A nonprofit organization made up of Cherokee citizens in Adair County is working to provide rural communities with information on how they can benefit from hemp products.
The Native Health Matters Foundation is partnering with researchers at Clemson University to analyze various strains of the plant. Tim Houseberg, vice president of NHMF, said the group wanted to advance the agricultural potential of hemp as a locally grown commodity crop in Indian Country.
“We just kind of dove in and said let’s grow something, let’s teach somebody something, let’s recycle some things for the environment, reduce the landfill waste,” said Houseberg. “No pun intended, it started growing on its own.”
Working with genetics experts at the collegiate level, Houseberg and NHMF are hoping to establish what kind of nutritional value hemp can have, while also evaluate its characteristics to be used as textile material. Houseberg said the cannabinoid CBM has been found in Carmagnola, the hemp strain the group is growing, and it can help treat diabetes and be used for chronic pain management.
But more importantly, the group wants to show how it can be used as nutrition, such as protein powder, and that the byproduct can be turned into material for buildings structures.
“Everything else you use to build a house is flammable or burns fast,” he said. “This is actually the opposite. It can be used in the walls, the concrete, the studs, the roof, the insulation, everything. So the wood industry and the concrete industry will try to fight those for a while, but I think we’ll see the most movement in textiles, because it makes the most sense.”
Grow operations are going on in Texas, Arkansas, Illinois, South Carolina, and on a small scale this year in Oklahoma. There are plans next year to have a 1,000-acre operation in Ringling, Oklahoma. Houseberg said the plants can grow up to 5 or 6 meters, and the group is focused on the fiber or grain head it produces.
“The fiber is especially important to us, because one of the universities we’re working with in Louisiana, we can grow 2 acres of high-value fiber and make a 1,400-square-foot Indian home,” he said. “So some of the fiber we’re growing this year will go into that project, and that home will be built in Stilwell.”
According to Native Health Matters, the ancient plant can be helpful with phytoremediation efforts. Phytoremediation is a process that uses various types of plants to remove, transfer, stabilize, and destroy contaminants in the soil and groundwater. One of the group’s goals is to provide research groups and organizations with solid data so the information can be dispersed and used for agricultural projects.
Houseberg said the hemp grown from Carmagnola seeds can go for about $5 per pound, and it if it’s grown correctly, it can produce 14,000 pounds of fiber an acre.
"The study is really one piece that is important, but it’s far less important than the educational part and actually getting that knowledge in the rural communities, where it can be productive,” he said. “Getting this valuable information, high-valued seeds, and expertise in the community is really the most important thing.”