Written by: Keyanah Nurse
When you pick up Doug Fine’s newest book American Hemp Farmer: Adventures and Misadventures in the Cannabis Trade, be prepared to take some extensive notes, preferably on hemp paper. As a best selling, award winning writer and internationally recognized voice in the hemp/cannabis industry, Fine certainly has a lot of wisdom to offer his audiences. His oeuvre touches everything regenerative agriculture and hemp cultivation, and his fifth book American Hemp Farmer is no different. Writing on everything from microscopic soil rebuilding to the impending bust of the current “CBD bubble,” to the necessity of regenerative practices for entrepreneurs, the mission of Fine’s new book is to prepare his readers to enter an unforgiving and rapidly expanding market. If you think that sounds like a lot, that’s because it is. But Fine’s wide thematic scope is neither accidental nor without serious purpose. Indeed, the very goal of American Hemp Farmer is to provide a blueprint of possibilities for those independent farmers interested in not only cultivating hemp, but also making a decent living while doing so. Consequently, the book’s very structure makes good on such a promise. With Fine serving as a spirited, knowledgeable guide, American Hemp Farmer’s readers begin with the science of soil rebuilding, continue with the intricacies of seed selection, ownership, and crop cultivation, and end with some hard hitting lessons in product development, marketing, and distribution.
According to Fine’s compellingly crafted narrative, it is imperative that independent farmers expand their knowledge base to include all the aforementioned elements. With a tone both serious and collegial, Fine outlines the harsh reality that within the current agricultural paradigm, farmers reap little financial gain from their crops. In fact, according to Bill Althouse, founder of the Fat Pig Society, an organic hemp cooperative in Fort Collins, Colorado, most farmers only garner three cents per retail dollar for their crops. This staggering statistic, which Fine cites in American Hemp Farmer, marks the fate from which he hopes to save independent hemp farmers, especially within the context of the currenty “gold rush” of the hemp/cannabis industry. Akin to the dynamics within the historic California Gold Rush of the mid-nineteenth century, there are also individuals within the twenty-first century cannabis industry who profit immensely from hemp-based products. Yet they are relatively removed from the cultivation of those products. For example, such “middlemen” are dictating the terms by which farmers can use, recycle, or experiment with seed genetics. As Fine notes, they are exactly like the shovel sellers within the Gold Rush: no matter the quality or outcome of the final product, they –rather than the golddiggers — always reaped a profit.
To combat the control, influence, and disproportionate wealth garnered by these “middlemen,” Fine urges farmers to cut ties with them altogether and become fully fledged entrepreneurs. In other words, turning a decent profit in hemp cultivation means that farmers also have to create, market, and distribute value-added products. Although they now have to work year-round and wear more professional hats, the upside is greater autonomy, larger profit margins, and more support to regional economies. But as Fine noted to Honeysuckle in an interview, such a transformation from “farmer” to “farmer-entrepreneur” is one of the most difficult challenges facing the modern American hemp farmer today. “The farmer used to have a deal with society. He or she might not be paid so great, but…you work your ass off for eight to ten months, [and] you’re done…farmers had the winter off. And now It’s not like that anymore….when you’re trying to really make it work as an entrepreneur, you not only have to create the value-added product, and all the pieces of certifications and liabilities and all the stuff that goes along with that, but you have to hustle it and get out there to platforms, venues, marketing yourself directly online but also finding regional wholesale outlets for your products. So there’s so much more work involved. You have to have a long term game plan…in the end, it’s the only win win win.”
As much as the small “farmer-entrepreneur” is the focus of Fine’s book, American Hemp Farmer also finds an audience among conscious consumers who understand the environmental costs of maintaining the current status quo of industrial agriculture and large scale product distribution. In fact, the book presents a core political and economic intervention to that effect: regenerative practices have to be foundational to the fast-paced and ballooning U.S. cannabis industry. The current course is simply not sustainable. “What we’re not going for this time around is selling out,” Fine enthused, “or getting bought out by a hedge fund…that’s not the model. The long-term multigenerational play is just as entrepreneurial as any other type of capitalism, but what’s built in is the environmental regenerativeness and regional economy-building.”
Small, independent hemp cultivation is a concrete effort to combat climate change precisely by linking entrepreneurship with regenerative agricultural practices. The crop is exceptional at restoring topsoil, which in turn, can sequester three billion tons of carbon for every inch restored. With a growing percentage of the world’s population becoming climate refugees (Fine shares a powerful opening anecdote about his own experience of displacement through fire), the impetus to push regenerative agriculture as the new norm is greater than ever. Of course, there are technical practices attached to regenerative agriculture. For instance, using cover crops allows biodiversity to thrive in topsoil, and increases the likelihood of carbon drawdown. Such a strategy has beneficial effects on restoring balance to agricultural ecosystems and helps combat the negative effects of climate change.
However, for Fine, “regenerative practice” is as much a set of techniques as it is an ethos. As he notes in American Hemp Farmer, it simply means “rebuilding as I produce, so I can produce again.” It means stewardship for the planet so that your children and grandchildren can have the same opportunities for harvesting our planet’s resources. It means understanding that on our finite planet, the zeitgeist that champions infinite growth is woefully and dangerously misguided. Finally, it means actively building a present and future in which we critically examine and appreciate how the environment sustains human society. To close with Fine’s own words: “If everybody who reads the book asks who is the farmer before purchasing any agricultural product, but especially a hemp product, they will have done a very, very, very good deed.”
American Hemp Farmer is available via pre-order at https://www.tatteredcover.com/pre-order-american-hemp-farmer
And will be available wherever books are sold on April 23, 2020
Doug Fine is a solar-powered goat herder, comedic investigative journalist, bestselling author, and pioneer voice in regenerative farming, including cannabis/hemp. He has cultivated hemp for food and seed-building in four US states and teaches a Sterling College hemp class in Vermont. In addition, he is an award-winning culture and climate correspondent from five continents (for NPR, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, among others). His books include American Hemp Farmer, Hemp Bound, Too High to Fail, Farewell, My Subaru (a Boston Globe Bestseller available in two Chinese dialects), Not Really An Alaskan Mountain Man, and First Legal Harvest, a monograph that was printed on hemp paper. Willie Nelson calls Doug’s work “a blueprint for the America of the future.” The Washington Post says, “Fine is a storyteller in the mold of Douglas Adams.” A website of Doug’s print and radio work, Conan and Tonight Show appearances, United Nations testimony and TED Talk is at dougfine.com and his social media handle is @organiccowboy.