On income tax day, Tuesday, April 15, Hawai'i State Farmers Union United President Vincent Mina and Maui Architect George Rixey, guest speakers at the monthly Kihei Community Association (KCA) meeting, shared information about hemp as a soil rejuvenator and as "Hempcrete," a non-toxic "breathable" home insulation.
Debunked is the myth that hemp is marijuana. Hemp is in the same biological family but has only trace amounts of Tetrahydrocannabinoids (commonly known as THC), the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. The crop was grown throughout the U.S. during WWII to produce ship rope and fabric for military uniforms. Hemp fiber is the longest, strongest and most durable of all natural fibers.
Rixey is very enthusiastic about using Hempcrete insulation--ground hemp stalks mixed with a liquid lime binder and used to fill wood framed walls and ceilings. He believes there will be a cost advantage, "if we grow and process hemp on Maui." The semi-structural insulator meets and exceeds Maui County code for insulation, may be finished with lime-based coatings, and poses no threats to installers. Hempcrete doesn't hold water, won't rot, grow mold or harbor termites. It's hypoallergenic and fire resistant, too.
‘Īao teacher Cynthia Van Kleet asked how the public can support hemp farming and the island’s farmers. Hawai‘i Farmers Union United President Vincent Mina replied by encouraging the public to be vocal and buy local produce.
Environmentally, hemp has a negative carbon footprint. In addition to taking carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the air as it grows (carbon sequestration), processing stalks doesn't add the greenhouse gas CO2 to our atmosphere. The lime binder also pulls CO2 out of the air as it hardens.
Mina is enthusiastic about improving Maui soils by growing hemp. Plantation farming with petrochemicals turned soil to water-resistant clods that inhibit plant growth, he said. Hemp is a "phytoremediation" crop that removes toxins, heavy metals and petrochemicals from soil. Its deep taproot breaks up the soil, so air and water can penetrate. Rotating hemp and nitrogen-fixing crop like alfalfa or clover produces soil rich and soft.
Kihei resident Buck Joiner asked if hemp is a substitute crop for sugarcane on Maui. "I want to see cane burning stopped. Can hemp be grown for biofuel?"
Mina replied that hemp seed is rich in oil, but with a 25 percent protein content, it is better used as food.
"I don't want one single industrial crop," said Mina. "We are better off with rotation of food crops that make us sustainable. Small farming is threatened. Grocery stores treat produce as a loss leader [sold at a price below its market cost] to get you into the store. There is no doubt that fresh vegetables and fruit are the best foods to keep us healthy, but current economics make it difficult for small farmers to make a living growing food."
"I am amazed that this information is not more public," said 'Iao teacher Cynthia Van Kleet. "What can we do to get the public behind hemp farming and other things that will help our island farmers?"
Mina encourages the public to be vocal and buy local produce.
"The other thing you can do is to get your own clubs and community organizations and grow support for small farms and sustainable food agriculture," said Mina. "Three things: be consistent in your support, be proactive and don't be right, be healthy."
State Senate Bill 2175, which would allow agricultural hemp research, is now on Gov. Neil Abercrombie's desk awaiting his signature.
KCA President Mike Moran invites the community to attend the next KCA meeting on Tuesday, May 20, and encourages attendees to bring non-perishable food items for the organization's ongoing Maui Food Bank drive. For more information, visit www.gokihei.com.