Saturday, August 05, 2006

Yesterday, 4 August, Dru Lawson of the Hemp Trading Co. ( gave me a ride out to Rochford in Essex to view a hemp harvest, to which Sue Riddlestone and Emily Stott of BioRegional had kindly invited us. We were joined with researchers from Leeds University and Cranfield University and Jane Taylor of Positive News.
Three varieties, Santhika, Fedora and Chameleon stood about 8 feet (2.6metres) high, waving their green buds in the wind. Living emerald is how James Lane Allen described hemp in 1900, and this lived up to his words; Chameleon, in my opinion, in its lovely chartreuse tone, even exceeded them.
The plots were grown to test green decortication techniques and study stem cell structure with a view to facilitating a UK hemp textile industry. The green fibres, stripped from the inner hurds, were quite wet in this state and had to be pressed between two rollers to remove moisture. Further processes will be needed to rend them into cloth.
At present the hemp textile industry is centred in China and Romania. Italy was for some time renowned for producing the finest fibres, grown in the Piedmont region. Hemp is grown in Italy now for Giorgio Armani.
There are economic reasons for developing a hemp textile industry in any country, but there are also ecological reasons, the main one being the fact that cotton, at present the number 1 textile fibre in the world, uses up water and requires pesticides. (see related posts on cotton on this blog with the word search feature).
Sue gave me a copy of a book, Bioregional Solutions: For Living on One Planet, writtten by herself and Pooran Desai (both founders of BioRegional). In it (Chapter 7, "Hemp, Clothes and Fair Trade"), there is a good account of cotton, which the authors assert, is the "world's most water-intensive crop."
Cotton is grown mainly in the US, Israel, Pakistan, Tanzania, and Uzbekistan. This last country is the fifth largest producer, supplying 90% of the UK's demand in the '90s. This industry has turned the Aral Sea and its surroundings into a disaster, shutting down the commercial fishing industry and devastating wildlife, including migratory birds. Local farms are unable to carry on, so there is a shortage of fresh, local produce. Such facts are brought out in their book and are quite enough to show that cotton is an unsustainable crop.
HRH Prince Charles, who graced the book with a foreword, takes an interest in the future of his country and writes: "In a world dominated by the short-term, the need for constructive thinking about our long-term future on this planet, based on wisdom and enduring values, has never been greater."
Hemp cultivation is one part of that wisdom, and it is good to see those lanky, emerald and chartreuse stalks swaying gently in the Essex wind.

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