US farmers cautiously growing hemp again after 56 years of brain-dead prohibition

by Mark Frauenfelder

Hemp is a useful crop. It’s used to make paper, cloth, food, fuel, and many other products. But hemp farming in the United States has been illegal for 56 years. The government outlawed hemp cultivation because it didn’t want people hiding marijuana crops in hemp fields (they look the same, but hemp does not contain psychoactive compounds, at least not enough to matter).

Interestingly, products made from hemp are legal in the US, but they must be imported from countries that aren’t as insufferably schoolmarmish. This year, however, US farmers are starting to grow hemp again. Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana for recreational use, and some farmers are taking this as permission to grow non-psychoactive hemp in those states. (Hemp, both the inert and psychoactive varieties, is still prohibited under federal law). The first company in line to buy US-grown hemp is Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps.

Alternet’s April M. Short has a good article about the movement.

It’s That Time of Year

Time to begin “putting by” the last of the summer’s vegetables for the long winter ahead.  Up today are the last of the homegrown heirloom tomatoes, both hot-ish (Anaheim and Jalapeño) and sweet (banana) peppers (the poblano and serranos are still growing) and an early bushel of Blueridge Mountain-grown golden delicious apples.

The peeled and cored apples have been lightly simmered in fresh-from-the-well water with a little cinnamon, cloves and cardamom.  Once cool, the apples will be ground into applesauce and stored in the freezer.

The tomatoes have been roasted with a touch of sea salt and will be frozen as-is.

I haven’t decided how to preserve the hot peppers yet.  I might roast some of them and simply split, seed and freeze the rest.

The banana peppers, of course, are being fermented and refrigerated for use on deli-style sandwiches (my absolute favorite), in salads, egg dishes and other various and sundry things.  Here’s a super-simple recipe to lacto-ferment peppers (or practically any other vegetable)..

40 ounces cool, fresh water (you may have a little left over)
2 ounces (by weight) sea salt
1/2 cup raw cider vinegar, divided
2 tablespoons pickling spice, divided (optional)

Put the water in a heavy-bottomed pan and bring to a rapid boil. Add the pickling spices and salt and stir until the salt is dissolved. Remove from heat and set aside.

While the salt water is cooling, wash the peppers to remove any remaining leaves, dirt or bugs. Using a sharp knife, slice the peppers into 1/8-inch rounds. Fill 2 quart-sized Mason jars with the sliced peppers, leaving about 1-1/2 inches of head room. Pour 1/4 cup of vinegar into each jar.

Once the water has cooled to room temperature, add enough to each jar to come nearly all the way to the top.

Screw the lids on finger-tight and set aside in a warm place (68-72 degrees) for 5 days, “burping” the lids once a day until the fermentation is complete. Transfer the peppers to the refrigerator or root cellar and consume within about 3 months.

What are you preserving this year?  Let us know in the comments!

Reviving Heirloom Corn

One day about eight years ago, chef Dan Barber of the famed Blue Hill restaurant at Stone Barns in the Hudson River Valley got a FedEx package from someone he didn’t know.

Inside were two ears of corn.  And a letter.

Chef Dan Barber prepares polenta with an heirloom corn variety at the Blue Hill restaurant in the Hudson River Valley.

The handwritten note explained that the corn was an heirloom variety called New England Eight Row Flint (or Otto File, by its Italian name), and that it was a taste that was nearly lost to history.

Native Americans cultivated this variety hundreds of years ago. The corn caught on with settlers in New England because it was hearty and nutritious.


Listen to the rest of the story  on NPR’s All Things Considered..

Calling All Gardeners!

The sun is shining and the soil is beginning to warm up, so now’s the time to order seeds and plant lettuce seedlings. We’re just a month away from planting potatoes, spinach, lettuce and peas!


Photo credit: ecstaticist / / CC BY-NC-SA

If you need more sunshine or more land, think of joining the gardeners at the Mayo Yowell Community Garden – we’re taking requests now for plots in Madison, Virginia’s only community garden..

Carty Yowell has been getting the soil ready and will do the last prep before mid-March. Drive by and see those plots just waiting for someone to use them! The garden is on the east side of Route 29, between Shelby and Gibbs Roads (just south of Lam’s Furniture).

Roscoe Barnes is returning as the on-site coordinator this year, which is great news. Roscoe did a terrific job last year of keeping in touch with gardeners and keeping the perimeter of the garden under control!

This year we have good news – we have received a grant from the Piedmont Environmental Council to help us promote and maintain the garden. We are hoping to stretch the PEC dollars by seeking donations of key equipment and supplies as well. If you have a working wheelbarrow to donate or manure you can deliver, please let me know!

Our community garden kick-off is scheduled for 2 pm, Sunday, March 24. James Barnes of the PEC will demonstrate how you can build suitable housing for birds that need a boost in Madison County – bluebirds, wood duck, kestrals, screech owls, barn owls, and bats. If you want to be a good bird landlord but don’t want to build your own housing, James can take orders for pre-made housing.

Please spread the word about signing up for plots in the community garden and about our Community Garden Kick-off at 2 pm March 24.

See you at the garden!

Jan Richter