Hemp was widespread in Canada and the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries. The robust fibre of this plant was used for the production of ropes, clothes and even parachutes.
But in 1938, the cultivation of the plant was prohibited, along with the Indian hemp. Hemp followed the negative stigma of marijuana and became illegal. With the ban, the hemp industry collapsed for the first time.
In 1998, Ottawa agreed to distinguish between industrial hemp and marijuana. Because of this, the hemp plant can now be cultivated again freely. Since then Hemp has taken a slow but steady race to banish all negative connotations surrounding the ingredients and use of the plants. It hasn’t been until the recent legalisation of marijuana that hemp has been given the fair reputation it deserves.
René Saquet was one of the pioneers of hemp cultivation in the West. This plant is so little known that some people still confused it with marijuana. Producers like him were hoping, at the time, that the hemp fibre market would develop again in Canada.
At the same time, René Saquet and others are also agreeing with an Ontario contractor. He wants to manufacture, among other things, beauty products and vegetable oil from hemp seed. The dream of reviving the hemp trade is taking shape. The deal he made with the Ontario Company goes out of business, and the long-awaited trade in hemp fiber is never created. Without an outlet for his harvest, he sells his seeds at a loss, to the highest bidder. He abandons hemp cultivation after only three years of testing.
About a hundred kilometers to the north, Art Potoroka is also engaged in the production of hemp, but with a group of 200 farmers who do business with a company from California.
He cultivates 140 hectares of hemp, produces hundreds of kilograms of seeds and more than 500 bales of straw. But the Californian Company, in financial difficulty, never comes looking for the product. To date, hundreds of straw bales produced in 1999 are still waiting in his fields.
But Art Potoroka clings to his dream. He tries to join the growers of hemp in his region to find outlets. What he does not know is that at the same time, in Winnipeg, a company is preparing to give a third life to the hemp trade.
Mike Fata is a businessman who discovered hemp by chance. But rather than bet on fiber, he is interested in the nutritional qualities of the plant! Hemp is a significant source of omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9, essential fats for the human body.
This is where the fate of Art Potoroka and Mike Fata comes together: the first has surplus hemp seeds in his silos; the other dreams of making food.
Art Potoroka agrees to produce hemp in the coming years for Mike Fata and his partners. Their company, Manitoba Harvest, is developing hemp oil, flour, and butter, for example.
Then it’s marketing and sales are increasing. But the expenses, too, because Manitoba Harvest invests in both its plant and the development of new markets. Hemp producers are finally benefiting from the harvest. Hemp is cheaper to produce than conventional crops because it requires little fertilizer and no chemicals.
In 2004, Mike Fata’s perseverance and investment paid off. Sales are skyrocketing in the United States, where hemp production is still illegal.
That same year, Manitoba Harvest developed a new product that will become by far the best selling product: hemp oil milk, a substitute for cow’s milk.
The success of hemp foods has an impact on Canadian farms. The number of hectares approved for hemp cultivation fell by more than 90% between 1999 and 2001, after the crack of trade in fiber. It has since regained all the lost ground. In 2006, hemp was allowed on over 19,000 hectares, a record in Canada. As a result, the Canadian Hemp Marketing Association has changed its marketing strategy.
Industrialists can use stem fibers to make papers, fabrics, ropes and strings, and construction materials. The seed can be used for the manufacture of foods, cosmetics, plastics and fuels.
In some countries, industrial hemp has proven to be a hardy, resilient, fast-growing, high-yielding plant. In Canada, industrial hemp has shown promise as a new crop, in rotation with more traditional crops. Its short growing cycle (85 to 120 days) is well suited to many parts of Canada.
After being banned in the 1930s, and then abandoned in the 1990s, hemp seems to have regained its acclaim in Canadian agriculture. And this time, it takes the path of our plates.
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