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Hemp: Versatile, Eco-Friendly, But Illegal

Herb Fellow

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HARRISBURG, Pa. - Shawn House is on a crusade to try and educate the public about the misunderstood main ingredient of the food products he sells: hemp. The resident of Columbia has an elaborate stand in the Pennsylvania Marketplace at the Pennsylvania Farm Show, which ends at 5 p.m. today.

House's stand includes products from his business, Hempzels, and a historical display of hemp products made in Lancaster County.

House said hemp has been demonized for more than 70 years because of its close relation to its cousin, marijuana. However, hemp is not marijuana and should not be treated as such, he emphasized.

"The amount of THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) in any hemp product is about the size of an olive pit in a railroad car full of product," House said. "There's more opiates in a poppyseed bagel and more alcohol in fruit juice than there is THC in any food product."

House got into the hemp business in 1998, selling hemp cosmetics such as lotions and soaps. He bought the Hempzel business from No Problem Inc. of New Holland. At that time, the company made sourdough pretzels.

House started developing other products and today produces soft pretzels, mustard, baklava and other products, all made in Lancaster County from hemp seeds imported from Canada.

His newest product, a hemp-peanut butter pretzel nugget, soon will be carried in Giant Foods' organic section.

House said he got interested in the hemp industry after reading a book about its history, "The Emperor Wears No Clothes" by Jack Herer. He started looking through old Department of Agriculture yearbooks that touted hemp's versatility.

"I didn't know there was a crop that could make 25,000 to 50,000 products," House said.

Hemp can be used to make products including building materials, fuel, biodegradable plastics, cellophane and paper. In fact, the Declaration of Independence was drafted on hemp paper.

Popular Mechanics magazine called hemp the new "billion dollar crop" in 1938, House said. The year before, however, the Marijuana Tax act of 1937 made the plant illegal.

House's historical display at the Farm Show includes a bottle of hemp-based cough syrup produced in Hellam called "Kopps Syrup Wild Cherry and Lobelia Compound." He is also showing a 1942 film, "Hemp for Victory." It was produced by the U.S. government to encourage farmers to grow hemp for the war effort.

Les Stark of Ephrata is another advocate for hemp, and has been helping House spread the word at the Farm Show.

Stark started looking into Lancaster County's local hemp industry in 1994, spending more than 1,000 hours of research going through deeds and wills.

His research led him to write a book about what he uncovered, "Hempstone Heritage I." His studies revealed that hemp had been grown throughout the county, and numerous hemp mills once dotted the landscape from Clay to Cocalico, not to mention the aptly named Hempfield Township.

This is the fourth year House has been set up at the Farm Show, but he said more work still needs to be done to educate people through a "grass roots effort."

His stand is popular, and he said he has even had state police troopers come by and taste the hemp seeds.

He believes if enough people contact their elected representatives about the issue, the laws can be changed.

"We don't have to convince the farmers – they want to grow hemp," House said. "It's the politicians."

Source: Lancaster Online
Copyright: 2008, Intelligencer Journal
Contact: Michael Yoder, myoder@lnpnews.com
Website: LancasterOnline.com: Local Business : Hemp: Versatile, eco-friendly, but illegal
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