We’ve all seen those long empty rows between hemp plants blighted with weeds and plastic mulch. Well, Chris Hardy of Hardy Seeds in Ashland is using a system to make them Earth-friendly and food-productive, interplanting with squash, melon, herbs, grains, beans and cover crops, and marketing their seeds as well.
In the past season, on his farm on Eagle Mill Road, Hardy interplanted CBD hemp with 7,000 pounds of squash. He’d harvest them, cut them in half, scoop out the seeds, puree and bake the squash for half an hour, shape them into 20-pound blocks, freeze them and sell them to Grants Pass schools and the Ashland Food Co-op.
“It’s great to add in many recipes, like lasagna,” says Hardy, whose website, growhardyseeds.com, boasts it’s “open-source, non-GMO and certified organic seeds, locally adapted and grown.”
In a process he calls “polyculture,” he’s developing and interplanting melons that resemble honeydew, taste like mango-pineapple and can be dehydrated into fruit leather. Seeds are marketed and the leather is used in gifts and barter.
“We’re pushing the envelope to diversify crops and take on seed contracts, and we hope to encourage hemp growers to see there are other ways than monocrop,” he says. “One hemp grower did squash and donated them to the food bank.”
He adds, “It’s unhealthy for soil and pollinators to monocrop (with just hemp). Diversity above the ground creates diversity below ground. Polyculture helps your main plant and the other plants. We interplanted a wide variety of legumes and grains that incorporated much biomass to the soil for carbon … and suppressed weeds.”
Hemp is just starting, and “it’s a broken model,” Hardy says, “because if you monocrop, it’s unsustainable. It attracts pests, and when you get a lot of pests, you get disease in the soil. That system is destined to fail or at least implicate pesticides to keep up the health of crops.”
The vast majority of hemp farmers in this region mulch with plastic, which ends up in the landfill, “a clearly unsustainable direction.”
Inspired by the concept, some valley hemp growers are starting to incorporate these methods “and are looking forward to using less plastic.”
Hardy says he’s bringing back many rare and heirloom seeds from all over the world to increase the diversity and resilience of the local food system.
“We work to improve seeds, select and do trials with them, and see if one variety is perfect for the local environment and soil conditions.”
Hardy helped lead the successful 2014 campaign to ban GMO crops in Jackson County. His website notes he is an organic farmer and seed sovereignty activist who believes “First Nations families/community, People of Color, and families experiencing food insecurity, are our collective priority. Removing the barriers to the people having locally adapted seeds of cultural significance as well as the land to plant and harvest their food is key to eliminating inequity and restoring balance.”
Hardy holds seed processing parties, introducing area folks to new varieties and getting seeds processed, packed and out to locals, with focus on the Three Sisters, corn, beans and squash.
John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.