There was a time where tobacco markets used to be full of buyers and growers and the air was permeated by the sound of auctioneers voices and the smell of bright leaf tobacco.
While not completely gone, government quotas and changing views on the crop, have slowly chipped away at the market and the generations old practice.
Farmers, being the resilient people, they are, have found other ways to keep their family traditions alive, adding crops such as barley, wheat, strawberries and flowers, along with non-traditional crops as well.
In 2018, farmers celebrated a $867 billion farm bill authorized by President Donald Trump.
The 2018 Farm Bill, a sweeping piece of legislation, bolstered farmers with the passage of The Hemp Farming Act of 2018, a bipartisan legislation delisting hemp as a controlled substance and allowing for the continued growth of North Carolina’s hemp farming industry.
North Carolina farmers celebrated the passage of the legislation as hemp is considered one of the most promising cash crops to replace tobacco in the state.
The last few years have been hard on North Carolina farmers. Over the past two years, cattle prices have dropped 13 percent, pork is down seven percent and vegetables are down by 10 percent.
Tobacco — which was the state’s cash crop for decades — production, like everything else over the past 20 years, is moving out of the country and going overseas. Tobacco farmers have been significantly slashing production, complaining about the larger companies are getting cheaper tobacco from countries like Brazil and China.
That’s in part what helped push the passage of the 2014 farm bill, which paved the way for states to mandate whether farmers could plant hemp as part of a Department of Agriculture-guided pilot program.
“It’s a lot of tobacco barns around here that aren’t being used anymore and now they’re hemp,” said JamesEverett, president of the Caswell County Hemp Association. “It’s going back into the barns, it keeps the farm moving. It’s something else to plant and grow. Equipment that hasn’t been used in a while is coming back out. A lot of that stuff that hasn’t been used in years, is getting a new life.”
According to Everett, hemp has also benefitted the Caswell community for other people than just farmers.
“We can’t spray pesticides and herbicides because the state requires us to be completely organic and since we can’t spray in between rows, I can’t tell you how many old Snapper lawnmowers were bought this year to ride up and down the rows,” Everett said, laughing. “I can’t tell you how many of those old Snapper we’ve seen out here this year.”
Hemp is used in thousands of products, from parachutes to energy drinks and a growing number of supplements and remedies containing CBD oil.
“I didn’t know all of that when I got involved,” Everett said. “They used to say ‘grandpa and them don’t smoke the rope,’ so I knew it was in rope, the fibers, a long time ago, but I didn’t know that it was in that much of nothing else. When you get to looking, it’s in some clothes, the oil is used in some foods, but I seen a thing where a spoonful of hemp seed is like 20 grams of protein.”
Hemp is a cousin of marijuana, which makes almost everything about it harder for growers, from getting loans to buying seed to selling crop at the end of the season. Then, there’s the stigma towards hemp with many people believing people use the crop to gain the same effect as marijuana.
Despite the stigma, hemp also carries medical benefits, just like its cousin plant. As mentioned by Everitt, hemp seeds contain as much protein as soybeans. In every 30 grams of seeds, or three tablespoons, there are 9.46 grams of protein, giving consumers all nine essential amino acids. The seeds are also a great source of essential fatty acids, such as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is an omega-3. Hemp seeds are also rich in fiber and contain many of the essential minerals and vitamins the body needs to be healthy.
A study published in “Food Chemistry,” also found that hemp seeds may help with neurological conditions, including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis.
Local farmer Charlie Parker has witnessed hemp’s benefits first-hand. Both personally and through others. A few years back, Parker was plagued by pains that left him unable to stand up straight and walking with a cane. Parker, after going through prescription after prescription issued by doctors, was approached by one of his friends who suggested he start taking CBD oil. He heeded his friends advice and now, Parker is out in the fields with Everitt harvesting what looks to be North Carolina’s next cash crop.
“The doctor’s medicines couldn’t help me,” Parker said. “I could kill the pain, but it wouldn’t do away the pain and of course, it didn’t solve my problem because I couldn’t walk, straighten up, couldn’t use my arms and a friend told me I needed to try CBD oil and I started using it and Lord help me, it’s been a saving grace.”
Parker also has a friend who suffers from multiple sclerosis and has witnessed the effect CBD oil has had on her life.
“It’s a lot of different things it can help,” Parker said. “I’m not saying it’s a cure but it eases the pain and can help you enjoy life again. It’s not a high, but a help. It’s natural and it’s saved my life and I’ve seen it save my friend with MS life too.”