Farming of industrial hemp in America is older than the United States, and a new crop at the home of George Washington illustrates that.
The first president was also a Virginia planter who grew the crop on his farm at Mount Vernon throughout his life. Now the caretakers of his estate, working with the University of Virginia, have reintroduced the crop.
“To bring this crop back it just really helps complete our agricultural story,” Dean Norton, the director of horticulture at the estate, tells NPR.
Norton tells the Associated Press that Washington referred to hemp more than 90 times in his journals and diaries. Last week, according to the Associated Press, historical interpreters at Mount Vernon harvested the hemp crop and processed it into fiber that can be used in rope or cloth.
In the 1760s Washington considered replacing tobacco with hemp, when the market for tobacco collapsed. A modern-day politician has a similar idea. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is pressing to legalize hemp cultivation nationwide, in part to replace tobacco as a crop in his home state of Kentucky.
John Hudack of the Brookings Institution and author of Marijuana: A Short History, tells NPR there’s a real chance for nationwide legalization. “I think where we’re at right now, is a situation in which, finally a lot of members of Congress … have finally stopped buying drug war-era rhetoric, stopped thinking about the cannabis plant in a very uniform way,” he says.
A farmer from Charlottesville advocated for the modern-day crop at Mount Vernon in the hope that it would provide hemp with positive public relations.
Brian Walden, who tells NPR he considers himself a “hemp patriot,” says, “This is an innocuous plant that has real benefits and our Founding Fathers knew that and they planted it.”
Walden says he believes the crop could be a billion-dollar industry if cultivation is fully legalized. “It is something that can boost their farming in a time when tariffs are inhibiting that,” he says.