Growing sustainability in San Diego

Mayoral candidate Jim Bell says growing and processing hemp and other drought tolerant multi-use fiber crops can play an important role in creating a sustainable economy in the San Diego/Tijuana region.

by Jim Bell

"Make the most you can of the Indian Hemp seed and sow it everywhere."

George Washington's 1794 note to Mt. Vernon's gardener

here are a number of promising drought tolerant crops that will grow well in our region.

Guayule can be used to make rubber. Kenaf, an African plant, can be used as food and for making cloth, packing materials, carpet backing, and a high quality newsprint that is so absorbent that the hands of newspaper readers stay free of ink. The tepary bean contains as much or more protein than most other edible legume crops. Buffalo gourd, a perennial native to the Mojave Desert, has seeds that can be processed into lubrication oil and a starchy root that can be used to make alcohol. The jojoba bush produces a bean that can be processed into a high grade lubricant oil that can also be used in cosmetics.

But of all the useful drought tolerant plants that could be grown locally, hemp is one of the best prospect because of its many beneficial properties and uses. According to Monica Emerich, President of Natural Information LLC, hemp, one of the world's oldest cultivated plants, has 25,000 uses, from food and medicine to textiles and auto parts.

In the food category, I've personally eaten hulled hemp seed, (it tastes like a cross between sunflower and sesame seeds). I've eaten hemp burgers, drunk hemp soda pop, (black cherry, butterscotch, and root beer), hemp beer and hemp milk. Hemp milk tastes similar to coconut milk without the sweetness.

Not only is hemp seed tasty, it's also good for us. Emerich states, "That's because hemp is rich in essential fatty acids, protein, and B and E vitamin. Among edible seed oils, it has the most balanced composition in the highest levels of the essential fatty acids omega-3 linoleic and omega-6 linoleic. It also contains gammalinolenic acid. Next to soybeans, hemp seed has the most complete protein, but hemp is more digestible. Canadian food researchers have found hemp has high levels of antioxidants that remain highly stable during processing."

The same properties that make hemp a good food also makes it ideal for use in cosmetics. The Body Shop has had great success with its line of hemp products. According to the Body Shop, "Hemp is the perfect therapeutic for dry skin and eczema -- which is often caused by an essential fatty acid deficiency."

Hemp fiber, which is striped from the plant's stalk, can be made into paper, cloth and stronger building materials like particle board and press board. In fact, the hemp plant can be used to make anything now made of wood, cotton and petroleum. According to a report in the March 15, 1999 issue of US News &World Report, in 1914 "the USDA calculated that hemp crops could make 4 times as much paper per acre as trees."

Paper made from hemp is superior to that made of trees and can be used to make high quality paper for books, magazines and stationary and lower quality newsprint, tissue paper, and packing materials. In 1998, Allen Block wrote in The Orange County Register that "since 1937, about half the forests in the world have been cut down to make paper. If hemp had not been outlawed, most would still be standing, oxygenating the planet." Hemp was outlawed in 1937.

Hemp is a perfect crop to irrigate with sewage water. Currently, San Diego County dumps around 275 million gallons of sewage into the ocean each day. Tijuana, Ensenada and the communities in between dump another estimated 25 million gallons of sewage into the ocean each day. If only 50 percent of this water was used to grow industrial hemp, it would generate over $20 million of profit for local farmers. [The author's calculations, based on using 2 acre feet of irrigation water per acre plus natural rainfall.]

Currently, in Canada, where hemp can be legally grown, farmers are earning $225 per acre in profits growing hemp, compared with farmers 20 miles away in North Dakota who are doing good to earn $25 per acre growing wheat, barley and canola.

If hemp grown locally is used as a raw material (feedstock) for local industries, the value added economic gain could be $200 million per year or more. [The author's calculations, based on the fact that hemp has so many uses that the only limit to the value added profits to be earned from using it to make finished products is our imagination.]

As a bonus, hemp is good for the soil and is naturally pest resistant.

There are a number of books that cover the hemp story far better than I ever could. For those wanting more information, I recommend Chris Conrad's, HEMP Lifeline to the Future, and its predecessor, The Emperor's New Clothes, by Jack Herer.

Obviously, I think hemp and the other plants I touched on have the potential to make our regional economy more secure and sustainable. Other industrial hemp advocates include former CIA Director James Woolsey, and many national governments including Canada, China, Great Britain, Germany, Australia, France, India. Industrial hemp is also supported by the American Farm Bureau and the California State Assembly, House Resolution No 32.

Jim Bell is an environmental consultant, and is currently standing for election as the Mayor of San Diego. He has stated, "As Mayor, I'll be an advocate for growing hemp and other useful drought tolerant plants in our region as a cash crop and to provide raw materials for local industries.