SOURCE: National Geographic
The Declaration of Independence was drafted on paper made from it. Henry Ford built car parts with it. George Washington grew it. Now, as more farmers are allowed to harvest this multi-purpose plant, hemp might see a new heyday—in homes.
The United States is rolling out a come-back mat for an ancient leaf that was widely used from Colonial times through World War II but fell into anti-drug disfavor. Its 2014 farm bill permits limited growing of hemp, the non-psychoactive cousin of the same cannabis plant that produces marijuana.
Hemp backers see potential boom times ahead. Buoyed by influential bi-partisan supporters, including GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, farmers are aiming to put down seed. Builders are hoping those crops lower the cost of hemp fiber, used to make non-toxic, energy-efficient insulation.
“We are at a tipping point,” says Greg Flavall, technical building advisor for Hemp Technologies Collective, which sells a hemp mixture for insulating walls. He says inquiries are rising, and he expects the number of hemp homes—now about a dozen in the U.S.—could quadruple in the next year.
“It all comes down to acceptance,” Flavall says, noting many baby boomers saw hemp as taboo and didn’t distinguish it from marijuana. He says they thought that if a house with hemp caught fire, the neighborhood would party.
Not so. Hemp contains much lower levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) so it won’t give people a high. It also looks different than marijuana during cultivation, since it grows in densely-packed stalks of nine to 15 feet tall. Its oil and fiber can be used to make thousands of products including textiles, health foods, and Mercedes-Benz door panels.