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Seneca Nation entering the industrial hemp industry

Jessica Crouse
Seneca Nation

The Seneca Nation has been vigorously working on a Hemp Production Plan to enter this new industry. It comes as the next step in an overall effort to revive agriculture on Seneca lands.

Jessica Crouse helped the Senecas create its first Agriculture Department last year, which has been raising produce on a 50-plus-acre farm in Collins and grass-fed bison on a 100-acre field in Machias. Products from those ventures are available at Seneca One Stop shops.

Now as Hemp Compliance Administrator, Crouse is leading the development of the Seneca's newest crop.

"Right now it's going to be open for our people to apply and try their hand at it. Whether that means they're putting it in the ground or they're growing it indoors, we'll definitely help facilitate that and we'll see where it goes," she said.

Crouse said, after talking with different producers and universities growing hemp, she expects many obstacles, including finding out what works in the different soils of the Cattaraugus and Allegany Territories.

"When you think about the Territory of Salamanca, this is the only unglaciated area of New York State, so we have all different soils and drainages versus over in the Cattaraugus Territory," she said. "So not only are we just trying to figure out an industry, we're also really trying to get back to learning all of these different intricacies about agriculture to make it a success."

Credit Jessica Crouse / Seneca Nation
Seneca Nation
The beans were planted by hand and the trellises are handmade on the Seneca Nation's Gakwi:yo:h Farms.

New York published its own draft guidelines for a state Hemp Pilot Project earlier this month, but Crouse said the Senecas are working separately with the U.S. Department of Agriculture through the 2018 Farm Bill guidelines to develop its stand-alone crop.

"The Farm Bill had a nice provision in there that prohibits the hampering of interstate commerce between states and tribes," she said. "This this is a federal initiative. So that little provision shields the commerce. Hopefully that stays strong and we're able to have a viable economy without interference."

The Farm Bill removed industrial hemp from the Controlled Substances Act and legalized it as an agricultural product. Crouse said once the Senecas' plan is approved, the rest of their hemp program can be developed.

Crouse said "the movement" is strong among tribes across the nation and, whether focused on CBD or fiber, the products and benefits of hemp are vast, including regenerating the soil and the body. She first got interested in hemp in 2012 when her mother became ill with leukemia.

"I wanted to give her a protein after she had her bone marrow transplant," Crouse said. "So I started looking around and I started giving her the hemp powder, the hemp seeds. I was mixing them in her mashed potatoes. I was giving them to her any way I could so she could get the nutrition she needed to get strong and, I'll tell you what, she's still with us today."

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