Outspoken hemp advocate and author Doug Fine talks about how hemp is transforming industries in remarkable and sustainable ways. Doug’s charisma and energy shine through as he inspires us to reconnect with the earth.
– What prompted Doug to drop out of traditional urban society and raise goats
– Hemp as a superfood
– Hemp can be used as a fuel
– Using hemp as a superior form of concrete, called Hempcrete
Matthew: Hi, I’m Matthew Kind. Every Monday and Wednesday look for a new episode where I’ll take you behind the scenes to interview the insiders that are shaping the rapidly evolving cannabis industry. Learn more at www.cannainsider.com. That’s www.cannainsider.com. What are the five major trends that will disrupt the cannabis industry in the next five years? Find out with your free report at www.cannainsider.com/trends. That’s www.cannainsider.com/trends. Now here’s your program. As hemp continues its double digit growth trajectory each year, many of us hear about the outrageous, society changing potential for hemp, but we don’t often hear the details or specifics about what is going on in the hemp world. Today’s guest, Doug Fine, is the author of Hemp Bound. Doug is going to share with us his expert knowledge of the plant and opportunity before us. Welcome Doug.
Doug: Good to be with you Matt.
Matthew: Doug I want to jump into a lot of the questions related to hemp, but to give listeners a sense of your background, can you tell us how you became a hemp advocate?
Doug: Sure. My life and career have been on a fairly consistent trajectory. In 2004 I wrote a book called Farewell My Subaru which describes journalistically but humorously my efforts to significantly reduce the fossil fuel use in my life without giving up digital age comforts. I wanted goat milk and Netflix for instance. And so I still we’re speaking from that ranch in New Mexico today. I still live that life when I’m not travelling on the road for my other work, and it’s informed everything that I do. When I wrote my next book which was called Too High to Fail, a look at a sustainable economic model, a farmer centric model for the inevitable coming above ground of the cannabis industry, that keyword was in there as well, sustainable. I was spurred to write about the drug war by some of the insanity that has most of the world ready to end the drug war. A neighbor of mine, a senior citizen got raided for cultivating a few cannabis plants for personal use while, you know, just south of the border where I live here, you know, tens of thousands of people are being killed in drug violence. But the sustainability angle was imperative.
And while I was researching a group of very progressive sustainable cannabis cultivators in Northern California, they were making an effort to centralize their flower processing facilities, and it was they who first put me onto the idea of the fact that they’re only processing for the flowers or you might also say for the shake and the leaves for infused cannabis derived products. But the stalks were left over and hey what’s the potential for energy there. Knowing hemp’s famous per acre biomass yield that is almost unrivaled in the natural world, I started my research for what became two years of study about the potential of what we may call the industrial cannabis plant or the agricultural cannabis plant, the side of cannabis that has today, which today you’ll find is .3 percent of THC or less, non-psychoactive. And what I found made me feel like your roommate with the lava lamp and the tie-dye was understating the potential of the plant.
Matthew: Wow. So help us understand that. What is the potential? What excites you the most about hemp?
Doug: I’ll have to pick from a pile, a big pot on that. The most exciting new one that came up… what’s so exciting about when you talk about hemp is you’re talking about applications that go back to humanity’s earliest hunter gather endeavors, pre sedentary agriculture, hemp was what anthropologists call a camp follower. Humans would bring it from one seasonal home to another because it grows quickly and provides so much. You know, I joked about the your roommate with your lava lamp, but when you put it in the terms of, let’s say an author like Michael Pollan who says we co-evolved with the cannabis plant, it sounds a little bit less woo-woo. Of course, you know, we breed Golden Retrievers to be friendly and to retrieve ducks without crushing them. Why wouldn’t we over ten millennia or more develop a plant that at once provides strong fiber for clothing, housing building materials, carrying cases, baskets, good medicine, healthy food and you know a good time at a party.
So we could go back a really long way. The fact that before this call in my entire family’s shake, we had two tablespoons of hemp seed oil which is a nutritive super food. I mean I just wrote a piece about this. It’s not you can just throw out that statement, but it has a three to one Omega six to Omega three balance that’s unrivaled in any other kind of nutritive oil, even fish oil. So that’s all real, but the one this is all lead up to give you an answer of a new app that I’m really excited about and that is something that just came out this year. I know from being a solar powered goat herder here in New Mexico that the environmental black hole in my solar powered life is the battery system. You want to be off the grid and a rugged individualist and you have heavy lead cadmium environmental nightmare. Now there’s good recycling and all that jazz which helps a little bit, but I’d rather not have lead and acid and other things that are harvested in disgusting ways on my, you know, on my homestead.
So what came out this year is we’ve got this next generation kind of battery that people have been researching for the last decade or so. It’s called, the general category is super capacitors. The material that is used to conduct batteries in this incredible way that, you know, can charge your car in ten minutes and your phone in one minute, that kind of application. It’s called graphene and it’s basically one carbon thick sheets that conduct the material. The leading material up until this year, late 2014 for those who may be listening in the future, has been fairly toxic and extremely expensive to produce. That’s what slowed down this material. That’s why I’ve still got a lead cadmium set of batteries in my battery shack here behind my adobe. So it turns out a bunch non-hippy scientists revealed at the American Chemical Society Conference this year, not you know, Hemp Fest, it turns out that hemp nano sheets of this one carbon atom thick graphene sheets we’ve been discussing. When it’s derived from hemp, in short, super capacitors slightly outperform the current synthetic, somewhat toxic and hard to produce graphene sheets at 1/1000 of the cost. So what this means is I need to get on the phone with Elon Musk and say the teslas have to be… the bodies of the teslas as Mercedes and BMWs are as we speak, comprised of hemp based composites, but also the batteries to charge them should be made from hemp. And then as a father, human father as well has a goat father, I’m starting to feel optimistic about the future.
Matthew: Wow I’ve never heard of that application. That’s pretty crazy. Now there is another application, hemp in construction. Can you tell us a little bit about hemp construction and Hempcrete specifically?
Doug: Yes. When I was doing my research for what became the book Hemp Bound, people from multiple continents were saying that they believed that when the US came online with hemp as we now have. For listeners who aren’t aware, this past February 7th when the President signed the farm bill, it legalized hemp. It was a major change in US policy. As you can tell by the very very few groups that opposed it, and it was a fairly overwhelming victory. It allowed research purposes for hemp to be cultivated for research purposes in states that have their own hemp laws with a few provisions. So it’s not full legalization. That’s coming, but it is allowing hemp cultivation, let us hope, in 20 plus states this coming 2015 season. And I hope to be involved in projects in multiple states this coming season as well. As in addition to putting out a follow-up, a short a first legal harvest update follow-up to Hemp Bound on partly American grown hemp in the Spring of 2015. So stay tuned for that.
But when I was researching the book people kept saying that when the US comes online the first likely killer application on the fiber side of the hemp plant will be for construction. I should say the no brainer, the reason why hemp has been legalized has to do with farmers not being stupid and conservative or progressive recognizing that their brothers and sisters north or the border in Canada are part of a billion dollar industry that as you said is growing 24 percent per year, and that’s just from the seed oil, the nutritive super food and other oil applications that we’ve been discussing and seed applications, seed protein applications and industrial applications from the seed and seed oil. That’s all the Canadians are doing at this point. And that’s already this billion dollar industry. That’s where the money is. That’s why people, American small farmers are returning to hemp. But then you have the fiber which the Canadians are doing nothing with. You can do something with it.
Briefly architecture of the hemp plant is a long bast fiber famously stronger than steel. If you’ve ever read Jack Herer’s The Emperor Wears No Clothes or had a roommate who had a lava lamp you will know hemp has the world’s strongest natural fibers, incredibly strong fibers. I’ve been testing them around the world. It’s incredible. You can’t step through these things or karate chop them or rip them in half or anything. So those are for higher end applications including publishing and the textiles, hemp pants I’m wearing right now, and also the super capacitors, nano technology, next generation stuff; body armor, space ship parts, you know, space station parts, that kind of thing. But you’re left with this woody core called the herd that on the surface is less valuable. It’s certainly less difficult to generate. There’s a lot of herd when you’re done with hemp cultivation.
So what do you do with that herd, and one of the things you famously can do with it is bed animals. It’s antimicrobial. The queen of England beds her, you know, stables on hemp, the herd. But if you mix it with a natural binder like lime, and there’s a lot of different ways you can do this. It’s already evolving into Hempadobe and other materials, but if you bind basically hemp with a natural binder, maybe a little bit vitamin C to keep mold away, it creates a building material known generically as Hempcrete that insulates, when done right, better than… and I recognize this isn’t saying much, better than our kind of what we call conventional, you know, the boxed home supply store, toxic combination of imported press board, nonsense and drywall with, you know, gross fiberglass particles. We can do away with that, improve performance, improve the health of our structures because not only is the insulating or our value looking like it’s superior, you can use it in load bearing applications, soundproofing applications and on top of that I didn’t mention the best part, the mixture of lime of other binder with hemp winds up actually sequestering carbon from the atmosphere so your house itself becomes a carbon sink and your house becomes carbon negative which is you know, nice for the conscious and nice for the planet.
Matthew: So I guess the reason why Hempcrete’s not taking off yet is just because people don’t know about it or perhaps there’s not as much infrastructure around creating Hempcrete like there is other industrial and commercial building materials. Is that the reason you can think of?
Doug: It is taking off. It’s starting across the pond in Europe and in Australia, but focusing on Europe for a moment where there hasn’t been, where hemp prohibition ended a little bit sooner than ours and in some places never was prohibited in China and France. But for the last decade plus there’s been a strong growing hemp building market in Europe. Entire subdivisions built of Hempcrete homes. A good example is the Marks and Spencer Department store in Britain built this, you know, monster flagship store in a suburb of London out of Hempcrete for a very bottom line reason. They’re energy costs were clearly going to go down. In the US even before hemp prohibition ended this February, Hempcrete projects are… I know of some, I want to say at least a half dozen hemp projects in the US. I visited on site one in Manitoba. The issue is again largely one caused by prohibition is initial cost of the hemp herd.
When everybody, when farmers are growing hemp by the millions of acres, which I hope they will be, there’s going to be a lot of herd. It’s not as easy as this. There’s a quality issue, moisture issue, but assuming you have decent quality herd, you bag it up. It’s in your hardware store. It’s ready to go as a building material. It’s not going to be something that’s rare at all. Bigger picture, biomaterials in general are huge for the future of industry. This is something that think tanks and research has been telling me all over the world. These are not people politically or philosophically advocates for hemp or other biomaterials. What they tell me, and this is all in Hemp Bound, is we can’t keep building things out of synthetic chemicals and petroleum based plastics. It doesn’t last as long. It doesn’t work in the cost ratio. It doesn’t work anymore. We have to move to biomaterials, and the good news is they work better.
Matthew: Now let’s turn and talk a little bit about hemp on the farm. Can you talk about hemp as a feed for animals. Because we all know that a lot of animals are eating corn as feed, in a lot of cases GMO corn, and we’d like to hear about alternatives. So can you tell us a little bit about hemp as a feed for animals?
Doug: Yeah, although I use hemp for a lot of applications already and it’s always been something that’s won in the marketplace for me. Not some, you know, something I was trying to support for political reasons. The one that I feel is thus far had the biggest impact on my life is the nutritive benefits. Knock on wood, I’m a healthy dude as are the members of my family, and that could just be, you know, good luck or other aspects of my lifestyle, optimism or whatever, all these factors that go in to it. But I like to think that it has a good deal to do with the fact that I put those several tablespoons of hemp seed oil and hemp protein into my morning shake everyday and have for years. This is now documented as healthy in animals.
The study that I include in the book is a Canadian study that fed laying hens hemp based feed and hemp seed based feed. The control group eating the usual GMO corn and low and behold the nutritive profile of the eggs that the hens laid, that we of course in turn eat, were significantly higher. What hemp has besides the omega balance is high mineral content, especially in a food that’s suitable for vegetarians and vegans. Unusually high selenium, magnesium. It also has in the type of proteins that are in hemp, the amino acids and building blocks that researchers believe are important for things like cell health, cell structure strength and cardio health. So clearly this is something that my goats can’t wait to get in their morning feed, my goats and chickens and ducks. And there’s a study on now, not yet published, about animals being fed on hemp. This is a Washington State study. Pigs being finished on hemp going to slaughter at significantly higher weight than those on, you know, what we today call conventional corn based food.
When I was talking about this at a Hemp Bound event a few months ago an older lady came up to me from Nebraska and said her daddy used to… first thing she knew winter was over, plant hemp along the irrigation ditches. The structure of the plant is such that it is for an annual has very long tap roots that grow very quickly. And so the reason why they planted it along the irrigation ditch was it was an erosion control mechanism. No matter how much water and flooding they got during the season it would protect their other crops. But she said she also knew it was near the end of farming season because the cattle would be put out to be finished along the ditches and they loved, she said with a giggle, they loved those hemp flowers and the hemp leaves and the hemp plants. So they, farmers in Nebraska, cattle farmers knew a century plus ago the nutritive benefits of feeding live stock hemp.
Matthew: Now you mentioned your morning shake. I’m curious what else you put in there besides hemp seed oil.
Doug: You know all kidding aside, you know everybody is… you know you want to draw visitors to your site and do all that kind of stuff, and I thought yeah, when people are willing to pay whatever it is dollar a year to be reading my, you know, dispatches from the Funky Butte Ranch and all that, I’ll reveal all the ingredients on this because I believe it to be my, and I apologize for sounding grandiose, I recognize my infinitesimal role as a human let alone in the wider cosmos. But I consider this morning shake the nutritive benefits to be my greatest non-literary contribution to humanity today. So I’ll throw out a few things. It’s a bunch of prunes, blueberries are really good for you and there’s ginger in there. I put astragalus in it. What are a few other things I can mention. My goat yogurt we make from our goat’s milk. It’s a great way to get my kids to eat greens. I put a handful of spinach kale or whatever in there, and it just tastes like a delicious shake. So there’s a bunch in there, but bottom line you put your favorite fruit, some yogurt, some greens and some hemp seeds and/or hemp oil in your shake and you’re going to be doing good things for your health in my opinion.
Matthew: Now some people compare and contrast the CBD oil coming from cannabis and hemp. Do you see a difference in the quality or is it just a different grade? How should we think about that?
Doug: It comes from a different place. So here’s the situation. We’re talking now about the cannabis plant. Let’s pretend there wasn’t the absurd nightmare prohibition. The impacts of prohibition right now, the lingering impacts of prohibition are when people talk about hemp they have a real fear of THC, the psychoactive cannabinoid or I should say the best known psychoactive cannabinoid. And at first I was okay with creating this delineation, the relatively recent and arbitrary definition of industrial hemp is cannabis with .3 percent of THC or less. That’s the way it is the world over right now. There’s a funny ridiculous back story to why it’s that, but let’s just accept it for a moment because otherwise I argued until about a month ago why… and it shows by the way how much is evolving in the return of the cannabis plant to society, economy and humanity. But I argued how are you going to get a GOP state legislator in Nebraska and Tennessee, both hemp states, to vote for this unless they’re absolutely convinced that in the next primaries some wacko isn’t going to come after him and say that they’re soft on drugs or something like that.
I’ve changed my view on that for two reasons. One is farmers all over the world are telling me, also breeders and agronomists, that by forcing that limitation and taking out so many varieties of the cannabis plant, you are very likely restricting developments in fiber strength on the fiber side and even things like seed oil production on the seed side. And so we have to get passed this ridiculous fear of cannabis. We have a majority of Americans that recognize it should be legal. We have the President of the United States saying it’s no more dangerous than alcohol actually. What most studies indicate is that it’s far less dangerous than alcohol. But the fact is when the promise land is reached and the mental slaves who don’t understand the benefits of the plant have gone or least opened their minds as my 80 year old parents have, that we won’t be discussing these silly nuances anymore. But it was important for me to mention that when we get into this discussion because there’s misunderstanding and confusing marketing going on.
Here’s the thing. If you’re talking about hemp seed oil, hemp seed products, the protein cake that comes when you squish hemp seeds and what you have left, hemp hearts, the actual delicious stuff that remains when you let’s say dehull it, that’s another way of doing it, all of which I have in my home. All of which I regularly… that’s zero percent. That is like you could feed it to your kids and toddlers. It’s broccoli, carrots, beets, hemp seed. It’s the same in terms of not being psychoactive. If you grow a cannabis plant for the flower and render an oil from that, that is something else. Theoretically, yes you could develop cultivars, as we call strains on the hemp side, of hemp that are high in non psychoactive cannabinoids.
There are 100 known cannabinoids now. So I’m somebody who likes to go, as we say, beyond this discussion of CBD which is just a wonderful but one percent or less of what we’re really talking about in cannabinoid studies, and something that I think will be not part of the dialogue in five years. It will be much much broader than just talking about CBD and THC. We’ll be talking about dozens if not scores of cannabinoids and their, what they call the entourage effect, their interplay in how they can be beneficial for health maintenance and/or combating acute diseases. But the fact that CBD has been latched onto first and it appears to be having great effects on epileptic seizures let’s say in young kids. That’s fantastic. I’m all for it. But that’s a completely different product. It comes from the flower. It’s rendered and it’s not hemp seed oil. It’s an entirely different thing. The correct nomenclature for that in my view, whether or not it’s psychoactive, because you can render oil of course from psychoactive plants for medicinal or social reasons, health maintenance reasons. All of that should be called cannabis oil in my view. The word hemp shouldn’t be included in that even if you are rendering a flower with low THC because it confuses the issue and is not the same as hemp seed oil.
Matthew: And one concept I was hoping you could help explain is that of tri-cropping. Can you just tell us a little bit about that?
Doug: Yeah that is the major concept in Hemp Bound and something that I am actively working on now to try to help farming communities around the nation, around the world make use of. Here’s the situation. What surprised me when I was researching hemp around the world is how segmented the industry is. As I mentioned earlier, Canada is doing only seed. Europe until very very recently has been doing almost exclusively fiber. China is way eschewed on the fiber side as well although everybody’s starting to come around on this thing.
The plant has it all, fiber and seed and then potential leftover biomass for energy. That’s the third leg of tri-cropping. Tri-cropping is growing. One year there might be one crop that’s kind of a hybrid that is good for seed and fiber or it might because of the short growing season. Two crops or two different plots, two different fields seven miles away from each other by the way so as not to cross pollinate and seven miles away from psychoactive cannabis for those who are wondering. So you have a seed harvest, a fiber harvest and anything biomass leftover from hemp and/or other crops for potential biomass gasification, a small unit that creates relatively carbon friendly anaerobic combustion to power your facility and/or your community. Folks who want to know more about this just look up the town of Bellheim, Germany which became completely energy independent from their farm biomass and gasification.
So those are the three legs. Everything you can potentially do with seed and flower. Everything you can potentially do with fiber which includes, as we discussed earlier, high end vast applications on the herd applications and energy. Those are the three legs of tri-cropping. And what I want to do is provide facilities where a farming community can order sort of from a menu what equipment they would need to harvest and process for the applications that they want to do. These are modular and scalable and include the facility themselves, turnkey as they say.
So folks who want information on that are welcome to contact me. And the thinking on this was something that one of Canada’s big modern hemp moguls, Shawn Crew, of Hemp Oil Canada told me which is farmers in the field today for their hemp seed oil are getting about five times, right out of the field, if you don’t want to do anything except grow a seed heavy cultivar of hemp, harvest it correctly and sell it to Hemp Oil Canada, you’re profiting in the realm of about $300 per acre. That’s a lot. That’s about five times the GMO cycle crops are given in the best of circumstances. So if you want to know how much that is, if you’re a huge prairie Manitoba, Saskatchewan or for that matter North Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado, Eastern Colorado farmer growing a 1,000 acres profiting, not income but profit, profiting $300 net per acre, that’s $300,000 on a 1,000 acres. That’s a real income from a short bridge crop. As we discussed many climates can grow another crop, hemp or another crop in the same season. So we’re talking about a real income right out of the ground, but what Shawn Crew said is you increase that profit a hundred fold if you are the person sticking it in a bottle and calling it Joe’s Hemp Cream Toothpaste, Hemp Cream Moisturizer, Hemp Crème, you know, hemp seed oil for your morning shake or your salad dressing. And so that’s what I’m trying to do.
I’m trying to allow a community in a small part of Kentucky or Tennessee or Arizona say we want to do the next crox. We want to make hemp sandal, locally produced sandals from our fiber and sell the seed oil but we’re going to make our mark on this fiber application, if you bring us the facility and sell us the material we need to process that. So that’s tri-cropping. Allowing from one harvest the utilization of what hemp gives us. Everything that you need from seed and flower. Everything that you want to make from fiber and everything… and the potential leftover biomass energy production.
Matthew: Now last question Doug. I’ve heard, we know you have goats, but is it true that you meditate with them?
Doug: I do meditate with the goats. Yeah, everyday. The source of what I will allow the world to judge whether or not I’m being accurate. What I describe as my sanity comes from the fact that my alarm clock much of the year is the sound of hummingbird wings in the feeder outside of my bedroom window, and the fact that I can sit and meditate with goats. Humans have interacted with goats as long as we have with dogs. I imagine as long as we have with hemp as well. And so they’re very friendly and they love you and they’ll come over and put their head on your shoulder, and they have good senses of humor and very mischievous. So I’ve learned a lot. And that’s what (30.28 unclear). I’ve learned a lot from being outsmarted by goats and moving to solar. But that’s where my sanity resides and allows me to do all the rest of the things that I do.
Matthew: Doug in closing, what’s the best way for listeners to learn more about your books and follow your work?
Doug: Thanks for asking and also thanks for the great questions. I’ve enjoyed speaking with you. The two best ways to find out more about hemp and sustainability and to contact me to talk about anything from consulting to live events is at my website www.dougfine.com. Easy enough, my name www.dougfine.com, and I also Tweet the latest everyday on Twitter @organiccowboy, one word organiccowboy.
Matthew: Great. We Doug thanks so much for being on CannaInsider today. We really appreciate it.
Doug: Thank you Matt.
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