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10-20-2017

Grassroots Organizing

Summer 2017, hemp thinking gripped Northeast Wisconsin. Hempstead Project Heart carried out a grassroots outreach campaign targeting farmers markets, sustainability fairs, powwows, and harvest celebrations. Accompanied by a variety of hemp products and historical documents, we spoke to over 2,000 people in Northeast Wisconsin on the benefits of growing industrial hemp for the people and planet. We highlighted biodegradable plastics, healthy food, construction materials, clothing, shoes, rope, twine, soap, paper, even a solid briefcase made of hemp hurd. People were intrigued by the many products made from hemp, even the ability to build your own fire-proof house out of hemp.

During one of our outreach events at the Oneida Farmers Market, we made smoothies with hemp seeds mixed in to show what people can do with hemp at home. There were sample cups available to farmers market customers as well as vendors to try out a strawberry banana smoothie with coconut milk and hemp seeds. Many people might be hestiant to purchase a smoothie with hemp seeds, so we took away the mental barrier with a free giveaway. The smoothies were a hit! Folks started to ask questions about the content of the hemp seed and all the nutritional benefits of incorporating hemp seeds into your diet. "Did you know those hemp seeds in your cup right there pack 10 grams of protein, Omega-3's, Omega-6's, all 21 of your essential amino acids, and it's high in fiber," was the tagline of the day that people walked away with. At the next market Hemsptead Project Heart attended in Oneida, one of the vendors of the farmers market gifted the organization with a large bar of homemade hemp soap infused with rosewood. We appreciated the gift and the vendor says, "No, thank you for opening my eyes to the many benefits of hemp and sharing the smoothies. I'm starting to incorporate hemp oil into my soaps to sell."

Our grassroots outreach efforts led us to the Menominee Reservation, the last known place where hemp was grown in Wisconsin during the 21st century. We set up our booth in early June for Hemp History Week and by the end of September, people started to understand the importance of hemp. At first people on the Menominee Reservation were reluctant to talk hemp. Some would just pass by and continuing walking. Everything changed the more we set up our booth and talked to people. Even the vendors started to see the benefit of hemp and what it could mean for their farms. One farmer in particular, a Amish man, who would set up his stand near ours approached our booth one day in September. What is interesting about the Amish man is he wanted nothing to do with hemp earlier in the summer, but sure enough he comes up to the stand and asks about our hemp socks. We showed him a pair and had a conversation about the socks available on the market. He spoke of all the socks on the market and how they wear down fast. We handed him a pair of hemp socks to try out and let us know what he thinks. A few weeks later, the Amish man came back to our booth and said the socks are so comfortable. "Do you think I could buy in bulk?" He asked us, "I'd hand them out to folks in my community and talk to them about the opportunities with hemp." This was by far the highlight of the summer as we had a nonsupporter turn into a supporter who wanted to promote hemp products to the Amish community. We knew then, hemp is coming back to Wisconsin.