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Industrial Hemp for Illinois: Agitate! Educate! Organize!

A grassroots organizer's vision for hemp and hemp education in Illinois.

Rachel Berry on April 16, 2018

Grassroots organizers are the backbone of the Hemp History Week movement. Every year, they educate thousands of people all over the country about hemp. One of these fantastic organizers is Rachel Berry. Rachel is a passionate hempster and experienced event organizer from Illinois. Read her article and learn all about the opportunities for hemp in her state, and why education is so important.


Industrial hemp legislation is currently gaining traction in the Illinois congress. Last year there was an attempt to pass a Bill that would legalize cultivation but the Bill died in the house committee. With Hemp History Week coming in June, right now is a great time to talk about the importance of education regarding legalization of industrial hemp in the state of Illinois.


Before we dive into political discussion, I would like to share a little about myself. I grew up in Cook County Illinois, the second most populated county in the United States. Growing up in the suburbs meant that I had access to a wide variety of cultural and artistic experiences. At the same time I was woefully oblivious to the significance of ecology, local foods, and manual labor. Despite my naïveté, I felt strongly that I wanted to live a lifestyle more independent from unsustainable industrial farming practices and more involved in local food systems. I consider myself a first generation farmer. I didn’t grow up on a farm or ever think I would want to farm, yet I find myself living on a homestead with my family. It wasn’t until my mid 20’s that I decided to venture onto the path of living with land. At that point I had no idea the impact it would have on my life. The last few years of volunteering in my community, checking out tall stacks of library books, getting my hands dirty, and growing my own food has rekindled my love of learning. It has fulfilled my childhood dreams of becoming a scientist, healer, and artist. Following my passion for land stewardship has led me to many revelations but my most inspired work yet has come from my discovery of the role hemp can play in restoring our environment and economy.


Illinois Farmers & Hemp


When I initially discovered hemp, I was drawn to the benefits of using it as a restorative crop. This knowledge impacted me most because of my personal interest in environmentalism. After further educating myself I gained insight into the economic opportunities hemp can create for everyone, but especially for Illinois.

Hemp Illinois

Several factors  lead me to believe that Illinois can benefit the most out of any Midwest state by growing hemp. As I show in this graph, Illinois has the highest percentage of cropland being used by corn and soy. It also shows that Illinois has the highest population of any Midwest state and a favorable ratio of acres of cropland to people for a crop that needs to be processed locally. Essentially, Illinois has the best combination of the most basic conditions in the region. That is my assessment of the viability of hemp in the state.



As a result of these and many other influences I have become an activist and advocate for hemp. I think this plant is an essential component to building sustainable communities. So what can hemp do for us? The farmer will see that it can be profitable and beneficial to cultivate. Hemp can improve marginal farmland, can be grown without pesticides, has low requirements for water, diversifies crop rotation, and provides a multi-purpose yield that can be utilized in more ways than almost any other crop. The farmers can see this, but most people aren’t farmers.


Activist hemp Illinois

I believe hemp education is going to be an ongoing and evolving field with constant developments because it’s a about a biological process. Educating the public about hemp and its alternatives is paramount to getting legislation passed. I’ve hosted hemp education events, attended conferences, made time to visit and educate local representatives and farmers, and even self publish an informational hemp zine.


Making connections with people as passionate as I am about creating change, sparking inspired discussions about the future and knowing people are passing on those ideas has proved to me time and again that I can make an impact. I plan to continue these activities throughout 2018 and I’m calling on you, the reader to join me by educating yourself and others about hemp. What can you do?


  • Educate people about the impact they can have on their representatives regarding hemp.
  • Make a personal connection to someone in government as an effective way to get your voice heard. Relying on bureaucratic action  alone isn’t enough.
  • Educate using non-traditional forms of activism like boycotts, grassroots and social media campaigns.


The Future of Hemp in Illinois


I believe 2018 could be the pivotal year for hemp in Illinois. There will be a gubernatorial election, people are more politically charged than ever, and Illinois needs new ideas, new solutions, and new revenue. With all of this in mind, hopefully those of you living in Illinois will join me in taking the next step to help push industrial hemp legalization forward. Be on the lookout for any educational opportunities that come your way and share what you already know with others because everyone needs to know that they can benefit from hemp. The current bill to legalize hemp in Illinois is SB2298, the Industrial Hemp Act. Contact your representatives, organize and participate in political action any way you can, and vote!


Hemp plant seeds

Stop by and see me to learn more about hemp and H​emp ​H​istory ​W​eek​ this spring at “Discovering Earth’s Treasures,” an Earth Day celebration at the Princeton Public Library and pollinator garden in Princeton, Illinois. This event will host educational, artistic, and hands-on activities for all ages and includes drawings for free trees, seeds, books and a children’s bicycle.


Representatives of Hungry World Farm, the Illinois Wetlands Initiative, USDA Soil & Water Conservation District, and University of Illinois Extension will offer presentations and exhibits.  Activities will include a treasure hunt, drawings for free trees, seeds, books and a children’s bicycle, and hands-on learning. Topics will include pollution prevention, growing industrial hemp, home and community gardening, recycling and many other subjects. 


 When: Saturday, April 21, 10am-3pm

 Where:Princeton Public Library, 698 E Peru St Princeton, IL

Posted by Rachel Berry

Rachel Berry is an artist, activist, and unschooling mother of two living on a small family farm near Princeton, Illinois. There she studies native plants, permaculture, and regenerative agriculture techniques while applying them to her own property. Rachel spends her free time volunteering, writing, and creating her informational zine focused on hemp, The HempZine. She is an advocate for local food systems, women's leadership and political participation, and the rights of nature. She is an active volunteer with grassroots organizations such as the Illinois Valley Specialty Growers Association, Voices from the Prairie, and a think- tank called the Illinois Industrial Hemp Association.