Hempin' For Change
When I left Monterey, California after graduate school I wanted to continue my journey, opening my arms to the world while working on environmental projects and learning more about other cultures. But my home state was calling my name. The U.S. Farm Bill had passed making hemp legal for research purposes.
Kentucky was leading the nation in hemp policy reform and given my expertise from studying the industry as a Fulbright Scholar, this was the opportunity of a lifetime. My friends told me, “California doesn’t need you, Kentucky needs you.” I bowed my head and agreed.
It wasn’t an easy transition. My graduate school was a small international liberal arts college in the culturally diverse town of Monterey, which also happens to be a biodiverse hotspot with huge conservation efforts. My first year, I lived with a woman from India and a woman from Cameroon. Three women, from three continents, with three different religious beliefs. We got along perfectly. Seriously.
But Hempin' Ain't Easy
But in 2015, I was heading back to Kentucky, a beautiful, lush state with some of the nicest, most genuine people an individual will ever meet. It’s such an amazing state not many people leave. But comparatively, the state is not religiously or culturally diverse and also doesn’t have the most progressive policies, particularly for the environment.
Considering I had just received a masters in international environmental policy, it was (and has been) hard to find my voice. Because for me, it’s never just been about hemp, it’s always been about sustainability and changing the perception of the masses to improve humanity for all. Hemp was the impetus for change.
Since the move, my hemp game has been strong: paving grounds for market development through Think Hempy Thoughts, fundraising through my Foundation’s Friends of Hemp campaign and pushing standardization through various outlets, but somewhere along the way I still lost myself.
I felt disconnected from sustainability and environmental work, and working in an EXTREMELY regulated industry brought (and still brings) an even greater challenge. In the midst of building a new model for conscious consumption within a nascent industry, I turned from one of the most optimistic individuals to a closet pessimist.
Everything hit the fan the night of November 8th, 2016. I felt that everything so many others and I had worked for collapsed overnight. I was defeated.
The morning of November 9th was my first official sick day as an entrepreneur.
Therapy Through Music
My roommate Lisa dragged me out of bed that afternoon. She was determined to see her favorite musicians that night and we had tickets. Thankfully I went to the show and we experienced an uplifting performance by Big Gigantic. While dancing second row, I gazed over the audience. A familiar thought crossed my mind:
“It’s so simple.”
Music is a cure all. It is our world’s universal language and the key to our brighter future. And I was not the only one to think that. Big Gigantic believed it as well.
But the emptiness still remained. My faith in humanity had diminished…until I connected with my lost souls.
On June 19th Lisa and I arrived at Electric Forest Music Festival to join the sustainability team, Electricology. It was the exact experience I had been seeking. An inspiration to fill the void. And it turned into more than I ever imagined. I was surrounded by like-minded individuals similar to those I experienced in graduate school. We had a common vision, similar values and one voice. They understood.
The goal for the festival seemed nearly impossible: Turn over a camping festival ground of 40,000 people in 48 hours, and replicate what had just been done, all while shifting mindsets to a collective conscious. Electricology had made the proper preparations– compostable ware, signage, campground cheer squads, and incentive based solutions (PRIZE CART!). It worked like magic.
Not only did Electric Forest turn over the campgrounds earlier than expected, BUT also for the first time in history had a 100% recycling acceptance rate*. This was all because of the Electricology team and everyone that participated in the program—the staff, patrons, vendors and even musicians (shout out to Papadosio for having a plastic-free tour).
The positivity, acceptance, helpfulness and willingness to unite are remarkable forces among Electric Forest attendees. If that energy could be mimicked across our world, or even just our nation, humanity’s future would be much brighter.
Working with Electricology Weekend One rejuvenated my soul. I felt normal again. However, normalcy wasn’t quite enough, because Weekend Two would bring an even larger positive force with a side of funk. We didn’t work Weekend Two (we already had tickets prior to hire), but we watched the Electricology program grow ever more and participated from the sidelines.
Meanwhile, we were consumed by the electronic funk music of Big Gigantic once again, but this time we had the pleasure of meeting both musicians and even snapped a Polaroid for them. As Lisa thanked Dominic Lalli and Jeremy Salken for their uplifting vision, she handed Lalli one of my stickers that read:
“Think Consciously. Think Hempy Thoughts.”
He read the sticker, looked her in the eyes and said, “this is good.” Then put it in his pocket. It warmed my heart. I believe in his vision of a Brighter Future and knowing that he agrees with my work is my new impetus to carry on.
Now back home and working diligently on my business model, I reflect on the two weeks spent at Electric Forest. The two years prior were life changing as well, but this year was different. New friends, stunning surroundings, notable tarot readings, sustainability achievements and extraordinary music has given me a new hope. It was a reincarnation– truly a Big Gigantic Inspiration.
*100% recycling acceptance rate means that 100% of the recycling sent to the recycling center was accepted by the facility. This is very rare for any public venue. In comparison, last year Electric Forest achieved a 60% recycling acceptance rate.