Hamilton, Ontario — Located on Locke Street just south of Main, Hemp Life Works offers more than just a plethora of hemp products — it offers a lifestyle. For Christeen Urquhart, the store’s proprietor, the medium is the message.
Urquhart, a McMaster alumnus, feels strongly about the benefits of all things hemp. Her fervour and fascination began with a fourth-year labour studies course — part of her degree in labour studies and sociology — in which she investigated the environmental benefits of hemp.
Unlike cotton, hemp can be grown successfully in a wide range of conditions without chemicals and pesticides for such uses as clothing, paper, medicine and cosmetics. Furthermore, industrial hemp companies are generally smaller and more sustainable than their corporate counterparts, industries like cotton and forestry.
“Everyone is interested in seeing their business succeed,” says Urquhart, “but within the hemp industry, people seem to be aware of a greater case.”
Industrial hemp producers ensure that their crops are certified organic and free of genetic modifications. Along with the firms that find interesting ways to use the plant, hemp producers also ensure that their workers are paid and treated fairly.
The highly sustainable status of hemp production is partly due to the fact that it has only been legal for the past six years in Canada and has benefited from recent cultural and political shifts demanding greater social justice and environmental sensitivity in production.
Although the plant has been grown for centuries, modern governments classified it as a narcotic — it still is in the United States — because the plant is in the same family as marijuana. Although it may look the same, industrial hemp is grown very differently than marijuana and has low enough levels of THC that smoking it would just give you a headache.
On the other hand, taking a walk around Hemp Life Works will give you anything but a headache. “It’s the best smelling store in Hamilton,” says Urquhart. And she has a point.
The air in the store is infused with the essence of their many hand-made hemp soaps. Spools of differently gauged and coloured hemp sit below the soaps, along with enough beads to keep even the most seasoned hemp artist busy and inspired.
Urquhart also has a wide selection of hemp food products. Yes, you can even eat the stuff.
“Hemp contains more protein than any other plant,” Urquhart tells me. You can experiment by adding hemp seeds to a salad or a pasta dish. If you are looking for a party treat, Urquhart recommends the hemp brownie or pancake mixes.
With hemp food, hemp cosmetics, hemp clothing and even recent attempts at developing hemp-based fuel, hemp offers us alternatives to almost everything we consume. And, along with the social and environmental benefits associated with it, it’s easy to see how hemp is much more than a plant — it’s a lifestyle.
Take a short bus trip east on Main Street to 143 Locke Street South to see what Hemp Life Works, and the culture of hemp, is all about.
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