Jakob Michels fillets a lionfish at the recent Treasure Coast Lionfish Safari, held in Fort Pierce. The meat of the lionfish is light and flaky and tastes good in a variety of dishes, including ceviche. / All photos by J.D. Vivian

Lionfish, that exotic species that first invaded Florida reefs around the mid-1980s, were the main target of the recent Treasure Coast Lionfish Safari.

The Lionfish Sampler ($5), served at the safari, featured ceviche (left); a taco topped with coleslaw; and two crispy and sweet “nuggets,” deep fried in citrus aioli and Fruity Pebbles.

But for the first time in its five-year history, the Lionfish Safari included a separate area, HempTown, to educate attendees about the benefits — to the economy and the environment — of industrial hemp. This versatile, rugged material has been used for about 10,000 years throughout the world.

A variety of organizations collaborated on HempTown, held at River Walk Center, on the Indian River just north of the Fort Pierce City Marina. They included Hemp4Water, the Florida Cannabis Action Network and the Florida Hemp Initiative.

Hemp useful during World War II

During World War II, ramie — related to hemp — was used in many ways by the military, especially the U.S. Navy and Merchant Marine, quickly found uses for ramie.

Earle L. Rauber, in the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s June 1945 Monthly Review, wrote “One of the earliest uses (for ramie) was as a packing for the stern tubes of vessels to prevent sea water from backing up along the drive shafts.”

Furthermore, its strength – much higher than that of other fibers – made it “a superior material for the manufacture of halyards and other naval cordage (such as) … canvases, awnings, sails and fish nets,” according to Rauber’s article.

The biggest plus, Rauber noted, at least for farmers in the Everglades Agricultural Area: “the Everglades region in Florida is generally conceded to be the best location.”

The Florida Cannabis Action Network (FLCAN) had a booth at HempTown. Hemp was grown in America during Colonial times, and possibly before.

(For the complete story on ramie, visit floridafoodandfarm.com/farm/crop-failure-despite-great-promise-ramie-disappears.)

Industrial hemp will become legal to grow in Florida on July 1

A change in federal law — the 2018 Farm Bill — allows the growing of industrial hemp, Cannabis sativa. The Farm Bill removed hemp “from the Controlled Substances Act and … the bill legalized hemp under certain restrictions. … A state plan must include certain requirements, such as keeping track of land, testing methods,  and disposal of plants or products that exceed the allowed THC concentration,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (www.ncsl.org).

The main requirement is that industrial hemp grown in the U.S. must not contain more than 0.3 percent THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, a psychoactive ingredient that creates the “high” for recreational users of marijuana.

In the Sunshine State, growing the crop becomes legal as of July 1. Some classifications of growers, however, will have to meet new state requirements and obtain a permit before they can legally plant industrial hemp.

Pioneering ‘hempcrete’ home-builder: Problems exist but can be overcome

The dismantling of hemp-growing in Florida, decades ago, will make a fiber market today “harder to develop, because we destroyed all our infrastructure when we banned hemp,” said Bob Clayton, who built Florida’s first known “hempcrete” house, in an earlier interview. As a result, said the retired mechanical engineer, who is a strong advocate of hemp, “It will be a slow process of building markets and fiber operations.”

The FLCAN booth included this “hempcrete” brick. Bob Clayton of Tarpon Springs built his entire house of hempcrete. He had to spend $65,000 to import the materials from England, since growing hemp in the United States — at the time — was illegal (and still is, until July 1). To read the story about Clayton’s home, visit http://floridafoodandfarm.com/farm/tarpon-springs-man-lives-floridas-first-hempcrete-home.

Nevertheless, Clayton, who owns Florida Hemp Processing, foresees the crop as a boon to the state. “Bast fiber is good for recycled paper, and Florida has some paper plants. Fiber-reinforced plastic will be an important market. Core fiber is good for horse-bedding, and Florida has half a million horses.

“Hempcrete houses made from the same material as the bedding are excellent for Florida’s climate. So we believe we have enough untapped demand to support a fiber processing plant,” he continued.

Hempcrete, which weighs about one-seventh what concrete does, is just as strong. Clayton’s home is built of the material, which meets all building codes, including windstorm requirements.

Hemp can benefit Florida

The Sunshine State is in a good position to benefit from industrial hemp, according to the Florida Farm Bureau (FFB): “Nationally, hemp is moving towards a billion-dollar enterprise, and Florida could very well be a leader, due to its environment, world market access and innovative farming.”

Its versatility helps, too, the FFB continued in a news release titled “Growing Industrial Hemp Could Be Big Business for Florida Farmers”: The Cannabis sativa plant is cultivated as a fiber and grain crop. It also may be used for building materials, forages and medicine.”

Zachary Brym, Ph.D., during a presentation he made at the University of Florida’s Everglades Research and Education Center in Belle Glade in May, was optimistic about the crop. “Industrial hemp poses economic and ecological interests for the state of Florida.”

Brym, an assistant professor in the Agronomy Department, is head of UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences’ Industrial Hemp Pilot Project. He is based in Homestead at the Tropical Research & Education Center, which — because it is a research facility — is already legally growing industrial hemp.

Group wants to use revenues from hemp
to help solve state’s water problems

Barbara Roberts (in chair, center) and Steve Edmonds staffed the Hemp4Water booth at HempTown. The organization advocates using revenues from industrial hemp to help solve Florida’s water problems. According to Hemp4Water.org, “Florida will eclipse all other states when it finally opens the door for industrial hemp cultivation. It will generate billions of dollars (for the) economy. … Hemp4Water suggests exempting the start-ups of the new industrial hemp industries from both corporate and sales tax on their businesses.  They will instead pay a 10% hemp4water fee that will be directly allocated to water infrastructure projects.”