Hemp: It's Here to Stay

Donna Ison


Hemp, how can I use thee? Let me count the ways—as fabric, fuel, food, paper, plastic, lumber, in hempcrete and, of course, for CBD oil. In the words of Lamar Wilson, founder of SunJoined, “Understand that this God-given plant is powerful. There are hardly any other renewable resources that allow for the foundation of as many industries as hemp. In almost every major industry we have, you can use hemp in some form or fashion.”

Given its potential as a cash crop, it’s no wonder so many farmers and entrepreneurs are all-in on hemp. And fortunately, hemp is proving to be a long-term win.

Hemp, itself, is member of the Canabis Sativa strain of plants. But, unlike its cousin marijuana, hemp must contain a THC level of .3% or less, making it ineffective as a psychotropic substance. Hemp requires no pesticides, minimal fertilizer, moderate water and can flourish in most climates. And, a hemp crop can be harvested a mere 120 days after planting. 

Currently, the darling of the hemp universe is cannabidiol (CBD) oil, which has gained popularity for its medicinal potential. Many credit CBD oil with decreasing inflammation and pain, reducing seizures, aiding with anxiety and promoting sleep, among other positive effects. 

Lamar Wilson was initially skeptical of the CBD craze, until he tried the oil himself for an arthritic knee and found relief almost immediately. Seeing its efficacy firsthand, he began researching all aspects of the product in order to determine how to produce the “highest quality and highest concentration of hemp-derived CBD oil.” This resulted in SunJoined developing their own brand of full spectrum hemp extract with the slogan “the power of nature, bottled to perfection.” SunJoined is “a community of hemp growers and processors that share best practices, buy and sell material and fellowship with like-minded individuals.”

To the southwest, hemp is seeing a resurgence as an eco-friendly lumber product being manufactured in Murray, Kentucky at HempWood. Founder Greg Wilson had a dream to open a factory within the U.S. where he could hire people at a living wage and make products with locally-grown crops. With the support of Dr. Tony Brannon and Dr. Brian Parr, who serve as dean and assistant dean of the Hutson School of Agriculture and directors of the Murray State Center for Agricultural Hemp, he has fulfilled this mission. HempWood currently employs 21 Kentuckians and supplies hemp wood for flooring, cabinetry, furniture, hobbies and home goods, with everything from musical instruments to duck calls to wedding bands being crafted from the product. 

Hemp wood is superior to domestic hardwoods due to its higher density, hardness and stability. But, it is the environmental benefits that are truly remarkable. Greg Wilson explained, “Hemp grows in four months, and we can replace 15 to 30 60-year-old oak trees with one acre of hemp we produce. It also pulls more carbon out of the air than slow-growing trees.” 

Soon, hemp will be hitting the runway at the Future of Fashion 2020, a multimedia art and fashion event organized by designer Soreyda Benedit-Begley. The show, which was originally scheduled for March but postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, will include the Sarah Jane Estes Sustainable Design Fashion Competition showcasing ready-to-wear and avant-garde looks from hemp fabric. The winning designs will be featured in an upcoming issue of Sophisticated Living magazine. 

Benedit-Begley stated, “Hemp is durable and easy to work with. It’s biodegradable, water repellent, UV ray resistant and mold resistant, among other things.” To stay stylish while going green, she urges consumers to purchase clothing made from sustainable fabrics. 

With the February declaration of bankruptcy by GenCanna, some have questioned the viability of hemp. Lamar Wilson sees this development as an unfortunate, but expected growing pain for a burgeoning industry. As for SunJoined, they are experiencing steady growth. Lamar Wilson stated, “We’ve had 1153 investors invest in us, so we have a huge network of investors. We have around 600 people signed up to be distributors of SunJoined sourced products. And, we’re growing our farmer list.”

According to Greg Wilson, Kentuckians can bolster by buying. “The best thing you can do for the hemp industry is to get involved and buy what we make. It’s a lot cheaper and easier to do it elsewhere, but we’re trying to do it right. We need the market support.” 

Despite some setbacks, including the current economic uncertainty, both believe hemp is here to stay. With optimism, Lamar Wilson concluded, “Hemp can create an economic engine that propels Kentucky into the forefront of a new, greener economy.”