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Hemp University draws willing students

The Rogue Valley’s first Hemp University conference last Saturday at Southern Oregon University offered 250 people the chance make valuable contacts and learn from experts about the rebirth of the small family farm, cooperative farming, creating profit and a strong, steady income stream, and making sure they follow all the legalities.

The long-demonized plant has emerged from prohibition into legal sunlight, offering hempsters in every area of the business an open door to making potentially abundant income while doing good on the planet — chiefly by being agents of healing with a product that is in high demand.

“What’s important now is we have a sustainable, intentional, back-to-the-land movement of organic farming,” says Bruce Perlowin, CEO of Hemp Inc., sponsor of the event. “A lot of such movements peter out because there’s no way to make money, but we’re looking at people being able to make $100,000 an acre.”

The 2018 Farm Bill lifted the prohibition on hemp — previously listed as a Schedule 1 narcotic — opening the door for hemp to be grown for a wide range of industrial uses, including paper, clothing and building materials.

Greg Flavell presented information about a hemp-reinforced construction and insulating material called Hempcrete, but industrial applications for hemp were not much on the minds of attendees at the conference. When it comes to hemp these days, CBD and its numerous — if largely unproven — health benefits are what have hemp entrepreneurs excited, along with the opportunities it seems to offer for family farms.

Whitney Murdoch, who operates a true family farm near Jacksonville with her husband, three adult children, their spouses and grandchildren, says the conference was great for gaining knowledge.

“People are very good about sharing information and not playing it close to the vest,” she said. “This country has a long history of family farming, with people helping each other harvest, share water, information and resources, and hemp farmers are bringing that back. It’s the opposite of the (big agrochemical companies) coming in under the cover of night and not sharing because they might lose money. The need for hemp is so great, people are calling each other to help source it.”

Murdoch says she came to the conference to educate people about “beetle bank” pest management, where you build a mound with certain grasses and nectar-rich plants to attract ground beetles that feed on harmful pests.

Her son, Sy Murdoch, says, “It takes a village. It’s one of the few industries where we can be pioneers, at the epicenter as the industry, a true healing industry, evolves. Each generation knows more than the one before it. It’s a lot of work, and everyone has sore backs.”

Conference attendee Fred Meyer of Ashland says, “I picked up both scientific and anecdotal information pertinent to virtually every aspect of the hemp industry, I made lots of contacts and really enjoyed meeting everyone.”

Ashlander Paola Blanton Sophia, who helped organize the event, is setting up a spring planting workshop with a seed and clone market.

“I’m overwhelmed at the positive response of the hemp community and how well they got connected. I’ve had people telling me about the sales they made or the consulting jobs they got from networking that day. We really seem to have started something fantastic.”

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Jamie Lusch/Mail Tribune Bruce Perlowin, CEO of Hemp, Inc. walks through his company's processing facility on West Main Street in Medford last fall.