Harvesting Tomorrow: Hemp and Our Future

16 01 2007

Mike Fata in a Manitoba Harvest field

By Jill Ettinger

“This Body Fueled by Hemp” reads the t-shirt stretched across Mike Fata’s chest, Co-founder and President of Canada’s Manitoba Harvest, one of the leading purveyors of hemp foods and oils. Officially founded in 1998, Manitoba Harvest began in 1993 when Fata and activist Martin Moravcik became involved in helping push hemp for commercial use through Canadian legislation in 1994. Since then they’ve been diligently supporting a vertically integrated relationship with more than 21 hemp growers in Western Canada’s seed belt, as well as educating consumers on the many applications and health-giving benefits of this plant – from stalk to seed with shelled organic hemp seeds, hemp protein powder and hemp seed butter and oil.

Hemp has a rich history of use by humans. It is hearty and insect-tolerant, grows like a weed and, like the eco-friendly bamboo plant, can see significant growth in a very short period of time. With over 5,000 years (possibly closer to 10,000) of documented use in China and other parts of Asia and Europe, hemp has been used in food, clothing, textiles, paper and fuel. Legal to grow in America until 1937, land given to farmers included a clause that made it mandatory to grow hemp. Our first flag was made of hemp; George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew it, as hemp was considered one of the most valued crops of its time. Yet the advent of plastics by companies like DuPont and Hearst forced the suppression and illegalization of hemp (and its erroneous classification as a drug). Hemp is not marijuana, just like poppy seeds are not heroin. They are different strains of a plant. Think of the many different varieties of corn or tomatoes; these distinctions are obvious once you’ve experienced them. Thus, education has been a critical factor for Manitoba Harvest.

While the known uses of the hemp plant actually number in the thousands, from a delicious breakfast to the plate it’s served on, the napkin in your lap and paint on the kitchen walls, Manitoba Harvest focuses on the dietary – a noteworthy contribution in this age of fast-food addictions, rising rates of depression and diseases of affluence like diabetes, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and obesity. In his critically acclaimed book The China Study, Dr. T. Colin Campbell writes, “These diseases are relatively unknown in traditional cultures that subsist mostly on whole plant foods as in rural China. But these ailments arrive when a traditional culture starts accumulating wealth and starts eating more meat, dairy and refined plant products (like crackers, cookies and soda).” As a spokesperson for the health benefits of hemp foods, Fata is every bit the poster child. Raised on a diet with little emphasis on health, he weighed 300 lbs by age eighteen. Numbness in his extremities, skin disorders, hair falling out and little energy, he found strength through diet and exercise to achieve his current 190 lb frame. It took years of educating himself and experimenting with extremes before finally finding one of the most critical pieces of the puzzle to staying healthy. As Fata acknowledges, “Hemp brought balance back into my life.”

The body is a complex machine, constantly ingesting, absorbing and converting its environment, in order to be a part of it. One critical piece of nutrition that many overlook is that a healthy source of essential fatty acids (EFA’s) is necessary. The body cannot produce these by itself. Hemp oil is one of the richest sources of the Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. Few foods carry them and in therapeutic doses, yet hemp does. Aside from mother’s milk, primary sources are found in seeds like flax and hemp and fish like cod or salmon. Imagine a fish swimming effortlessly in freezing cold water, or a hearty seed determined to survive the Canadian winter, and the role of essential fats become clear. They insulate every cell, regulate hormones, play a noticeable role in stabilized mood and mental function, support healthy joints, skin, hair and nails and can prevent diseases affecting auto-immune response and abnormal cell growth. Their absence from the standard American diet directly correlates to diseases affecting our culture.

A staple of Chinese medicine, ground hemp seed is regarded for its ability to stimulate the liver and cleanse the blood. Shelled hemp seed contains an easily digestible 35% protein, making it one of the highest protein sources of any kind. Vegans and vegetarians relying on protein from soy have a bright and delicious future ahead as companies like Manitoba Harvest see food options for this nutty little seed as endless. In 2007 the company is launching Hemp Bliss, a ready to drink line of Hemp Milks containing 1/2 teaspoon of EFAs per serving. For comparison, remember the ever-popular staple soymilk contains zero (and is one of the most common genetically modified crops, making cross-pollination an issue for organic farmers). Monsanto’s Round Up Ready soybean causes significantly more allergic reactions, according to Jeffrey Smith’s Seeds of Deception. Unlike hemp seeds, which actually regulate hormone function, too much soy can throw hormones out of balance. Pregnant women, for one, are urged to avoid large servings of soy by the British Journal of Urology, claiming that “baby boys born to vegetarian mothers were five times more likely to suffer from hypospadias, a malformation of the penis.” According to the environmental action group GreenPeace, over 1 million hectares of the Amazon Rainforest has been clear-cut as a result of growing soy.

If ever a time was ripe for hemp to re-enter the food chain, this is it. While soymilk has become a marker for “healthy” nutrition, highly sugared beverages and health concerns (as those stated above) show that soy may not be the best option. Like Fata says, “You are what you eat and you really need to know where your food comes from, because it is going to be a part of you.”




One response

16 08 2007
My Super Kids

Thanks for sharing this information. Really is pack with new knowledge. Keep them coming.

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