ED Interview: Débora from Obelisk Farm

May 12, 2021
The family in the help field
Photo provided by Obelisk Farm
By Eko Diena in 

What happens when you decide to move across Europe with little farming experience but with a belief in the power of plants, and of one super sustainable crop in particular?

We talked to Débora from Obelisk Farm about their family decision to do just that, about what makes hemp so amazing and versatile, education and awareness, and about how being part of a sustainable system involves a lot more than just growing things organically.

Why was it hemp seeds that were in your hands when you left the UK to start a new adventure in Latvia?

When we made the decision to move from the UK to Latvia, we knew that we needed a plan. We knew we had to do something once we moved to the farm. The dream of living near nature is wonderful, but we had to be realistic too.

At the time, we had almost zero farming experience, so a long journey awaited us. Before the move, we did a lot of research about hemp. We look for information in books, videos, legislation documents, taking courses, etc. I think this is quite an important step and I’m happy that we had the time to do it. Although practical experience is VERY important, it is also extremely crucial to know your theory.

We found that hemp, for so many reasons, was the right plant for us. It doesn’t require a lot of farming experience to grow it, it grows almost everywhere in the world, there are a variety of industrial uses including, clothing, food, paper, bioplastic, insulation and so much more. We knew straight away we wanted to grow hemp and transform it. This is why we always say that we left the UK with a “few seeds in our hands”, because we had the seeds of hemp in our mind, we just needed time and space to grow.

Would you call your farm sustainable, ethical, and conscious, and why?

By growing hemp and being a hemp farm, I believe that our practices collide with all of those definitions. For instance, hemp is an annual crop that grows in only four months, this means that we are able to rotate crops which is super important for keeping the soil healthy, pest-free and nutrient-rich. Bottom line, hemp supports sustainable farming. In regards to pesticides, we do not have to use it at all, because unlike other crops like flax, hemp does not require pesticide or herbicides to grow.

Another very important thing about this plant is that nothing but I mean nothing goes to waste, everything from the flowers to the leaves, to the stalks and to the roots can be harvested and we can use them to make our products. All in all, our journey so far has led us to the point of becoming aware of what we grow, how we grow, how we produce. This means doing things right for us, for our community, and for our planet.

Hemp is a very versatile raw material, and it seems to be used for almost everything these days, it’s eco-friendly and zero-waste, so is there anything you can’t do with hemp?

You sum up it really well. Hemp is an extraordinary plant that can be used in so many ways!

One of my favorites is without a doubt hemp paper. I really love the idea that with a plant that grows in only 4 months we can make our own hemp paper. I read somewhere that the amount per year of trees destroyed for paper is about 2,000,000,000! This could be totally preventable if we would replace trees for hemp fibre as a source of raw material for paper making. In this sense, I think hemp could really save us.  

Hemp paper
Hemp paper | Obelisk Farm

Given that it can be used for so many different things, what products do you produce with the hemp that you grow?

My husband and I try to do a bit of everything. When we started growing hemp we had the idea of producing and selling hemp seed oil. We bought the machine to process the seeds, and the result was: we got our hemp seed oil and another product that comes from the cold-pressed process: hemp protein. This is what happens with hemp, one thing leads to another and everything can become a product. Another example: with the hemp stalks besides isolating our home (with a mix of hemp shives + lime), we also can use the stalks to obtain hemp fibre and from it we make our hemp paper. The list goes on. 

Everything good has a downside somewhere, there is no such thing as the perfect material, so what are the problems with growing hemp and products made from hemp?

With hemp, I haven’t found yet a downside. I guess it all comes down to the way you do things. If you decide to grow hemp as a monocultural crop, then hemp has a downside. If you decide to use single plastics in all of your hemp products packaging, then of course, hemp has a downside.

Here at our farm, we believe it is our responsibility to grow and use hemp for making the planet a better place, not worse.

Why is sustainability and eco-friendly farming important to you personally?

Because naturally, we want to meet our present needs but we don’t want to compromise the future of our children, and their children. When it comes down to it, conscious farming is the only way forward, in my opinion. It is an absolute necessity if we want to stop damaging the earth and protect the planet for future generations.

Do you think that social, ethical and environmental aspects of sustainability can be separated, or do you have to tackle them all together. Is it enough to grow organic crops or do you have to blend it all together to be really sustainable, like you do in your hemp paradise?

I believe it is crucial to tackle these aspects altogether. Looking at hemp or at any crop for that matter, we can see that it is not enough to just “grow it organically”... If we want to achieve honest sustainability, then the way we farm needs to consider and have a positive human and ecological impact.

It seems that education and activism are very important parts of your farm life. Why is that, and what activities are you involved in exactly?

Education and activism are of paramount importance to us. As soon as we started the farm, we realized that hemp still raises misunderstanding, confusion. This is why we decided to open the farm doors to visitors and show what a hemp farm looks like, how we grow hemp and transform it into useful products. In addition, we provide learning opportunities that are meant to raise awareness of the uses and benefits of the hemp plant. To this extent, our farm aims to break stereotypes regarding hemp as an agricultural crop. We also share and motivate our friends and followers to sign different petitions so together we can have a real impact on hemp issues.

Personally I love ‘learning by doing’ and at your farm people get to be interactive, learning how to make hemp paper, taking part in workshops, tasting products, how important is that, and what do you think that they take back home from the experience?

These activities are crucial, they are the basis of our work. If people come to the farm and learn how to make hemp paper,  they see all the simple processes that it takes to make their own paper, without having to destroy a forest. I think this is meaningful work.

Visitors don’t take home only a piece of paper, they take home the knowledge that can help them make a change. It can take time, but the seeds are planted, and sooner or later something will flourish. This is the work we do, when we have hands-on experiences here at the farm. We share the knowledge we have, and hope to create a chain of change.

Farming is never an easy task, especially when you are starting from scratch, even if you have perfect conditions, what challenges did you face starting the farm, and what are the biggest ones now?

In the beginning we had almost no farming experience, no machinery, not a big land and only the desire to grow hemp. We had to go through a lot of trials and errors to get where we are now. They say that “practice makes perfect” and although we are not there yet, the knowledge and experience that we have accumulated throughout the years, gives us much confidence for the future.

If I could identify one challenge that is deeply interconnected with agriculture, would be weather and climate. Having lost all of our crop in one season due to a hail storm, we have felt how much impact it has specially if you have a small plot of land, like we do. However, this is part of being a farm and a farmer, adaptation and resilience are fundamental to overcome challenges.

To find out more about what Débora, Andris, Gabriela, and Fredis are doing at Obelisk Farm, buy hemp products or get involved with a tour or workshop, go and take a look at their website: obeliskfarm.lv

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