The Imaginary Perils of Tomatoes and Industrial Hemp

Hemp Field - Kentucky 2What if tomatoes were poisonous? Many of us used to think they were. Back in the less enlightened years of the United States and Britain, tomatoes were regarded as a known danger throughout much of the 17th and 18th centuries. There are links to enlightenment via Thomas Jefferson’s fondness for the fruit after dining upon tomatoes in France. Others credit the influence of less superstitious immigrants from Europe and South America. But regardless of who made us snap out of our baseless fear of this delicious staple of the modern American diet, I ask you to ponder the what-ifs of an alternate history.

Perhaps we discovered that the tomato itself is not a bad thing, but the leaves are patently dangerous, and riddled with toxins. Thus we find ourselves with a mixed bag of positive and negative aspects. Eat the fruit and you are one-third of the way to a delicious BLT… Eat the leaves and you are on the way to the hospital, and potentially the morgue. So… what to do, what to do, I wonder.

Obviously, we ban the plant in its entirety, and declare war on tomatoes. This dangerous fruit shall never spring forth from American soil… and we’re going to work pretty hard to prevent the rest of the world from growing it too.

Well, if we treated tomatoes the way we treat hemp, that’s pretty much the scenario. You have a plant that has obvious positive attributes, but the negative aspects tip the scales on the side of fear and skepticism. Even if we could selectively isolate strains of tomatoes that had almost no negative aspects (toxins) to speak of, and only grow that type of plant… let’s call it an “industrial tomato”… we would still not permit it because one plant looks too much like the other plant, and it’s all just too scary.

So how might we strike a sane compromise? Perhaps we may forbid growing the plant on U.S. Soil, but decide it’s OK to import products made from the “good” part from plants grown in other countries. So now, spaghetti sauce, ketchup, gazpacho, salsa, barbecue sauce, fried green tomatoes, and even the beloved BLT would be back in our diet and on our plate… and we’d buy most of it from China.

China is the only country that produces a bigger tomato crop than the United States. According to the USDA, “California and Florida each produce fresh-market tomatoes on 30,000-40,000 acres–almost two-thirds of total U.S. fresh-tomato acreage (a share that has not changed much since the 1960s). Ohio, Virginia, Georgia, and Tennessee round out the top six in terms of area planted.” It is unimaginable that we would surrender that much production to a foreign competitor to satisfy a ridiculous, stigma-borne bias against a popular and harmless crop. We can buy it and consume it, but we CAN’T GROW IT, because that would somehow be morally offensive, and inexplicably harmful.

The truly tragic part of this story is that is is TRUE! Just substitute the TOMATO element with HEMP and you can see the horrific injustice being perpetrated upon the American farmer and the public. We can buy hemp fibers, textiles, seeds, soaps, oils, foods, etc… We can wear it, eat it, wash with it, build with it. We just CAN’T GROW IT, even for our own consumption. We must import every single bit of it; mostly from China.

Although China is the biggest producer of hemp and hemp textiles, they are by far not the only player in the game. Our neighbor to the north began growing hemp again in the 1990s, and according to the Hemp Industries Association, Canadian farmers found the demand so diverse and encouraging, they began growing “organically-certified” hemp crops (6,000 acres in 2003 and 8,500 acres in 2004) yielding almost 4 million pounds of niche-market seed. By 2013 the Canadian hemp crop reached a record 66,700 acres, which compares with about 54,000 acres the previous year, according to Health Canada data, and AG Canada.

Remember those top six tomato-growing states mentioned earlier? By comparison, industrial hemp would fare extremely well in those regions, but what’s more it would grow well in almost any non-desert state. In a time when farmers are losing money for lack of a cost-effective crop to bring to market, the ban on industrial hemp is not only unreasonable, but cruel and essentially contrary to our American sense of right and wrong.

At this point you may be asking yourself “Well, what CAN we grow?” Cotton is a pretty good point of comparison, in the sense that we get extremely useful, versatile fibers, and cotton seeds can also be pressed for oils… but in a comparative “dollars-per-acre” sense, cotton doesn’t even come close to the financial benefits of farming hemp. The hemp crop is easier and cheaper to grow, and in the deep south you can double your production by getting in two crops in one year if the region’s killing frost timeline will allow.

Oh and did I mention that we can fuel our cars with it? Hemp oil is an extremely efficient bio-diesel fuel source that we can make use of right now. Anyone in the U.S. can legally fuel their car with hemp-based oil. But (now brace yourself for this cruel irony) every drop of hemp bio-diesel used in this country will still be FOREIGN OIL! Remember… domestic production of hemp is strictly forbidden! Just think about that for a moment and let it sink in.

Now consider the fact that there are other countries besides Canada and China involved in growing hemp. They are Austria, Chile, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, Egypt, North and South Korea, Portugal and Thailand, just to name a few.

If this industrial crop was an Olympic event, the United States would be the “Jamaican Bobsled Team of Hemp”… dead last.

What will it take for the United States to snap out of this absurd hysteria, and unchain the hands of the farmers who are ready, willing and able to produce such a valuable national resource for our country, our economy and our people?

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