High time for Hemp
Deforestation is a key contributor to human-caused climate change. When forests are cleared or burnt, they release the carbon they store. Removing trees also diminishes an important carbon “sink” that takes up CO2 from the atmosphere. Hemp crops give back by returning nutrients to the soil and sequestering carbon dioxide. Hemp is a unique crop that can help shape a better future for family farms for generations to come.
Hemp is the planet-friendly miracle fibre produced from the stem and stalk of the cannabis plant. Forgotten by the 20th Century, hemp is an extremely hard crop that grows in a range of soils at high yield using 50 percent less water than conventional cotton with almost zero pesticides. A member of the Cannabis genus of plants (another being marijuana), hemp’s considered as the “sober cousin” at the party. The flowers of the plant where marijuana is extracted from contain the highest levels of the active psychotropic ingredient Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Hemp, however, contains low amounts of THC and high amounts of Cannabidiol (CBD).
We can then cultivate these by-products for both medicine and textiles. Another woven natural fabric, hemp actually has a lot of similarities with linen. The most significant of these is its tough and stiff texture which does soften over time but can leave a lot of wrinkles. We can best describe hemp’s texture as a cross between cotton and canvas. What’s more, this plant grows twice as fast as cotton and only needs a third of the water in comparison. The plant also naturally repels insects, so hemp can forgo pesticides and be organically produced by default. Despite this fact, many farmers still use fertilisers and insecticides that degrade soil and spoil the surrounding ecosystem.
Hemp farmers don’t require virtually any pesticides, can produce it cheaply and use up all parts of the plant. This all-rounded crop’s seeds, fibres and leaves can even produce bushy biomass — traditionally considered as waste — and be used as medicine and energy sources to replace fossil fuels. However, it is important to note that all industrially cultivated crops require water irrigation for higher yields. And unless farmers grow hemp in a region that gets 20–30 inches of rain per year, it will get thirsty. Also, large industrial processed hemp will deplete the soil of key fertilising compounds like nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. This can lead to soil erosion as with other industrial crops. We are still discovering hemp’s possibilities the more popular it becomes as a fabric. And, it might be what the future of sustainable fashion needs — a multi-purpose fibre that leaves the planet better than it found it — as long as it is grown and treated in the right conditions.
Hemp, just like linen, is easy to care for and requires minimal attention. Wash it by hand in cool water with a natural detergent and use white vinegar to remove any unpleasant odours. Avoid using any chlorine bleaches for tough stains; instead, opt for oxygen bleach or hydrogen peroxide. This fabric shouldn’t need dry cleaning, hot washing or tumble-drying — line drying under the sun works perfectly well. You can even try rolling your clothes in a towel if line-drying is not an option. Hemp absorbs and retains dye well even after wash, so colours shouldn’t run off the fabric. Although not as vibrant as synthetically dyeing, dyeing naturally and in earth tones serves its purpose well. It does wrinkle, however, so steam iron your clothes to remove creasing while it’s still slightly damp.
Hemp is a more sustainable, organic and regenerative agricultural crop, and most everything that you can make with cotton or soy or corn can be made with hemp. Hemp is a weed, so it grows prolifically with little water and no pesticides. It takes up relatively little space, produces more pulp per acre than trees, and is biodegradable. Hemp can be cultivated in practically every environment, from New York to California. The hardy plants are pest-resistant so there’s no need for pesticides and herbicides, mature within months, and can produce additional crops, year after year. There’s also a long list of ways that it can help the planet — because hemp can be grown locally, there’s less of a need to import it from far distances. Hemp seeds are a nutrient-rich source of food, containing high-quality plant-based protein and essential omega-3 fatty acids. There’s also CBD oil — aka Cannabidiol — the non-psychoactive component of the hemp plant that can address a growing list of health concerns, from chronic pain to anxiety and insomnia. According to Forbes, the fibres of the versatile crop can also be used to make sustainable materials from biodegradable plastics to building materials. It can also combat climate change: the hemp plant is ideal for nourishing nutrient-depleted soil and reversing the effects of erosion, making it ideal for crop rotation.