Pam Bosch of Bellingham is trying to build a future for industrial hemp in the United States.
The 62-year-old artist acknowledges that hemp, which generally refers to the inside stalk and seeds of the cannabis plant, gets a bad rap because of its association with marijuana. But she says hemp doesn’t affect the mind, and says it’s safer and more sustainable for construction than other materials more commonly used.
Bosch became interested in hemp when exploring renovation options for her South Hill home.
“I realized how difficult it was to build without using materials that are toxic or unsustainably sourced,” she says. “Buildings constructed with hemp are well-insulated, insect- and rodent-deterrent, fireproof, mold-resistant, have great acoustics, healthy air quality, and they are compostable.”
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Hempcrete is an industrial product that has been used for centuries in Japan and more recently across Europe, but has been slow to gain traction in the U.S. Hempcrete is a mix of hemp hurd (short fibers from the inner cannabis stalk), lime, sand and water. The end result is a strong, breathable material that Bosch says has many advantages over conventional building materials such as concrete.
“The building aspects are really exciting,” she says, “but that’s not the end of the story.”
For example, she says, hemp seeds are nutritious, hemp fibers are used in textiles, and hemp hurd contains antimicrobial properties and can be used in everything from 3D printing ink to animal bedding.
“Its high-tech uses are just beginning to emerge,” she says.
On the surface, industrial hemp seems like a technical and possibly dull topic. But as an artist, Bosch finds an aesthetic quality to building with hemp that she says aligns with her creative background and training.
Just as the plant has many uses, I am able to utilize my aesthetic training, my commitment to building a healthier world, and my work in education in a unique personal way.
Pam Bosch, industrial hemp advocate
A Minnesota native, she moved to Bellingham in 1975 and earned a bachelor of fine arts degree at Western Washington University. She returned to WWU for a master’s in adult education at the age of 50. Over the years, she has taught a variety of courses at Bellingham Technical College and Northwest Indian College.
After extensive investigation and international travel to learn about industrial hemp, Bosch teamed up with her mentor, Steve Allin of the International Hemp Building Association, and constructed a small demonstration building on her property. The 8.5- by 14-foot-foot building, which Allin and Bosch affectionately named the Crow’s Nest, for a bird carved on the exterior, has walls made with hemp hurd and lime.
Bosch plans to begin renovating her 110-year-old home this year using industrial hemp products, and is documenting the project on her website, highlandhemphouse.com.
She hopes to create a community space within the home for artists and residents to meet, share ideas and inspire one another. Beyond that, Bosch wants to increase awareness of industrial hemp, help enact laws to deregulate the growing of hemp for industrial uses, and bring an industrial hemp processing plant to Bellingham.
Working as a hemp advocate gives Bosch a sense of purpose.
“Just as the plant has many uses, I am able to utilize my aesthetic training, my commitment to building a healthier world, and my work in education in a unique personal way,” she says.
Terms and resources
Hemp: The fiber, oil and seeds of the cannabis plant. Hemp is used in a variety of products, including textiles, food, construction, oil, paper and fuel.
Hurd: The inner part of the hemp stalk. Hemp hurd has excellent thermal and acoustic properties.
Hempcrete: A mix of hemp hurd, lime, sand and water with a variety of construction and insulation uses.
Pam Bosch’s website: highlandhemphouse.com
International Hemp Association: internationalhempassociation.org
International Hemp Building Association: internationalhempbuilding.org