Toronto Star
May 23, 2003 National Report section, Environment page

Hemp good to eat, too
By Cameron Smith

In many ways, hemp is the poster plant for the environmental movement.

Growing it is easy on the land and it substitutes for commodities that come with problems - such as cotton, which receives heavier doses of pesticides than any other crop in North America, and pulpwood, needed for making paper and cardboard, which can destroy habitat.

As a food, hemp seeds are nutritious, supplying more protein per hectare than any other crop except soybeans. And they have a high concentration of essential fatty acids that are in balance, good news in the struggle against a number of ailments.

In addition, hemp can be turned into pellets and used as fuel; its fibre can be made into rope; and this is what took me to a Renfrew dairy last week, its seeds can be turned into an ice cream alternative.

At first, the idea of creating such an alternative from a species of plant that makes good rope sounds, to put it mildly, improbable. At first, I thought it was simply loopy. But think about it: Corn is a tough, leafy plant, too, and we get corn syrup from it.

But the proof is in the tasting. What came off the production line in Renfrew was Cool Hemp. It's being sold in about 200 health-food stores across Canada and is about to go mainstream. Among the maple, chocolate and natural flavours being produced when I was there, I chose maple to sample because the flavour comes from real maple syrup.

I liked it. Underlying the maple taste, it had a slightly nutty flavour.

Cool Hemp is the inspiration of Christina and Robbie Anderman, who live near Killaloe, on the Canadian Shield between Bancroft and Pembroke. They're part of a community of eight households living on Morning Glory Farm, sharing expenses, sharing the food produced on the farm and sharing meals four or five times a week.

I got to the dairy in the middle of a three-day production run where 12 people, in oversized hairnets and lab coats, were working in choreographed precision to produce 9,000 half-litre tubs of Cool Hemp.

"It's been an amazing learning experience," Christina says. "Now, we're starting to learn about the mainstream market, which is way different from the traditional health-food market."

One thing they'll be doing is lowering store prices by up to $2, so that each half-litre will sell for $4.99 to $5.50. They've been able to cover most of their expenses during their two years in business. But they've earned no profit.

"We've been able to get by because we live in the country and we grow our own food," Christina says. With a bigger volume of sales, they're hoping to see a profit, even at lower prices.

And then there's the fun part. Robbie has produced a CD of songs about hemp with original lyrics and mostly original music. The songs are in a variety of styles: bluesy rock, folk, calypso, rock, bluegrass, jazz and something called soundscape.

The musicians, who differ on each track, come from across southern Ontario. Interspersed among the songs are reminiscences from a Killaloe old-timer recalling the days before growing hemp was banned. His memories are captivating.

People can download the songs from the Cool Hemp Web site at http://www.coolhemp. There's no charge but a donation is requested. Or they can order the CD for $20 by calling 1-800-385-FOLK, or by writing to the address listed on the Web site.

"Hemp is a movement," Robbie says. "But it didn't have music."

Now, it does.


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