An American Tradition
Hempstead Project Heart
An American Tradition
Uncovering all the facts about the rich history of Wisconsin’s Hemp Industry led us from the archives of the Wisconsin Historical Society, University of Wisconsin-Madison Steenbock Library, the United States Department of Agriculture National Agriculture Library and Access Newspapers.
From this research, we’ve compiled and documented the American Hemp Industry from 1890 all the way to present with a Wisconsin focus. Why Wisconsin? Discover how the state played a major role in the formation of the American Hemp Industry.
Wisconsin was once a major producer of hemp and hemp products. There were once ten – yes ten -- thriving hemp mill towns in the state that contributed $3 million to Wisconsin’s economy. Tribal Nations such as Menominee also have a long history of utilizing hemp.
In 1937, Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act, which put hemp under the same category as its cousin Marijuana. The legislation coincided with a fear-mongering anti-Mexican propaganda campaign (called Reefer Madness) executed in conjunction with the petro chemical industry, which sought to ban cannabis to develop the market for nylon, plastic and other synthetic products. While the ban on hemp was lifted during World War II, prohibition was implemented again when the war ended. Wisconsin was one of the last states to keep growing hemp after the war. In fact, the last hemp crop was grown in Wisconsin and bought by the United States government in 1957.
For 59 years, Congress and government agencies have deliberately undermined the validity and viability of Industrial Hemp cultivation. Today, we know a great deal more about the beneficial properties of hemp cultivation, including its capacity to regenerate soil health and capture and sequester carbon. And we know that any product made from oil or trees can be made from hemp. A need exists to bring hemp to the table as a legitimate solution to our economic and ecological crisis.
In 2014, the poverty rate reached 13 percent in Wisconsin, the highest since 1984; a 20 percent increase between 2010 and 2014. Rural communities are suffering. The National Association of Counties shows only 2 (4%) of Wisconsin’s rural counties were springing back from the Great Recession. Menominee County, home of the Menominee Reservation, remains the poorest country in the state. Further, the Wisconsin Rural Partners found Wisconsin’s net farm profits were significantly lower in 2015 compared to 2014: a $1.6 billion shortfall.
Despite this economic decline, the number of young people wanting to farm is growing. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported from 2008 to 2013, students receiving agricultural degrees increased 39%. Over the next 20 years, half of all farmland across the country will change hands, according to the National Young Farmers Coalition. While older farmers continue to retire, many new farmers taking their place are between the ages of 18 and 34, and they have their own ideas. These young farmers are seeking to establish healthy models of agriculture. Cultivating hemp fits with their aspirations while allowing them to participate in a growing industry and market.
Imagine a future where urban, rural, and tribal communities grow and process hemp. We could heal agricultural lands that have suffered from industrial farming. We could create meaningful livelihood and good jobs on the land as well as build up a manufacturing base in cities and towns across the state. And we could be a primary supplier to hemp businesses for all kinds of earth-friendly products and healthy foods.