If You Grow It... [part 1]
For once I felt like a Louis L’Amour character, racing to meet the horizon of a Western dawn and interested in some trouble – any good adventure boiled down to the bone is trouble. With that howling voice of details lodged in my head and after some coffee, a warm sun and a hand-rolled smoke, I was rescued from shivering as the delirium cooked off.
Louis would call the carful of us soft. After 18 hours of pure highway burn, we pulled into Loflin Farms, settled near a Dust Bowl town tucked between Oklahoma and New Mexico. The pioneering toughness was visible on the faces of Springfield inhabitants: the grooves and weathered skin intone the barren earth beneath their boots. The brisk prairie wind keeps a little grit on your teeth; it's one of those love-hate qualities of a harsh environment, capable of incessantly reminding you where exactly it is you are.
And to think, tomorrow this ranching town would be home to the country’s first large-scale hemp crop in over 50 years. A proud American moment considering the plant helped colonial ships cross the Atlantic in the form of canvas sails and rope, as well as being pivotal to the nation’s well-being before and after the American Revolution.
Most locals we spoke with were less focused on the hemp harvest than the annual opening-day antelope slaughter, good thing too. Knowing the land was riddled with NRA members banished any concerns I had about a DEA shootout. Hemp farmer Ryan Loflin rolled up on a rust-branded tractor as we waited for him at his family’s farm on the Colorado plains. He beat everyone to greetings and handshakes, although it’s clearly not his thing – the guy laughed more than he spoke the whole weekend.
After some conversation, another thing became evident: Being an at-large hemp farmer on the plains, a snowboarder, carpenter, and rock sculptor, Loflin makes for a better character in a L’Amour tale than any one of us. In Louis’ time, cowboys, thieves, and prospectors could still be found on this land. Life’s balancing act plays out in the West’s natural beauties, which also contain a violent wildness, and the wanderer’s thirst for independence holstered at the hip.
The American red-blooded heroic types have never ceased racing the sun to set, from the Rockies down into the Pacific. Lovers of liberty have always sought relief in a more nomadic way of life---running westward into the mythical “Land of the Blessed.” Timothy Leary suggests that our westward culture shift is due to this ornery cowboy mentality, one that enjoys pushing against the inertia of Earth’s west to east rotation. Then what, I wonder … Upward?
Waves of Green
Colorado and Washington are two states looking to court the early investment surge after voters entrusted the recreational distribution of marijuana to their respective state commissions. Legislative change was made possible because citizens were educated on the topic, at least enough to forego the Fed’s antiquated definition of the plant and how to regulate it. Only Colorado appears prepared to issue large-scale hemp farming permits in 2014. Loflin made the decision to jump the gun on the law to spark a broader conversation about the plant and is now leading the charge for the soft-spoken cousin to marijuana.
He intends to build a 32,000 square-foot processing facility near the farm next year as part of his company, Rocky Mountain Hemp Inc. Around the media he’s been called “courageous” and “gutsy” for returning hemp to U.S. soil. Apparently Loflin saw the plant’s surge coming, in what sounded one-part cannabis prophecy and another experienced business savvy. Ryan spoke to a collective dream of growing hemp in fallow fields across America in order to wake people up from the current, mono-cultural illusions of how we farm and what we eat.
His crop will mostly be used for R&D and re-seeding. Generally, farmers aren’t interested in “causes” when it comes to business, but with the U.S. having one of the strongest hemp retail markets in the world (est. $500 million), some of them are all ears. A huge hurdle for hemp activists has been proving the market value and jobs that come with hemp.
The laws obstruct the research and investments it takes to reveal a wider market. Thankfully, in walks Loflin – the radical farmer – to shove hemp in the country’s face by planting it, to hell with fear. Smuggling the seeds into Colorado wasn't without risk, neither was welcoming the New York Times out for an interview and pictures for the world to see. As for the repercussions: credit lines could be frozen, plants and lands confiscated, or worse, prison. Being a husband and father of two, told me he had plenty to lose. One point Loflin made clear was that we were standing about 1,500 miles from Washington D.C. And those bums were on vacation anyway.
The sun was enough to rouse the farmhands; a night of gusting winds drove all but a few of us inside the barn. I rose from my tent to feasting and geared-up coffee talk. Half an hour passed before “Big” John Loflin, Ryan’s father and landowner, cut the bullshit and dropped everyone off in a 60-acre field smattered with patches of chest-high hemp, most of it overgrown with foxtail weeds.
“Hemp pulled by hand!” was the order from John. Mind you, the plant has stubborn roots that corkscrew deep in the soil. So began ten hours of grunt work, making history in an American hemp field with a bunch of the happiest people in work gloves I’d ever seen.
And to think, it all started with an open Facebook invitation Ryan posted last week because his mechanical equipment kept shredding the stalks. Harvesting amid the government shutdown made my blisters look like tiny trophies. Some pioneers of the cannabis movement gathering in dissension gives one the vision needed to fully appreciate the experience.
Activist, legislative author, and hemp entrepreneur Jason Lauve was leading cheers overtop dub reggae blaring from a field truck full of plants. Later on, floating ever so slightly above the ground to my right was Agua Das, sharing a lesson in hemp fiber weaving to a handful of young initiates. As I understood it, in his many lifetimes he has gathered vast knowledge and truth. So like a tie-dyed holy man armed with offerings, he would later shuffle around the bonfire distributing hemp I-Scream bits and plant wisdom to the merry lot of us.
After a field-worker’s lunch, most of us were tired enough to call it a day, but picking went on into sundown. Harvest rituals soon followed, carried over from earlier times, and did well to soothe the aches. The night was filled with music, food, booze, fire and smoke, amidst vows to gather in Springfield again next year. In no time, Loflin was out in front of the pack again – he’d already spotted another big idea on the horizon. I asked him how he’d pay for it, and he just laughed to the wind, baring his hands like a magician vanishing worry into thin air. On the slow haul back to LA, I fell asleep in the seat of the westward traveller.
And as a dream began to take, an archetypal frontiersman passed by in an instant, and it struck me as to why we revere him, why we follow him: It's because he's foolhardy enough to chase the sun, if only to catch the tiniest glimpse of heaven. All was soon made clear in a fistful of hemp.