Hemp is an uncanny plant, with properties and benefits that extend well beyond its early adopters’ wildest dreams. Early remnants of what designers, builders, and contractors may know as ‘hempcrete’ actually goes back as far as the 6th century in southern France, when builders started mixing hemp hurds with lime to create a naturally fire and pest retardant, lightweight, plant-based concrete.
It seems like every spring since I saw my first acre of hemp, I think about how this one crop was at the center of the manufacture and proliferation of everything from food, paper, medicine, clothing, canvases and even the sails of ships. Despite its longtime absence from the heart of American agriculture, hemp is finally free to make its comeback thanks to some much needed clarity on the legality of this essential crop.
For nearly 50 years, the USA has prevented itself from growing and producing its own hemp products, forcing the demand of imported goods. In 2019, however, we can expect to see long-awaited investment into hemp cultivation and processing thanks to recently passed legislation separating it from its cannabis sativa sibling.
A few handfuls of hemp projects have come to fruition on American soil in the modern era, but few have benefited from the virtually carbon neutral nature of its use. When cultivated domestically, hemp not only helps restore and protect soil for future crops, but it captures and sequesters CO2 along the way. This CO2 is then stored into hempcrete insulation or hemp bricks that make up the buildings themselves, all while drastically reducing the footprint of plastic and mineral aggregate production, processing and shipment.
In the inaugural issue of Technology Designer, I employed hemp composites as a helpful reminder of how to refocus our approach resilient building and design. When brainstorming solutions, one of the first places we need to look to protect ourselves against nature is to nature itself. The world’s most brilliant and efficient technologies often have an initial blueprint found in Earth’s systems. With hemp’s glorious return on the horizon, we owe it to the Founding Fathers who revered the plant to again put it to good use as the happy and healthy alternative to costly, less resilient practices.