Joe Strobel – Hemp Farmer

In late 1993 farmer Joe Strobel and engineer Geof Kime, formed Hempline, Inc., and applied to the Canadian federal government for a license to grow industrial grade cannabis sativa. Until this point no Canadian farmer had grown hemp for fibre -legally or illegally- for several decades. This is Joe Strobel’s description of how the application process went and the result of the planting. The following is an only slightly-edited speech by Tillsonburg farmer Joe Strobel to the Canadian Hemp Association Toronto seminar in early September 1994. -Ed

Geof Kime and I got together by chance. My background is Hungarian peasant, Geof is from an industrial background. We were both interested in industrial hemp possibilities. We got our information from a good many people who have tried to legalize the whole thing. Our preparedness came as a great relief to the bureaucrats in government, because they have had applications from all sorts of people who want to grow this stuff in the backyard for “experimentation” . There’s one fellow from Montreal who sends in an application every year in the vain hope they’d get tired of reading the damn thing each time and give him a license. He came into the Ministry of Health so often they gave him a nickname: “Backyard Bob”.

We committed ourselves to industrial hemp, and decided not to ever mention or involve ourselves with the recreational aspect of cannabis. Both Geof & I have no contact with the recreational aspect, so we’re “clean” , if I can use that word.

One of the things that happened was that when we handed our application in, we were 12 farmers in the Tillsonburg area, and let me tell you, we had to adhere to quite a few things. We went to Dr. Rosen (of the Bureau of Dangerous Drugs) with a box of trinkets, a bedsheet that my great uncle had woven himself, my great aunt sewed it all together in 1915. A great piece of identity. Had a piece of wood composite made of hemp & recycled plastic. Slippers with soles made of hemp, a jacket of hemp, all this stuff astonished Dr. Rosen and his assistant Ms. Gagnon.

According to the law, any cannabis sativa is illegal. I didn’t know that. The only part of the cannabis plant that is legal is sterilized hemp seed. That’s it. Of course, we see hemp cloth and hemp paper all around the country now, but its still cannabis sativa and illegal. It’s just that, currently, Canada Customs doesn’t care. But I’ll wager that if anyone is perceived as a troublemaker or is making the wrong kind of noise, the Bureau of Dangerous Drugs can conceivably come down and say, “look, you’re selling, or even wearing, a hemp shirt, (therefore distributing cannabis sativa,) which is illegal, so come along with us…

We worked on our application from August 1993 to November 1993. We put our programme together -it was 75 pages- describing everything we could think of. But it was never enough. Then we took it up to the Ministry of Health, with my little box of hemp things, spoke for two and a half hours, but he didn’t look at our application at the time. But they did later because we received more questions, we responded with 12 more pages, then another 4 pages, then one final page and then several phone calls. One of the difficulties was with the RCMP and Ontario Provincial Police. They were the most concerned government organization, contemplating enforcement over 12 farms and 300 acres.

To ease their concern we said, what can we do? They said ” cut the number of farmers, cut the amount you are growing, then we’ll look at it.”

So we cut it down from 300 acres to ten, 12 farms to one.

We were ready for planting in early May, but the seeds were held up two weeks in Toronto to investigate seed quality. There was a pest risk assessment. They had to inspect every seed that enters the country. The seeds came from Europe. Three varieties from Eastern Europe, and two from France. We had a choice of 8 to 10 varieties, but by the time it was decided were going to get a license, there were only four varieties left, though we managed to squeeze out one more.

All the THC levels as indicated by the seed supplier were below .03% (three one-hundredths of 1%), some were below .003% (three one-thousandths of 1%). The police were by three times to test during the life of the crop.

The second surprise was when we sowed the seed. It was a nice day, followed by a gentle rain followed by a week of blazing sun and high temperatures. The seeds came out of the ground OK. By early July we had twelve inches of rain, the previous year in that space of time (6 weeks), it hadn’t rained at all. After a particularly strong storm, all the hemp plants were lying flat. Would you believe they all came back and stood straight up. That’s one strong plant!

We’ve been talking to the Europeans for quite a while, but they really don’t give us much useful information, they don’t seem too interested in telling us too much. Agriculture Canada can’t help us. In their book this is all illegal. This is a federal government operation and its not appropriate for them under such a mandate, to hand out information on how to grow cannabis sativa. In time this will change.

Back on the farm, we expected a ninety (90) day maturation, that would take us to the end of August. Would you believe it matured at the beginning of August. It caught us by surprise. We were casually looking around for machinery to harvest and all of a sudden -Boom!- it was there ready to harvest and we didn’t have the machinery! So we harvested it with an older style hay machine.

Ideally, we should look for varieties that suit our weather, with a maturity of 70 to 90 days. One of the agreements we made was that we were not going to let it go to full seed. The bureaucracy was uneasy about going to seed, they thought we’d do something different with it. Fibre is better if you harvest before it seeds, that’s the most important reason.

We used chemical fertilizer. This was tired tobacco land, a little bit weak. It needed fertilizer. We didn’t use any insecticides, pesticides. No problem with bugs, just mosquitoes! It made inspecting the fields tough!