Patagonia, the $750-million outdoor apparel and gear maker, isn't shy about its support for hemp legalization.
The plant--which many confuse with marijuana--can be grown for sustainable fiber and requires no pesticides and minimal water. Plus, it absorbs carbon from the atmosphere. But right now, Patagonia has to buy its hemp from overseas, as federal law largely prohibits farmers from growing it. That's why the Ventura, Calif., gear maker has just released "Harvesting Liberty," a 12-minute documentary addressing industrial hemp legalization in the U.S.
The movie, which you can watch here, was produced in partnership with two nonprofits: Fibershed of San Geronimo, Calif., which is devoted to sustainably sourced textiles; and The Growing Warriors Project of Mt. Vernon, Kentucky, which helps turns military veterans into farmers of naturally grown produce.
Patagonia declined to reveal how much it spent on the film, but the company is not shy about how it would stand to benefit from the legalization of hemp. Monika McClure, a brand marketing producer at Patagonia, notes that hemp, simply put, is a really good fiber to make clothing from. Legalizing hemp for industrial use in the U.S. would not only create jobs and contribute toward environmentally-sane agriculture, but it would supply Patagonia with a sustainable U.S.-sourced supply of hemp.
The protagonist of "Harvesting Liberty" is Michael Lewis, founder of The Growing Warriors Project, who is working to reintroduce industrial hemp into Kentucky--and eventually, the entire U.S. In a memorable scene in the documentary, he flies an American flag at the Capital made of hemp grown on his farm in Kentucky. (He was able to obtain hemp seeds under an exemption for research-and-development projects at the state level.) In the film, he recounts that he "threw 'em in the ground really quickly before anybody changed their mind."
According to the documentary, the U.S. will import an estimated $500 million in products made of industrial hemp. The release of "Harvesting Liberty" was timed to build momentum for a petition that will be delivered on Congress on July 4, urging lawmakers to pass the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2015/2016 (S.134 and H.R. 525), legalizing the cultivation of industrial hemp in the U.S.
I recently asked Lewis how he felt about being part of the film. "My immediate thought was, Wow, I really did do something these last three years," he says. "I hope that it conveys message about who [The Growing Warriors Project and Fibershed] are and what we want to accomplish as people, and stewards of the land, and citizens. "I'm proud to have been able to be a part of it."
Patagonia has released several documentaries over the past few years, a unique strategy to spread its longstanding mission of supporting environmental activism. Other films include last year's "The Fisherman's Son." Founder Yvon Chouinard is said to be heavily involved in the films. That makes sense, considering it is no stretch to call Chouinard, who founded Patagonia in 1973, a pioneer in the realm of corporate social responsibility.
Patagonia typically partners with nonprofits when it produces films, as it did with "Harvesting Liberty." It has long been affiliated with Fibershed founder Rebecca Burgess. In fact, Fibershed received a Patagonia's grant for action-oriented, grassroots, environmental work.
Dan Malloy, the director of "Harvesting Liberty," is a farmer/surfer/environmentalist who has worked in various capacities in the making of previous Patagonia-produced documentaries. He first heard about the project when he met Burgess two years ago at the Ecological Farming Conference in Monterey, Calif. "It became clear to me after speaking to her she's an authority on sustainable fibers in North America," he says. "Like the Alice Waters of fiber," he adds, comparing Burgess to a pioneering voice in the sustainable foods movement. Malloy did some research on his own, and realized "it was something I could sink my teeth into," he says. "The subject is really interesting."
One reason for that is Lewis, the protagonist of the film, who brings a real-life touch and personalizes what could otherwise be just another lecture about crops that ought to be legal. Lewis's unpretentious gravitas as a Kentucky native and veteran of the U.S. military gives a potent credibility to a topic--hemp--which is often inaccurately burlesqued as the frivolous province of marijuana advocates. "There's a mass of misinformation we have to overcome," says Lewis. "My wife's grandmother still thinks we're growing weed."
You can watch "Harvesting Liberty" right here: