“Dare I say it might even present a more wholesome opportunity? I’m not going to be judgmental about casinos. I know casinos really have helped tribes develop their economies. But there is something about getting back to the land and building the soil,” said Steven Hoffman, the founder of Compass Natural LLC, a PR and marketing agency serving natural and organic product companies.
Thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill, which reclassified hemp, it is now legal to grow industrial hemp. The Farm Bill defines hemp as containing 0.3 percent or less tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, on a dry weight basis.
Last week, the first hemp products store opened in Shiprock, NM in the Navajo Nation, which spans parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. Dineh Benally, who heads both the Native American Agriculture Company (NAAC) and the San Juan River Farm Board, stated in a press release that the 2018 US Farm Bill and Navajo Nation law both allow for hemp cultivation, and the company intends to continue as well as expand production.
Benally said the Board first voted to implement a pilot hemp program on the Navajo Nation to replenish contaminated soil such as uranium leakages, create jobs and a new industry for the Navajo people. They also saw opportunities in the health and wellness space.
"After the success of last year's pilot program we stepped up production for 2019 and plan to produce more going into 2020," said Benally.
The nutritional content of hemp is linked to a number of health benefits because it is packed with healthy fats, magnesium, essential omega-3 fatty acids and is a good source of plant-based protein. Hemp can be incorporated into food products including hemp milk, hemp oil, hemp cheese substitutes and hemp-based protein powder.
CBD oil, aka cannabidiol, a component of the plant known for its health benefits, is another hemp product that has incredible application and economic potential. This non-psychoactive component of the hemp plant that can help relieve a bevy of health concerns, from chronic pain to anxiety to epilelepsy to inflammation.
But as Hoffman points out, getting a product on the shelves presents a lot of unique challenges: “The fad is every food and beverage maker wants to put it in their product. The advantage of traditional dietary supplement companies versus a lot of start-ups is that dietary supplement companies understand how to operate under DSHEA.”
Once harvested, the crop generates a high yield of edible proteins and fibers, and according to a report by Zion Market Research, hemp has over 50,000 product applications.
Hoffman told NutraIndredients-USA, “It’s useful in so many ways, from food from the hemp seed to the medicine in CBD and the cannabinoid compounds from the flower, to fiber and building materials from the stalk and herd, so it’s a plant that can literally feed us, help us with botanical medicine, and feed and clothe us. And house us. Pretty amazing.”
The report also says in 2018 the global industrial hemp market was worth nearly $4 billion and is expected to generate over $9 billion by 2025, at a CAGR of about 13.5% between 2019 and 2025.
Small to mid-sized farms are struggling both on and off the reservation due to soil degradation, water scarcity, and climate change. But hemp could be a saving grace, due to its ability to nourish nutrient-depleted soil and reverse the effects of erosion. Hemp can be cultivated in practically any environment.
The hardy hemp plants are pest-resistant so there’s no need for pesticides and herbicides, they typically mature in 3-4 months, and can produce additional crops, year after year. Farmers who grow hemp for CBD oil can reportedly generate as much as $60,000 per acre. A Wall Street Journal article says hemp represents “a new potential revenue stream for tobacco farmers abandoning that crop.”
"Hemp cultivation can connect the Navajo people's past to its future and can provide many agricultural and economic advantages for this Tribe," Benally stated.