Hemp Podcast Rooted in Ag Progress

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Four years ago, we started publishing weekly episodes of the Industrial Hemp Podcast. This was about 5 months before the Farm Bill was signed into law that made hemp a legal commodity crop.

But it was five years ago — at Ag Progress Days 2017 — that some very important seeds were planted in my mind.

2017 was the first year that Pennsylvania farmers could apply for a researcher permit to grow hemp. And Penn State was among the 14 research permit holders.

At Ag Progress Days that year, some folks from the Pennsylvania Hemp Industry Council gave a presentation in a sweltering pole barn.

Erica McBride Stark explained the economic benefits for hemp, how it could be used to make all sorts of products, from houses to plastic to paper to clothes — even biofuel. Plus hemp has the ability to sequester vast amounts of carbon and improve soil health.

I was blown away by this information.

And then her husband, Les Stark, spoke about the history of hemp in Pennsylvania, how most mills in the state back in colonial times and up until about the 1820s processed hemp. At one point in colonial history, farmers were even required by law to grow it.

I took a short bus trip out to the field where the Penn State researchers were growing their stand of hemp, and Greg Roth, now-retired professor of agronomy at Penn State, explained what their research was all about.

My head was reeling from all of this information. It was like I was standing on the edge of a new paradigm. Here was an ancient crop with vast potential to shape the future.

On that long car ride home from Pennsylvania Furnace, back to Chester County where I live, I couldn’t stop thinking about hemp and what I could do to tell the story of hemp, and to help normalize this crop in the hearts and minds of farmers.

It would be a few months before I landed on the idea of a podcast, but my journalism gears were turning, freshly oiled by Ag Progress Days.

Fast forward to 2022. This summer marks the fourth legal growing season for hemp without a research permit.

There was great interest in hemp in 2019, but there was a boom-and-bust cycle brought on by the CBD craze, which put dollar signs in farmers’ eyes. Those days left a bad taste in their mouths.

Luckily, there’s more to hemp than CBD. All those things that Erica Stark talked about in her presentation in 2017 are happening now. There are people building houses from hemp. Auto manufactures are making car parts from hemp. Hemp is being used to make bio-plastics and biofuels. Food companies are using the hemp seed as an ingredient. It turns out that hemp grain is a super food, high in protein and omega fatty acids.

I am still fascinated by this crop and its potential to make the world a better place. But none of that would be possible without our farmers.

For four years now, I have been having conversations with farmers, entrepreneurs, business leaders, policymakers, inventors, all sorts of people who have a hand in building this industry, and I am very thankful that I get to help tell the story of hemp.

Region: Pennsylvania