T. ALAN SHACK
So far, only a few pioneers have ventured into the hemp arena to market the textiles, oils, paper and plastic that can be produced from the most Earth-friendly of plants. Feasibility has been bogged down by poor technology, and
while high demand has been generated, the supply of the raw material itself has been poor indeed. That is, until now.
In the north of Holland lies an area stretching the limits of the imagination—an area of green more than 300 football fields in
size blanketed in long, tall, wavy fields of hemp.
I was escorted through the fields by Alan Dronkers of Hemp Flax, a subsidiary of the Amsterdam-based Sensi Seed Bank, who is also the heir to this agricultural experiment. It was harvest time and his excitement and passion for the expanse was palpable. Now and again, he’d jump from the tractor to race through
the hemp and revel in its stunning beauty.
“This was always a big dream of mine,” he shouted, laughing and hanging from the tractor by one hand. “I have always wanted to ride a tractor while harvesting a hemp field.” The six-foot stalks have now been levelled and will dry and ret in the field until ready to be collected in much the same way as hay.
Like many other aspects of the Dutch scene, cultivation for marijuana is shrouded in the gray area of “tolerance,” not in the black and white of legality. Marijuana cultivators have had many a confrontation with the authorities.
The cultivation project here, however, is completely legal and sanc-
tioned by the government because hemp cultivation for industrial purposes in Holland is encouraged.
Alan’s enthusiasm for hemp is boundless. “We can do a billion things with it. Right now we’re making building materials with it. This constitutes the largest market for hemp right now. Chipboard made from hemp is hundreds of times stronger than the boards made from even the sturdiest of woods. As soon as builders catch on that hemp is stronger, cheaper and more fire-resistant—that you can grow four times as much annually as you can in twenty years of growing trees—they’ll make the switch.
WE DON'T WANT TO BE ANOTHER HEMP CLICHE"—ALAN DRONKERS
“We don’t want to be a hemp cliché, you know, making clothes and rope and textiles and other items already on the market. We’re looking at the many uses of hemp.” Alan goes on to inform me of new hemp-based products like kitty litter, a huge market that currently relies on chemicals. Alan says that hemp must become a household word.
“Change will come when people realize how many things can be done with this plant besides smoking it. In the past, the people with money have continually said how great an idea it would be to produce industrial hemp, but they could never overcome the shortage of raw material its illegality causes.” He gestures toward his fields. “Now they can.”
I tried imagining a future hemp industry. One question immediately sprang to mind.
“In America, farmers have unions and organizations to help regulate the market—to facilitate trade and so forth. What about here in Europe? Do you think this is possible with hemp?”
He smiled. “It’s already happened. Co-ops have started between organizations in Holland, Germany, France, Spain, Hungary. It’s rolling. We should be growing thousands of acres of hemp in no time. In a few years we’ll probably look back and laugh about how we had to do business back in the old days!” ^