Since having my third back surgery in 2016, which left me with a pretty gnarly and permanent condition called Cauda Equina, and forced me to step back from farming on any sort of production-scale entirely, I'm not gonna lie, it's been a struggle. The VA upgraded (thankfully and finally) my disability rating after my last surgery, which has been extremely helpful, but has also left me in a very contradictory state of being - literally getting paid to do nothing. That just doesn't sit right with this farmer, with this engineer, with this veteran. I have to continue moving, no matter how much that hurts.
So, even though I'm physically limited, and have bouts with PTS(d), I can still be an effective organizer, communicator, and advocate. Let me say that I wouldn't be able to do any of this without taking it upon myself to seek mental health counseling at the VA. It's been ten years of consistently going back to the table, trying different forms of treatment (including farming), reading a lot about other veterans' experiences, going to group therapy with vets from other generations, and most importantly, an extremely understanding partner and "bonus"-son who somehow tolerate me on a daily basis...finding a healthy alternative to opiates and pills in general has been life-saving, too.
That brings me to hemp!
For those who don't know, hemp was recently legalized nationwide by the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill for the first time since the 1950s. Wisconsin, by some accounts, was once the nation's leading producer of hemp, mostly for fiber. It doesn't take very long to find the remaining feral hemp crop, which continues to reseed itself and thrive in ditches, roadsides, and along the edges of pastures, despite chemical agriculture.
Wisconsin has a real opportunity here. The potential for this crop to bring some much needed profitability back to the small family farm is real. Whether for grain, fiber, oil, or medicine, there is a future for hemp on the hillsides of Wisconsin again.
Some of you may be shocked to learn that my corner of Wisconsin has not only the highest farm bankruptcy rate in the country, but a higher farmer suicide rate than that of veterans. Don't let any creative, yet deceptive, language from the monopolized agriculture industry fool you - farmers are in real trouble right now, particularly the backbone of Wisconsin's agriculture, family Dairy Farms. I won't go into too many of the intricacies of "why" they're hurting so badly, because that's an entire can of worms that could take days to get through. BUT, this desperation leaves our farmers vulnerable to those who wish to make a profit solely on their eagerness to find a way to remain on their land. We must organize internally to protect ourselves from this intrusion of top-down corporate structures and those entities who wish to siphon profits from OUR farms and OUR land like we have seen happen in Ag so many times before.
To that end, for the past few months now, I've been helping a seriously badass group of organic farmers in South Central Wisconsin counties of Dane, Rock, Green, Lafayette, and Iowa form a producer-led Hemp Cooperative.
Here's an interview I did at the Farmer's Union Convention a couple weekends ago with a personal idol of mine, the Fabulous Farm Babe, Pam Jahnke Welch, about the work we're trying to do to organize the South Central Wisconsin Hemp Cooperative (Fast Forward to about 37:00 for my interview. but the entire clip is great, too).
Please stay tuned. A LOT more to come, including a website and other social media to keep consumers and farmers connected. We'll be looking to partner with other organic farmers (and those looking to transition) to collaboratively grow hemp this year and hopefully beyond! If you are interested in learning more, like how you might be able to help as a non-farming supporter, please don't hesitate to reach out!
It's going to take everyone - from farmers to consumers - to solve these issues. We can't do it alone.