Tuesday, May 26, 2020
Nation’s First Hemp Conference Convenes in Ketchum
Idaho Basecamp on Trail Creek Summit boasted the first public building made of hemp in Idaho.
Sunday, October 27, 2019


 “Do you smoke that?”

 “Nope. We’re building a house. We’re not smoking anything.”

 Hempsters, as in ‘hipster,’ gathered at the Argyros Performing Arts Center in Ketchum on Thursday for the first-ever U.S. Hemp Building Summit.

The Argyros served as Ground Zero for the first hemp conference in the United States this week. PHOTO: Dayle Ohlau

 The summit, organized by Ketchum Hempitecture founder Mattie Mead, was all about a fiber that produces superb paper, along with construction materials that are lighter and stronger than lumber.

 And it attracted 250 hemp builders, architects, engineers and others interested in green building from the across the United States, as well as six countries including the United Kingdom and Ukraine.

 In December 2018 the latest version of the Farm Bill passed Congress removing hemp from the Controlled Substances Act and paving the way for the wholly legal cultivation, possession, sale and distribution of the hemp plant. But not in Idaho. At least, not yet.

 As reported in the Idaho Statesman earlier this year, the Idaho Legislature in the previous session killed the bill even though many Idahoans including lawmakers, farmers, and the general public demanded the bill be passed to benefit the state’s agriculture industry. The Idaho Senate did later amend the bill stating their “intent” to legalize hemp in time for the 2020 growing season. But, at the moment, hemp remains illegal in Idaho.

 That’s the reason hemp promoters like Mead along with members of the US Hemp Building Association (USHBA) chose Ketchum for the first summit.

 “As awareness spreads and engineers learn about the potential of hempcrete (hemp and lime), many of the barriers to building with hemp are likely to subside,” said Mead.

 Mead considers his Ketchum business to be a public benefit corporation, creating healthy energy efficient habitats both indoors and out through the sequestration of carbon dioxide: “We believe that buildings made from the earth can increase our enjoyment of the world around us and will allow us to live for nature while remaining conscious of the impact we have on it.”

 The first and current USHBA president Bob Escher, of Escher Design, said that he believes “without question it is the small group of hemp activists and builders across the globe who decades ago created the cottage industry of hempcrete building that exists today.”

Ketchum resident and Idaho Base Camp founder Mat Gershater added that one of his Base Camp buildings is the first public hemp building in the United States. Gershater described his camp as a “lab for national hemp building” and encouraged attendees to visit a hemp structure to “experience the next generation of building.”

 The underlying theme at the summit is that as a species “we don’t have a lot of time.” Builders “should focus on using sustainable materials and educate and motivate consumers to use these materials in their homes,” said Escher: “The U.S. is way behind at this point, but once all the legal, social and building code issues are worked out, the U.S. will catch up very quickly.”

 International Hemp Building Association (IHBA) pioneer and director Steve Allin stressed the need for immediate change: “Changing the way we choose materials, changing the way we think about using the building and how we design it—the systems we use during construction and the utilities installed within.”

 As the summit ended, he recommended three books for everyone to read in the face of  immediate climate disruption:

      The Uninhabitable Earth/Life After Warming, but David Wallace-Wells

  1. Drawdown/The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, by Paul Hawken
  2. The Transition Handbook/From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience, by Rob Hopkins

 Escher encouraged summit attendees to educate themselves about hemp and hempcrete, to learn how to integrate hemp-based products into their building methods, to bring awareness to the hemp growing industry and to stay positive and passionate about building ‘green’ in Idaho.

 Editor’s Note: Dayle Ohlau also is the general manager of KDPI Community Radio.



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