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Harvesting Manitoba’s riches

Harvesting Manitoba’s Riches
By Shannon Smith, Registered Dietitian with Choices Markets

The idea of Winnipeg in mid-August might conjure images of mosquitos, flies and unbearable heat waves for most people.

Instead, imagine a 100-acre hemp farm, gourmet five-course hemp-infused meals, and Manitoba Harvests’ production and recipe and development facilities.

Historical Hemp
Since 1937, hemp activists have been lobbying the Canadian government to differentiate between marijuana and hemp. Then in the early 1990s, three passionate hemp supporters in Manitoba spearheaded the campaign that led to legalization of industrial hemp production in 1998. That same year, these three activists—Martin Moravcik, Alex Chwaiewsky, and Mike Fata—became the co-founders of Manitoba Harvest Hemp Foods. Today, Mike Fata is Manitoba Harvest’s current CEO. He continues to work as an activist for the food industry, sitting on the board of the Organic Trade Association for the past four years.

Wait…hemp?! You mean it isn’t the same as marijuana?

Hemp and marijuana are both members of cannabis plant family, but are distant cousins. The phsychoactive compound THC (delta-9 tetrhydrocannobinol), which is responsible for the effects of marijuana, is present in small concentrations in hemp. According to Health Canada, approximately 0.3 per cent or less. Because of this, hemp is grown commercially and used for not only textiles but also foods, hemp seeds, oil and protein powders most commonly.

Controlled Crops
From illegal substance to approved food crop, hemp still has tight guidelines around its production and is considered a controlled substance by Health Canada. Regulations for hemp cultivation state that any hemp farmer must have a clean criminal record, and their farm location must be registered with GPS location. Although tightly regulated, hemp is an enticing crop for farmers: it’s high-yield with a short growth period, reaching maturity in 85 to 120 days. According to Health Canada, the number of farms producing hemp has steadily increased since legalization, with a growth of 300 per cent between 2004 and 2005; Manitoba is home to half of the licenced hemp farm land throughout Canada.

Hearty and Nutritious
What’s so special about hemp foods, anyway?

Well, speck-sized hemp hearts in particular pack a nutrient-dense punch. A ¼-cup serving has 16 grams of protein and 5 grams of each fibre and omega-3 fatty acids. Lately, consumers have been hunting for hemp hearts over chia and flax seeds but, nutritionally speaking, all three offer ultimate health benefits when combined. Another advantage of hemp foods comes from the crops. Hemp is hardy, so farmers don’t typically need to use synthetic pesticides and herbicides on hemp crops. This is a bonus, given that many of today’s consumers express concerns about the health implications associated with ingesting chemicals.

Hip Hemp Culinary Creations
Hemp foods are typically associated with breakfast and snack foods. Nutrition experts encourage consumers to add hemp hearts to oatmeal, sprinkle over yogurt or enjoy by the handful. But culinary consumers can really get creative in the kitchen, using hemp products for so many more applications. Hemp hearts can be used for crusted salmon or halibut, veggie burgers, as casserole toppers and even dips. The hearts also make a simple substitution for any nut in a recipe. Since they’re small, hemp hearts don’t require the chopping that larger nuts would. Of course, oils can be used in salad dressings and dips or drizzled over soups. And the protein is great for bars and other baking as well as smoothies. No matter which way they’re served, Manitoba Harvest hemp foods provide consumers with products they can ethically and healthfully enjoy, and they’re something Canadian retailers can feel good about promoting.

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