What if there was an imaginary high-yield, fast-growing, super plant that not only had thousands of practical uses, but after harvested, improved soil health so new crops could be grown in the same field without having to leave it fallow for a year?

Source: Social Worker, Farmer Eyes Land For New Crop

By: Annie Gentile, Jan. 25, 2017

What if there was an imaginary high-yield, fast-growing, super plant that not only had thousands of practical uses, but after harvested, improved soil health so new crops could be grown in the same field without having to leave it fallow for a year?

What if the plant could be used to make milk and flour, clothing and other textiles, bio-fuel, animal feed, paper, and building materials? What if its seeds were a nutty-tasting health food high in omega-3 fatty acids?

There is no need to imagine that plant. It already exists. It’s called hemp. And while the legal status of growing industrial hemp is still a bit precarious in the United States, one woman is hoping that recent changes in the law will open up some great new farming opportunities, particularly for people of color.

A clinical social worker based out of Tolland, Michelle Bicking is a woman of many passions. She is also the founder and executive director of Hidden Acres Farm, Inc., whose threefold purpose is to promote farming, rural social work, and workforce development training in the areas of social and environmental justice and human rights.

“The average farmer is male, in his fifties, white, and often second, third, or even fourth generation farmer,” said Bicking, a woman of color and of West Indian descent. “Not that many women and people of color get into farming and they don’t have many resources available to them. I’d like to see that change. I want to make people aware of some of the different programs available through the Farm Bureau.”

Bicking said she is particularly interested in farming hemp for consumption, including hemp flour, milk and oil, and even hemp for making baby food.

“I’m also specifically interested in the non-canabid oils, which have special healing properties. They’ve been found useful in treating epilepsy, lowering the number and types of seizures,” Bicking said.

The problem with hemp, however, is one of association. While for years it was cultivated nationally, and even encouraged by the government during the WWII years, it was effectively outlawed in 1970 with the enactment of the Federal Controlled Substances Act.

As a member of the cannabis family, Bicking said it has been lumped with its better-known cousin, marijuana, even though it has a very low concentration of THC, the chemical in marijuana responsible for creating a high for its users.

“You can’t get high from smoking hemp,” said Bicking.

The laws around hemp cultivation have been changing however, albeit slowly. Approximately half the states in the country have lifted the ban on hemp farming, in direct opposition to federal law.

In 2014, President Barack Obama signed a farm bill into law which allows states to begin limited research programs, growing hemp in states where it is legal under state law to grow. Connecticut removed the ban in the state in June of 2015. Still, it is not yet legal under federal law to farm it freely, like any other fruit or vegetable.

Bicking said hemp advocates believe the federal prohibition is less about health concerns and more about keeping at bay mass market competition with cotton growers, the petrochemical industry, construction, big pharma, and other big business.

As federal law appears to be loosening up, Bicking has been eying acreage in Tolland that could potentially be used for hemp farming, and she is working with a district conservationist to create a conservation plan for the land that could be attached to a grant application.

She said she was initially interested in acreage in another town, but it didn’t want anything to do with it until the law is completely settled – and she understands that.

“I’m hoping that within the next four to six months, some positive action will be made that will allow farmers to grow hemp, at least on a small scale for personal use,” she said.