RICHMOND-Hemp is more than a plant - it's a lightning rod. The hardy plant some call a weed has both passionate supporters and detractors. The fiberous plant, a unique source for fiber and a drug called marijuana, is a native of Asia, but it has found a home in many temperate and neotropical climates.
In Vermont, one of the largest supporters of the development of hemp as a commercial product, is the organization Rural Vermont, an advocate of the plant as a viable agribusiness here. Now the farm group has linked up with the national advocacy group Vote Hemp to celebrate and promote Hemp History Week May 2-8.
In several political and agricultural communities within Vermont, there has been widespread support for hemp since the 1990s, but the road to growing hemp legally has been rocky.
While Vote Hemp officials cite strong support here, based on the 2008 law which ended up legalizing industrial hemp in Vermont, they also note a federal law which now prevents local farmers from growing the plant - legally.
To address this and other issues relating to commercial hemp production, Rural Vermont has joined a national coalition to change the federal barrier. The organization wants to position Vermont as one of the first states to plant the versatile crop.
According to Shelby Girard of Rural Vermont, Hemp History Week calls for states coast-to-coast to return the plant to legal crop status.
Unlike illegal marijuana, also a hemp plant, most commercial hemp varieties do not produce the narcotic-like chemicals of marijuana; instead the plant's amazing fiber is tough and versatile and can be processed for use in a multitude of products, he said.
"Individuals and organizations across the country will be honoring America's rich history with industrial hemp," Girard said. "(Hemp History Week) will generate increased support for the relegalization of hemp farming in our country."
Girard said Rural Vermont held a public event Wednesday, May 4 at the West Monitor Barn in Richmond, where in conjunction with the 2011 annual meeting, there were hemp displays, hemp giveaways, hemp updates, and opportunities to take action in support of hemp.
Girard encouraged farmers interested in hemp to attend the event and learn about how to plant hemp seeds in Vermont soil.
"Vermont farmers can benefit from the $360 million U.S. hemp products market," he noted.
Girard said hemp activist Bob St. Peter, author of the book "Local Food, Local Rules: Creating Food and Farming Policies that Work for your Community," was the keynote speaker.
Sponsors for Rural Vermont's annual meeting include Way Out Wax, a Morrisville-based candle company that currently sources hemp oil for its candles. Several hemp products will be available as prizes.
Check It Out: Got hemp? If not, visit Rural Vermont's Web site at www.ruralvermont.org. For facts about Vermont businesses using hemp, see the Way Out Wax website at www.wayoutwax.com. For details about attending next week's hemp meeting in Richmond or joining the hemp campaign, call 223-7222.