New-Mexico-based Doug Fine is an investigative journalist, humorist, goat herder and author of the best-selling American Hemp Farmer: Adventures and Misadventures in the Cannabis Trade. He is an experienced farmer whose work in the field of hemp research cannot be overstated. He explains hemp’s role in launching a greener future.
RP: You’ve called hemp a regenerative commodity? What exactly do you mean by that?
Doug Fine: I don’t even know if I’d call it commodity these days. It is. But when we’re talking about fungible products that are traded by markets far away—that have no concern for farmers or farming communities—that is what I think the regenerative independent farming Renaissance is seeking to provide an alternative to—bottom line.
You know, I heard comedian Kevin Hart say that when he became successful in the entertainment field and he was able to move into fancy neighborhoods, he thought he was going to be surrounded by other people that were entertainers. But he was surrounded by dentists and lawyers. So he thought, “I’m going to encourage my kids to go into dentistry or law. The goal is to make a good living.” And while I wouldn’t necessarily advocate wanting to live in a froufrou neighborhood in general, I’d like to see independent farming become such a lucrative line of work—that’s also a really fun one—that people are going to encourage their kids to go into farming. It’s a little like the sort of ambitious parents used to push kids to be a doctor or lawyer, they’re going to want to be independent farmers. And hemp is just one crop that has that potential. And it’s spearheading a movement. I think that seems pretty clear. But it can apply to other crops too.
It won’t necessarily take thousands and thousands of acres to make a living as a farmer. And that’s because the farmer will be harvesting enough of a crop to be all of these things at once: commercially viable, top-shelf. In other words better than what would be found at, like, a box store or something like that—and also at the same time, cultivated in such a way that soil is being built and carbon is being sequestered, so they can actually let the customer know that the customer is buying a product that’s sequestering carbon. You can even—to some degree—quantify how much carbon.
And then there’s this concept that I really like called “connecting the dots in our work in our lives” that I talk about in the book, where it’s going further. Its employee-owned. The farmers are owners. They’re not just serfs of the middleman or the wholesale economy. The packaging is regenerative. It can be tossed in a compost bin. Or if it’s glass, it can be reused or returned.
I always say no one’s perfect, right? It’s like, well, where did you go from there? Well, are you supplying your entire value chain within 100 or 200 miles of where your company is based? Are you delivering it in electric vehicles? You go real deep in it, but long story short, the regenerative farmer, independent farmer’s Renaissance is really what I advocate. And hemp is the plant, because it’s return has coincided with this ninth inning moment for humanity. We have two outs, and we either wean from fossil fuels and the petrochemical economy and regionalize our economy in a way that’s also carbon sequestering as a whole society, or we don’t continue as a species as humans.
The Earth will be fine either way, but I’d like there to be seven generations of my own descendants. So we have to make these choices. And I’ll just punctuate this by saying that the really good news In my view is that independent regenerative farming is about the most fun you can have outside the bedroom. It’s so fun to be outside in a field. I love watching plants come on, and I wouldn’t change my life at all.
How can hemp farming sequester carbon?
I’ll talk about the modes that I like to employ. And as a preface, I’d like to say that hemp and cannabis farming, these are big tents, and I’m not out there to say my way is the only way.
For me, it’s very important to cultivate any crop as much as possible outdoors in native soil. So today, for instance, I went into the hills and I gathered from some areas where we’ve had some recent snowfall. I gathered some mycelium—some beneficial fungus—that I’m going to brew out for the third year running, for our third state hemp crop here in New Mexico since it was legalized here, and I’m going to brew it into a compost tea and use it to build beneficial microorganisms in my soil. And pretty much, with a few exceptions, the only other additives that I add to my soil are my own seasoned goat poop mixed with organic alfalfa. So I feel good about that. And I put that on the soil. And then I plant outdoors in the native microbes that are already here. And that’s about it.
That type of cultivation outdoors is what sequesters carbon. It’s just an example. There are lots of different ways to be a regenerative farmer. But that’s how I do it. And I believe that produces the best quality harvest, no matter what your harvest is. I feel it’s great for our tomatoes, our hemp, our basil, whatever.
And there is also a lot of research out there that I talk about the book—stats out there about how much carbon could be sequestered if we were to build an inch more of topsoil on all existing agricultural lands. It’s staggering how much carbon we can sequester just by doing practices that make better products. And the only resistance to this is that when the mass, anonymous world economy happened—where everything was traded on pieces of stock paper—the idea quickly became just get rich quick and run. And so there’s a mentality in agriculture and in much of our economy of: maximize output production return—or in the case of forming products yield—as you can right out of the gate. And let future generations worry about the herbicide runoff into the water table or whatever.
And yeah. Sure, it makes for a really yucky tasting broccoli with fewer nutrients and less bioavailability, but you know, we’ve got to try to make some money here, right?
So you could do that. You could go to the supermarket and get super cheap broccoli that’s poisoned intensively, or you grow your own broccoli, or get it from your local organic farmers market or CSA or food co-op. And it’s win-win. You’re getting higher quality, better-tasting broccoli with more nutrients, keeping your family healthier from supporting a local farmer who is actually sequestering carbon so that your kids and grandkids have a more livable climate.