Hemp planting on the rise on Pine Ridge reservation
He calls himself a warrior in the garden.
And after two decades fighting on his own, he's no longer alone. Alex White Plume, South Dakota's trailblazing hemp farmer, is busy growing his crop -- and adding compatriots.
For a crop that has caused all manner of legal woes, White Plume can't contain his enthusiasm for industrial hemp.
"This is a beautiful female and if you look up on top the females have a pretty flower," he said this week while gently holding one of his plants.
He started decades ago and got raided by the FBI and slapped with restraining orders that barred him from growing the plant -- but not from advocating for it.
"I think hemp is an ideal rotation crop for the farmers to regenerate the nutrients in the ground," he said.
He eventually won in court and last year planted a crop. And then in December the Farm Bill legalized the plant on the federal level. Today White Plume has fellow travelers on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
"This year there's five others besides me. So I'm not alone no more. I'm not lonely no more," he said.
And he didn't stay still. He doubled the size of his field this year.
"Last year we went with one acre and it was more of a learning experience to see what all it entailed to grow the plant," he said.
And he's happy that Gov. Kristi Noem vetoed legislation that would have allowed South Dakota farmers into the game.
"What the governor did was a blessing to me because it gives me a one year head start and I could be an asset to other people who want to learn how to use this style of growing industrial hemp," he said.
And he disdains any association with cannabis.
"I don't like to use the word grower because that connotes marijuana grower," he said.
What term do you like, he was asked?.
"Warrior in the garden."
And he's firm in his convictions. He has always believed it and maybe now he knows it. Hemp has a future in the Pine Ridge economy that can help build a better future for his people.
"That we will one day be independent, self sustaining and sovereign," he said.