Why hemp?

Although cotton is the “go-to” natural fibre, in our opinion, Hemp is the forgotten fibre that has established nations, sailed the world many times over and healed our ancestors.

Why Hemp?

Although cotton is the “go-to” natural fibre, in our opinion, Hemp is the forgotten fibre that has established nations, sailed the world many times over and healed our ancestors.  

Just to be clear, right up front, industrial Hemp is grown for rope, not dope! 

The industrial variety of Hemp is Cannabis sativa which doesn’t have the psychoactive properties of Cannabis indica which has become known as marijuana.  Growing Cannabis sativa for food and fibre is very safe and of no risk to anyone. 

There are two reasons that we persisted for over a year to find Hemp fabric for the Greenleaf Bag.  Firstly, because it has better breathability and moisture wicking properties than cotton, and, secondly, because it is the most sustainable crop to grow for fibre.

The Greenleaf Bag was created because we didn’t want our high quality, fresh greens and vegetables exposed to the chemical cocktail in plastic bags or containers when we stored it in the fridge. 

When we began researching the properties of plastic (a sort of fact finding mission to back up what we inherently knew to be true; our first summary is here) one thing that really alarmed us was that most plastics were created and still manufactured by the same global corporations that make agricultural chemicals.   

Plastics, herbicides, pesticides, insecticides……all come from the same place!

This added momentum to our search for Hemp fabric for the Greenleaf Bags because high yielding cotton production systems use very high volumes of water and rely heavily on the use of agricultural chemicals from companies such as Monsanto, DuPont, Bayer and Syngenta. 

In contrast, Hemp is well known for using less water than cotton, little or no herbicides because it is a fast growing plant with a dense canopy that blocks the sunlight therefore naturally limiting weed growth; and, no pesticides because it naturally produces resins that are unpalatable to pest insects.

These two reasons make Hemp fabric the superior choice for the Greenleaf Bag: Hemp has better breathability and moisture wicking properties than cotton, and, because it is the most sustainable crop to grow for fibre. 

However, this did leave the obvious question: why, in the twenty-first century is Hemp fabric so hard to find? 

What had changed from the 1600’s when it was law that all American farmers grow Hemp and Hemp could be used to pay taxes from 1631 to the early 1800’s; the Declaration of Independence was signed on Hemp paper and George Washington encouraged Hemp growing.  In the 1800’s; Thomas Jefferson was a Hemp farmer, the first pair of Levi Strauss & Co jeans were made from Hemp and Rudolph Diesel created engines to run on clean burning vegetable oils such as Hemp oil.  In fact, there is evidence of Hemp used for textiles, rope and paper for thousands of years prior to the birth of Christ; too much history for this article!

The answer lies in a tangle between America’s political and corporate interests. 

The most critical period in modern history for Industrial Hemp (Cannabis sativa) was in the years of and between WWI and WWII.    

Hemp held great potential for American’s and they were very excited about it.  In 1916 the U.S. Government Dept. of Agriculture predicted that by the 1940s all paper would come from Hemp because Hemp plant produces up to four times more cellulose per acre than trees with 4 to 7 times less pollution.

The excitement around Hemp continued to build and Popular Mechanics published an article in February of 1938 title “New Billion-Dollar Crop” that captured the mood by: 

 “American farmers are promised a new cash crop with an annual value of several hundred million dollars, all because a machine has been invented that solves a problem more than 6,000 years old.

It is Hemp, a crop that will not compete with other American products. Instead, it will displace imports of raw material and manufactured products produced by underpaid coolie and peasant labor and it will provide thousands of jobs for American workers throughout the land.

The machine that makes this possible is designed for removing the fiber-bearing cortex from the rest of the stalk, making Hemp fiber available for use without prohibitive amounts of human labor.

Hemp is the standard fiber of the world. It has great tensile strength and durability. It is used to produce more than 5,000 textile products, ranging from rope to fine laces, and the woody "hurds" remaining after the fiber has been removed contain more than 77 percent cellulose, which can be used to produce more than 25,000 products, ranging from dynamite to Cellophane.”

Henry Ford was also very excited about Hemp and in 1941 showcased his model-T built which was designed to run on clean burning Hemp fuel and was made from Hemp bioplastic body panels which were 30% lighter and surprisingly many times stronger than steel.

"Why use up the forests which were centuries in the making and the mines which required ages to lay down, if we can get the equivalent of forest and mineral products in the annual growth of the Hemp fields?" - Henry Ford

However, silently in the background the American people didn’t realise that during the disorder of the Civil War the separation between the corporations, the government and legal system had begun to blur.  The Corporations had begun to take more control as they found their ways into positions of legal and politic power and they began to gain strength as they bought shares in each other’s corporations.

The fever about Hemp was building because of the developments in machinery but so too was DuPont’s efficiency in producing synthetic petrochemicals.  DuPont was a company that was founded on gunpowder in the early 1800’s, a company that supplied nearly half of all the explosives used in WWI and by WWII was the largest supplier of war supplies.  The World Wars were very profitable times for DuPont. 

In between the two World Wars, Wallace Carothers, a chemist working for DuPont had developed Nylon in the 1930’s entirely from petrochemicals.  DuPont filed the patent for Nylon in 1937 and they began encouraging investment via shareholding in their petrochemical division which produced chemicals and fibres from oil.

Nylon production began in 1939 and was marketed as a replacement for silk.  Although most popular for women’s stockings, Nylon came just in time to meet the demands for rope and ‘silk’ parachutes amongst many other military needs. 

Already the relationship between DuPont and the Government was ‘close and convenient’ but in the years following WWI DuPont had more to protect in the midst of the enthusiasm for the “New Billion-Dollar Crop”. 

Hemp was a direct threat because it requires far less chemicals during production than cotton and far less chemicals in the processing of the fibre to produce paper than wood.  DuPont had to protect their petrochemical interests.  In fact, they had already begun and here lies (a summary of) the knot of the tangle. 

One of DuPont’s major chemical clients, William Randolph Hearst, owned vast areas of timberlands for his newspapers and had a vested interest in making paper from trees not Hemp. 

Mellon Bank was one of both Hearst’s and DuPont’s major financiers and Andrew Mellon was also the Secretary of Treasury.  Andrew Mellon was in a position to place his niece’s husband, Harry Anslinger into the head position of Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. 

Together, DuPont, Hearst, Mellon and Anslinger crafted a global media campaign that began in the early 1930’s and led people to believe a blatant lie; that Cannabis sativa was twenty times more potent in a narcotic drug called marijuana than Cannabis Indica and that people under the influence of the narcotic drug were responsible for violent acts of sexual assault. 

This fictitious campaign was spread over the pages of Hearst’s newspapers, through the cinema with ‘Reefer Madness’ (1936) and then easily spread through the media.  The campaign reached Australian newspapers in 1938.

The word marijuana was unknown to Americas because it was a Mexican slang word, a clever choice of word, when racism was rampant.  It was a very effective tactic; misleading the public who didn’t realise that the campaign was about Hemp, the crop that they had used for food, fibre and medicine for centuries. 

Even the AMA was tricked and testified against the prohibition of marijuana too late.  In 1937 Harry Anslinger ensured that a bill passed through Congress that made the growing of all Cannabis illegal in America because all Hemp species were now (incorrectly) classified as narcotics.  Australia followed the recommendations from the American Federal Bureau of Narcotics and by 1941 Cannabis sativa was included in the Dangerous Drug Act.  

 “Before Anslinger, Australian laws called drug cannabis, Cannabis indica, and as such it was satisfactorily regulated under the various Poisons Acts.  …  Similarly, Hemp was unregulated, because it was Cannabis sativa.”  - Dr John Jiggens author of ‘Sir Joseph Banks and the Question of Hemp’

Mellon’s investment in DuPont’s petrochemical business was now secure, so too was Hearst’s investment in timber for his newspapers and so too was DuPont’s petrochemical division. 

However, in 1942, the supply of synthetic fibres was inadequate and the Government was forced to create a “Hemp for Victory” campaign to encourage farmers to grow Cannabis Hemp (Cannabis sativa) to make ropes, uniforms and other war supplies.  Of course after the war was over the fields were destroyed in 1945 and Cannabis sativa resumed its classification as an illegal narcotic drug. 

DuPont continued to create synthetic fibres; commercially manufacturing Acrylic fabrics in the 1950, Polyester in 1953 and Spandex in 1959.  DuPont’s profits from petrochemicals has funded a very large investment and biotechnology and genetic engineering.  Placing DuPont alongside Monsanto. 

Now DuPont has almost complete control of what they call the ‘food value chain’ with genetic engineering of seeds (including corn and soy), crop ‘protection’ chemicals, agricultural services, biologicals, nutrition science and food formulation. 

As a result of all of this America imports very large quantities of Hemp fibre from China, Romania, Hungary and India.  In 2013 the value of the hemp fibre and seeds imported into America was approximately $36.9 million according to a Congressional Research Service Report.  Currently the biggest producer of Hemp and Hemp fabrics is China.

Unfortunately, for Greenleaf Bag, as a result of the Australian Government also believing the lie that Cannabis sativa has 20 times more drug content than Cannabis indica there is currently only a very small Hemp industry in our country for the production of Hemp seeds and oil and regulated research crops.  In fact, Australia and New Zealand are the only country’s to still legislate that it is illegal to consume Hemp food despite the Australian Food Regulation Authority’s own recognition that Hemp foods are safe, are not psychoactive in any consumable quantity and are highly nutritious. 

While the purpose of the Greenleaf Bag is to reduce our exposure to plastic it also maintains the quality of leafy greens and vegetables in the fridge.  By using Greenleaf Bags instead of plastic bags or containers you are helping to tell the world that there is a growing number of people who are dissatisfied with petrochemicals and would like to re-establish more sustainable production systems for food and fibre.

Together we can make a difference.


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