Welcome to First Crop

Michael “Mr. Hemp” Bowman, is a Co-Founder of First Crop, the founding chair of the National Hemp Association and co-author of the 2018 Farm Bill.

Welcome to First Crop, my first blog post, and my journey with this cadre of very special friends committed to heart-centered leadership; a movement focused on bringing the vast opportunities of America’s newest crop, agricultural hemp, to producers committed to regenerative practices, socially-just business practices and a commitment to their local communities.

Before I share my personal journey with you I want to give a special thanks to the founder of First Crop, Jane Pinto. I had the opportunity to first meet Jane almost five years ago. She is a woman with a fire in her heart for people and planet. Her vision and energy are infectious and she’s exactly the kind of precious, feminine energy we need to tackle the challenges we face today. I couldn’t be more honored to play a supporting role in First Crop as she leads us to the future. Jane, thank you for being you.

I’m a fifth-fifth-generation farmer from the wind-swept eastern plains of Colorado; a descendant of both a Confederate soldier and the Sparrow family line of Abraham Lincoln. A passionate believer in the power of regenerative actions who believes we are entering a time of great transition, one where rural communities have the opportunity to reinvent themselves with new crops and emerging technologies. We have the opportunity to be an entirely new brand of Green Acres- urban, rural, people of color, female, male, veteran. Our country, our communities need all of you.

My journey as a hemp advocate began nineteen years ago around a campfire in Zimbabwe while working with Allan Savory, the Founder of the Savory Institute, building soil carbon and biodiversity on the Kalahari sands in the region. Born and raised on a working cattle ranch with a father who was a great conservationist I understood well how important healthy soils were to our bottom line and our planet. It was around that campfire where I heard of the plight of Indian farmers who were in the midst of their own transition: a government-mandated migration from hemp to GMO cotton. It was around this campfire where I learned of the suicide rates of those farmers as they lost their historical cropping system to one where profits were scarce and their land, for the first time, played host to chemical application. It was around this campfire that I learned of the unconscionable suicide rates resulting from this transition, many which were being carried out by drinking the very chemicals they were mandated to apply to their land.

So my journey: for me the focus on hemp was a social justice issue. Raised a Roman Catholic, I treasure this part of my religion. It wasn’t until then that I began to understand what the hemp plant was, it’s role the history of civilization and how it became the target of government interests beginning in 1937 with the signing of the Marijuana Tax Act signed by FDR on August 2nd of that year.

I’ve long been interested in policy, particular initiatives that bring opportunity to our rural landscapes. As my journey progressed, it became clear that not only did the hemp hold much promise for agriculture but on a personal level, my family’s operation, one like thousands of others over the Ogallala aquifer, had become dependent upon government programs for our livelihood. We needed options; something that would reverse our years of monoculture - and the resultant degradation of our soils over time.

As a creature of the agricultural policy world I knew we’d need an ‘all hands-on deck’ state initiative in concert with federal efforts if we were going to reverse a policy that had been baked into the federal bureaucracy over eight decades. Old lies, old myths, die hard. Over a period of nearly five years I had the blessing to have a partner in this cause, Lynda Parker, alongside me to educate me about Coloradan’s concerns. In 2012 Colorado voters passed Amendment 64 to our state constitution, becoming the first state to end the Prohibition that prohibited the cultivation and commercialization of the cannabis plant in its entirety.

We were on our way: the very important first domino had fallen.

From that point we formed the National Hemp Association and I served as its founding Board Chairman. In June, 2013, I authored language and presented it to (then) Congressman Jared Polis as a possible amendment to the 2014 Farm Bill. What started as Polis Amendment 192 became Section 7606 in the final version of the act.

Two weeks after House passage of the Polis amendment we pulled off a second coup: quietly getting an American flag made from hemp fabric raised above the US Capitol building on July 4, 2013. In November of that year, at a national conference in Boston, (then) DEA Administrator Michelle Leonhart declared to the group, “When I woke on July 4 of this year to discover there was a hemp flag over the Capitol, it was the worst day of my 33 year career at DEA; I’m against all illegal drugs, even the flag-making kind”

This my friends, is what the beginning of the endlooked like. We were winning the war.

In December of that year the Polis amendment remained intact in the final conference report due largely to the efforts of Senator Michael Bennet. In January of 2014 President Obama signed the legislation - and an industry was birthed.

Since the passage of the 2014 act we’ve witnessed national acreage grow from zero to over 75,000 acres in 2018. Today only four states have yet to enact hemp legalization. Our newest Farm Bill forever removes hemp from Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act. It is no longer considered one of the most dangerous drugs by Uncle Sam; it is now an agricultural crop that has returned to its rightful place: American farms.

None of these successes would have been possible without a broad community of advocates who have themselves committed a lifetime of energy to this cause. We all stand on the shoulders of titans like Jack Herer, Alex White Plume, Craig Lee and Woody Harrelson. I’ve been fortunate to have the mentorship of a dear friend Caren Wilcox, my family who gave me a wide berth in devoting my energy to this cause. I’d like to give a special shout-out to one of the most special young men I’ve had the honor to work with, Micah Nelson. A young man with a heart for all; a young man wise behind his years. Micah played a key role in many of our activities in the early days of this advocacy. Our community is blessed to have the support of him and his family as we begin this journey to rebuild this industry.

Thanks for ‘stopping by’ - there is a place for everyone at this table and together we’re turning what once seemed impossible into reality.

Kelly Roberts