By Diane Walsh
In British Columbia, the word is now out, thanks to Bill Finley of Victoria’s Hemp & Company, where I got this magnificent lead on the story.
Sanctioned by all three levels of government, the successful results from B.C.’s Caribou Region pilot plantation sites has allowed for two impressive scientific studies to be produced, which have confirmed/demonstrated the viability of en-masse industrial hemp production in the 100 Mile House region. Not only that, there are clear plans for a manufacturing facility.
100 Mile House is a unique name, which many may not have heard, of a district municipality in the South Cariboo Region, with a population of about 2,000, a few hours out of Vancouver as you drive North up B.C. on Highway 97 headed toward Prince George.
It may seem like a little place, but if you read the (three) aforementioned report-studies (by visiting www.100milehouse.com <select> left tab Agriculture) you’ll understand the extraordinary significance of what this community has done with an industrial hemp crop.
The local government, known as the District of 100 Mile House, has a 10 person Industrial Hemp Steering Committee chaired by Mayor Mitch Campsall and includes the participation of community members, hemp producers, and representatives from local government, First Nations, and provincial government staff. Since 2003, the committee has worked toward the goal (which they’ve achieved) to have industrial hemp specifically produced in the region of South Cariboo British Columbia.
In my view, the South Cariboo region of B.C. is to be officially credited by the fan-public: for bringing forth “the template” for a new emergent economy in British Columbia. But it’s all thanks to the vision and tenacity of a handful of community-minded people, a few of whom fortunately we’ve been able to interview.
Joanne Doddridge, Planner of the District of 100 Mile House:
“As a small community which has been impacted by the Mountain Pine Beetle, local government has expended considerable effort to diversify the local and regional economy. Allocating staffing resources is one of the best ways that Mayor and Council can support the initiative.”
“Back in 2003, local resident Jack Witty approached Mayor and Council with the concept that industrial hemp was a very versatile product, which once established, could help offset some of the local economic dependence on forestry. A town hall meeting was organized to gauge public interest and a steering committee formed and grant applications made to explore possibilities. Since then, continued public interest, grant opportunities, and Council’s support have enabled funding resources necessary to carry out this exploration and many partnerships created.”
The mayor of 100 Mile House, Mitch Campsall expresses his support to grow industrial hemp:
“Having been part of the Industrial Hemp Steering Committee from the beginning as a Councillor, I continue to be 100 percent behind this venture. Together with Council we are committed to actively working with the Steering Committee and staff to look at all opportunities to move this industry forward in our region. We certainly appreciate the support we’ve received from the provincial and federal government in exploring how industrial hemp production and processing might become a fully commercialized reality in 100 Mile House.”
The Industrial Hemp Steering committee stands out—really stands out—because both in-power federal and provincial government officials sit on the committee itself, including Conservative MP Cathy McLeod at the federal level, and at the provincial level,
BC Liberal MLA Donna Barnett for Cariboo Chilcotin
Barnett has been there since project-outset having been mayor of 100 Mile House, and is Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Economic Development.
“At present, the agriculture community and the District of 100 Mile House are working together doing research with the University in Manitoba. Much work has been done over the past few years and as the demand for the product grows, over time, the agriculture community will be independent of local government. The District has also been working with investors from different countries and much interest in investing in a processing plant is occurring.”
“Let me explain how this all began and where it is today. Approximately eight years ago I was Mayor of the District of 100 Mile House. As you are no doubt aware, the Mountain Pine Beetle went through our forests and created an environmental disaster. Thus we as a community had to start to look outside the box for new economic ventures. As we are a land and resource based economy, we looked to many ventures. An interested and very knowledgeable citizen by the name of Jack Witty contacted me regarding the possibility of investigating industrial hemp.
After being very persistent and convincing myself that this was a possibility, we formed a committee with the approval (but reluctantly) of my council. And thus we started to investigate. With the help of the provincial government and a partnership with our local First Nations Canim Lake Band, we accrued staff of the First Nations Provincial Government Agriculture component of government.
A gentleman by the name of Jamie Kumar was designated to help us investigate this project. We carried on […] It was a struggle with little steps at a time and very little financial assistance. We had a few growers who stuck with the project, and the Canim Lake Band were also growers. As time went on, the interest continued to grow and we had many sessions with our agriculture community and possible investors. The hardest part was finding funding.
As a small community we could not use tax payers money to research this project. For two years, the province assisted us with a small amount of funding, but we were fortunate enough to obtain students from the University to work with us to help the research and assist the growers. For approximately six years we struggled but refused to give in. In 2008, the federal government’s stimulus funding gave us the opportunity to obtain funding to hire a professional in the industrial hemp field, and to have funding for one year to assist the growers to get the research done to see whether or not this was going to be a viable industry for them.
In December of 2008, my term as Mayor was finished and I became an MLA for the provincial government. The local government has carried on with this project. I have continued to support and do what I can to assist.
The federal government is the licensing agent for the growers through Health Canada. It is a very restricted license and we have been working to have some changes made. Our local MP has been very supportive of the project.
As past chair of this project, and now an MLA, I feel very fortunate to have been a part of this project that I believe over time will become a commodity on the world market with many opportunities for growth in the agriculture and processing industries in the future.
Time and patience is always a challenge. But nothing ventured, nothing gained. As a local government, we were, and the local government today is the facilitator; and, once the project is on its own, the local government will see the citizens reap the benefits.”
It is clear that a lot of thought by interested parties has gone into which [hemp] end-product, to push. Given that hemp has so many useful applications, it’s understandable this would have been a difficult decision for the committee as a whole. It took some major research to decide which way to go, the committee found.
A community member expounds on the committee’s rationale in choosing the construction industry. “There are so many industrial hemp products, from food products to beauty products, clothing, construction materials, and more. That has been one of the biggest challenges for our group—namely, which product to focus energy on? While the whole plant can be utilized for processing, the processing technology is very specialized.”
“We have invested considerable research into exploring various industrial hemp product lines and the manufacturing associated with them. Early on, the project focus was on food and oil production, while later research focused on the green construction industry and the bio-composites industry. These latter two are expected to offer the best economic fit for our region.”
Today where hemp production in the South Cariboo sits— according to committee spokesperson. “Yes, we have moved beyond the experimental stage and are now actively seeking industrial investment. The role of the District of 100 Mile House has been to facilitate industry expansion into the South Cariboo. Not only have we worked hard to prove that industrial hemp is a viable commercial crop for our region, but also to create the economic climate necessary to attract investor interest in primary and secondary processing of industrial hemp. Thanks to public funding and strong regional support, including support from all levels of government, 100 Mile House has become an ‘industrial hemp fibre knowledge centre.’ We have made particular strides in advancing this industry within the region, starting from a conceptual stage in 2003 to a pre-commercial stage in 2010. 2011-2012 holds promise for full scale private investment into industrial hemp processing.”
The committee describes the “Producer Group.” “Another significant achievement of the project has been the development of a producer group. This group was established by local and regional industrial hemp producers to work together, share lessons learned, and support each other and new producers with crop production technology. Our agronomic trials and on-farm research projects have enabled Cariboo ranchers to become knowledgeable in producing a sustainable natural fibre crop.”
Adding, “As part of the Industrial Hemp Project, we have completed a Feasibility Study for a manufacturing facility. In addition, we are working with private investors interested in establishing a processing facility in 100 Mile House.”
What comes next? Investment, says the committee. “Now that the foundations of research and feasibility of this industry have been established, and local producers have indicated their interest and readiness, private investment is needed to drive this industry forward in the South Cariboo.”
Have the committee received any stick by any outside group?
“On the contrary, we have received overwhelming support. In addition, we regularly receive calls from people all over the world who are interested in what we’re doing here.”
Jack Witty, a key Steering Committee Member, shares his knowledge about government over-sight, where the focus is now, for the farmer. “A major benefit of this new industry is the role of the grower and the enhanced income stream they will gain. This in turn will spread through the whole local economy. The municipal government has been the spearhead for advancing this project. The dedication and work of the municipal council has made this effort go ahead, despite most things happening outside the municipal boundaries.”
“The B.C. Government Agriculture Department has been a great support, especially in the early days when experiments were moving into areas where there was no experience to draw on. The interaction with the federal government has been reasonably smooth, as the production of the industrial hemp plant is heavily regulated through the Department of Health. We are working with our MP to have some of the regulations modified to improve the growers’ ability to produce economically profitable varieties and crops.”
What might manufacturing look like down the line?
Witty says “Down the line we plan to have manufacturing of a variety of building products from the fibre. In addition, there are some industrial applications that are being worked on that lend themselves to international trade.”
He goes on to say. “The industrial hemp plant is so versatile that more than 25,000 products are known to be made from the plant. Everything from food, to pharmaceuticals, to construction material, to fuel can come from this resource. In our case, we are concentrating on products for the construction industry. It is worth noting that in a time when governments are looking for ways to reduce our human carbon footprint this plant is a very good carbon sink.”
It’s worth mentioning that NDP politicians in the area are not opposed to this project by any means, either. Let’s hope other districts follow suit.
That’s what I call, good B.C. Needless to say, the chosen market direction—producing [for] the construction-industry—does in no way formally preclude plantation industrial-hemp growth designated for food or textile, especially so, in due course, as interest and investment is likely to increase as word travels.
No doubt the industry will take off and boom. The development of a manufacturing facility which would then bring more jobs, boost the economy, and move B.C. in a new innovative direction using “green” technology and ideas is the best thing to happen to B.C.