mycelium and brewing it into compost tea. Then, of course there’s the goat poop — it’s a short walk from the corral to the soil on a perfectly sunny and chilly morning more than a mile high here on the Ranch. Who here loves goat poop? What happens below the surface of you soil, more and more of us have learned, determines what happens above. And therein, I believe, lies the survival of your family and mine.
About Doug Fine
Doug Fine is a New Mexico-based comedic investigative journalist, bestselling author, and solar-powered goat herder. His latest book is American Hemp Farmer: Adventures and Misadventures in the Cannabis Trade (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2020). His 2021 NoCo Hemp Expo keynote, his seventh consecutive at the world’s largest hemp expo, will be on Saturday, March 27 at 3 p.m. Mountain Time. He will be doing virtual book signings on both March 26 and March 27 at 2 p.m. at his publisher Chelsea Green’s booth #238.
Doug has cultivated hemp for food, farm-to-table products and seed-building in four U.S. states. He has served as an affiliated hemp researcher with the University of Hawaii and his hemp seeds have been used in a soil cleaning study at New Mexico State University. 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.” His previous books Farewell, My Subaru, Hemp Bound and Too High to Fail are all bestsellers.
A website of Doug’s print, radio and television work, United Nations testimony, Conan and Tonight Show appearances, and TED Talk is at dougfine.com . His print 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 he has corresponded for National Public Radio from five continents. A registration link for his online regenerative hemp course (which can be taken at the student’s pace, from anywhere) is at: https://learn.acresusa.com/courses/doug-fine-hemp-course-2020?ref=811aeb