Planning the Hemp Initiative at Marloo

This was KSCA’s second visit to Marloo, the 1700 acre property of Stuart and Megan Andrews. While the first was a sunny affair, this was a day of rain, low-lying fog and soggy socks. And one or two silly hats. OK maybe just one.

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Does she know she’s wearing a silly hat?

Gilbert, Alex, Diego, Laura, Ann, Georgie and Emma made it a short distance in our ‘toy vehicles’ as Stuart called them. We parked at the top of the track and proceeded on foot before we all climbed aboard the 4WD ute to the site of The Hemp Initiative. This was extra fun for those of us riding in the tray.

Along with Stuart we met Manawa, who is one of two Natural Sequence Farming (NSF) trainees working on Marloo. Manawa had previously been a miner in Queensland and had decided a couple of years back that he wanted to work with the land in a different way.

 

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Stuart showing us his site for the hemp crop, at the base of an eroded hillside.

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This will be part of the Marloo tour we’re organising for Futurelands 2 in November, when we’ll bus people to the farm for a picnic lunch and an exclusive NSF demo with Stuart (tickets selling fast, register here).

Diego and Georgie surveyed the landscape for some wild edibles. Diego was scoping for ingredients that might make their way into the Foragers Feast dinner, another highlight of Futurelands 2 in November (let’s plug that one more time, tickets here).

Emma provided on-site feedback for possible NSF school workshops.

The ever-patient Stuart and Manawa did a stellar job of explaining the combination of factors that caused the damage. Soggy socks aside, the rainy conditions were helpful here – water behaves the same under gravity no matter what the scale.

We took a close look (Gilbert took an immersive look) at the rutted gullies and could see clearly the way the water run-off was stripping the hillside of topsoil and creating deep furrows, exposing layers of clay. The clay and topsoil – the health and vitality of the farm – was being deposited at the base of the hill.

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One of the strategies of NSF is to slow the flow of water down hillsides, which on over-stocked and eroded land carries away nutrients and top-soil. On this hillside, Stuart will be creating contours across this slope. These contours are designed to distribute water and nutrients to the ridge-line. As Manawa explained, they are a way of emulating a natural phenomenon, a bit like when rain on freshly mowed grass pushes clippings into little furrows that then distributes water across many channels. The challenge is to avoid disturbing the sub-soil (which is a conduit for water flowing down the hill), and to encourage vegetation.

This is the eroded hillside we were looking at.

And here’s an image of another hillside on Marloo where the contouring system has recently been applied.

As Stuart described, this requires some serious ‘earthworks’ – a word that makes it easy to draw the link between the agricultural innovator and artist, as KSCA members Ian Milliss and Lucas Ihlein did through the Yeomans Project.

To prepare for the hemp crop, Stuart had ripped the soil and sown a cover of green manure.

Some fresh scat detective work told us that rabbits, kangaroos and the neighbour’s sheep had made the most of the fresh pick. Poo is of course an essential part of the biological process in which all organic material is the result of and contributes to life, but we observed that the hemp crop that is to follow will need serious protection from these foragers if it is to grow tall enough to harvest!

When that hemp is eventually harvested, it will be deposited on the contoured slope as mulch. This will prevent the surface layer from drying out further, and allow the biological components of the decomposing mulch to revive the soils. The hemp fibre will also act like a weed mat that stabilises the hillside.

The hemp crop is as much an agricultural experiment for Stuart as it is a cultural experiment for Gilbert and the Kandos School of Cultural Adaptation. This is why we’re pretty excited about The Hemp Initiative: it feels like a genuine art/agriculture collaboration. For Stuart the primary aim is to find out whether hemp can be incorporated into NSF methods: he is continuing to develop the fine-grain applications of NSF, using Marloo a site for research and training.

Alongside this practice is the more culturally focused practice of Gilbert and the rest of us, who know that practical knowledge gives us a different kind of stake in the debates we often take part in around land use and climate change. Non-THC hemp (the kind you can’t smoke) is a genuine superfood for humans and the earth. But it can’t work its carbon-sequestering, nutritious, biodegradable magic if the misinformation and commercial sabotage that surrounds it continues. Australia has been particularly backward on this front.

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Here’s a map showing the countries in red where low-THC hemp is NOT legal for human consumption, courtesy www.hempfoods.com.au/australian-hemp-legislation

Communicating the versatility of hemp through art is a great exercise in focusing attention on the culture in agri-culture. The project says a lot about the ethos of cultural adaptation that underpins KSCA and also expands upon an aspect of Gilbert’s city-based practice: the phenomenology of human-landscape interactions.

Back at the house we were warmly welcomed by Megan Andrews, and got cosy over tasty scones, cream, jam and tea. We chatted about another hemp champion who’d recently visited the area: Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham. Buckingham is currently spearheading a rethinking of hemp prohibition legislation. In February the NSW upper-house voted, by a narrow margin (with Christian Democrat support), to lift the ban on hemp. This follows from NSW Premier Mike Baird’s recent decision to legalise medical marijuana trials.

It all feels very timely…

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Gilbert Grace and Laura Fisher blogging for KSCA.