The Bear Attack That Made Me a Hemp Farmer
By Doug Fine, Independent Hemp Farmer and Goat Herder
Excerpted from Doug Fine’s sixth book, American Hemp Farmer, along with the author’s reflections on America’s hemp producers, rural communities, climate change, and the five-year process behind writing his new book.
Six years ago, a bear fleeing a wildfire in our New Mexico backyard killed nearly all of my family’s goats in front of our eyes. It wasn’t the bear’s fault; he was a climate refugee. It was June 2013, and drought had weakened the ponderosa pines and Douglas fir surrounding our remote Funky Butte Ranch. Beetles took advantage, and all of southern New Mexico was a tinderbox. Ho hum, just another climate event that until recently would have been called a “millennial” fire.
That’s the paramount reason I’m an overworked employee of the hemp plant: The people I care about most are one blaze away from joining the world’s 20 million climate refugees. At least I get the pleasure of putting “goat sitter” under occupation on my tax form.
The conflagration convinced me that I had to do something, personally, to work on this climate change problem. After some research about carbon sequestration through soil building, it became clear that planting as much hemp as possible was the best way to actively mitigate climate change and help restore normal rainfall cycles to our ecosystem.
Fired Up on Hemp
At least the fire’s timing was good. Hemp was de facto legalized for “research purposes” in 2014, two months before the publication of my earlier book about hemp, Hemp Bound. I’ve spent the five ensuing years not just covering the new industry but joining it: developing genetics in Oregon and a farm-to-table product in Vermont; consulting, filming, and speaking all over the world; working on university research in Hawaii; and teaching a college course near the Canadian border in Vermont.
Most of all, I met, farmed and processed with dozens of fellow hemp farmers, all over the world. We all consider ourselves part of a functioning regenerative industry niche, with a mission statement best described as “This Time the Farmers Are In Charge.”
American Hemp Farmers: Outstanding in their Field
As anyone who has leapt in can attest, planting hemp and making a living at it can be two different endeavors. American Hemp Farmer blueprints possibilities for independent farmers like myself who’d like to do both, particularly on their own land. If a lot of things go right, an independent farmer (or a farmer cooperative) can make a viable living on a small number of acres. That ain’t exactly the way agriculture has been going for the past century. Just how many acres depends most of all on the part or parts of the cannabis plant you are cultivating (seed, flower, fiber, root). Another variable is whether you’re planning to create a value-added product. A third is if you’re going at it alone or in partnership with others. Regardless, the good news is being in a hemp field is the most fun you can have outside the bedroom.
If you’re like me, you learn to relish every moment on the farm, because often at this early phase we have to shape regulatory policy, which means spending time off the farm. In fact, as any hemp permit holder in any state can tell you, we’re in a bit of a code red situation at this moment – right as American Hemp Farmer comes out, those of us who want to see the regenerative hemp industry thrive are rallying to immediately raise the federal THC definition of hemp to 1 percent.
Why 1 Percent?
There are a lot of reasons for this, but the immediate catalyst is that the USDA interim final regulations that came out in December criminalize THC above .5 percent. That, of course, is insane. Plus, far too many farmers are testing “hot” over micro-amounts of THC under today’s antiquated .3 percent definition of hemp. The last folks who should be burdened about THC are farmers. The war on cannabis is over. Cannabis won.
Still, I think you gotta give thanks for bad bureaucratic decisions: everyone’s justifiably fired up, and we’re going to win this one, just like we’re going to win all battles that need to be fought to support the regenerative hemp farmers who are sequestering carbon while re-building rural communities. So, we gotta tweak federal law again. No biggie. Please join us. Call your congressperson and senators today on this. Especially if you live in Kentucky or any state where your congressional delegation isn’t yet officially on the 1 percent bandwagon. Let’s get this one done this year so we can really build our genetics with confidence. Regenerative farmers are going to save humanity.
There’s much more policy to discuss, but the field is where the endorphins flow. It’s a sunny day here in the Land of Enchantment, so I’m heading out to lay some goat poop-laden organic alfalfa on my future 2020 field. Yikes, less than four months until planting! And I’ve got a dang book tour, which I’d love you to check out, with more dates being added all the time. Visit here for more info. Plus, I look forward to seeing you at the upcoming NoCo Hemp Expo in Denver.
See You at NoCo 2020!
In closing, it’s so appropriate that American Hemp Farmer is celebrating its release at the 7th Annual NoCo Hemp Expo, March 26-28, 2020, at Denver’s famed National Western Complex. For one thing, it’s the biggest and best hemp event in the world – a must-attend immersion if you’re considering leaping into hemp, the biggest economic development opportunity since Silicon Valley.
Also, at the 1st annual NoCo Hemp Expo in 2014, which had 19,500 fewer attendees than NoCo7 will, I performed my first live event following the publication of Hemp Bound. Morris, Lizzie, Lori and the whole NoCo Hemp Expo family have been supporting my work (and regenerative hemp agriculture) nonstop ever since.
Supporting Independent Bookstores
You can pre-order American Hemp Farmer, and if you pre-order via the link below (and use code EXPO), you’re supporting independent bookstores – in this case Denver’s magnificent Tattered Cover. They’ll ship anywhere, and when the book hits general release following NoCo7, you’ll be able to get it everywhere.
Also, my NoCo7 keynote and book signing times will be announced soon. To stay in the loop for the latest, you can join my Dispatches From the Funky Butte subscriber list. Hope y’all are feeling the profound thanks I’m beaming to everyone who reads American Hemp Farmer and Hemp Bound. I couldn’t do what I do without you.
–DJF, Funky Butte Ranch, January 20, 2020
Pre-Order American Hemp Farmer by Doug Fine here: https://www.tatteredcover.com/pre-order-american-hemp-farmer
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About Doug Fine
Doug Fine is a solar-powered goat herder, comedic investigative journalist, bestselling author, and pioneer voice in regenerative farming, including cannabis/hemp. He has cultivated hemp for food and seed-building in four U.S. states and teaches a hemp class at Sterling College in Vermont. In addition, he is an award-winning culture and climate correspondent from five continents (for NPR, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, among others). His books include American Hemp Farmer, Hemp Bound, Too High to Fail, Farewell, My Subaru (a Boston Globe Bestseller available in two Chinese dialects), Not Really An Alaskan Mountain Man, and First Legal Harvest, a monograph that was printed on hemp paper. 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.” A website of Doug’s print and radio work, United Nations testimony and TED Talk is at dougfine.com and his social media handle is @organiccowboy.