By Cassandra Harris Lockwood

Ok. So, the list is long. For whatever reason, the latest has been Texas Instruments, to turn down the Marcy Nano site. Since the withering taint of the Buffalo Billions debacle, numerous firms have sniffed around SUNYPOLY’s Quad – C but, somehow Utica’s Nanotech dreams have been routinely smashed. And therefore our region feels the sting of rejection and or slips further into a sense of hopelessness. 

Our region has in its midst a nearly 500 acre plot of former farm land connected to a prime high tech research and manufacturing site, shovel ready and waiting for development.

Given that this costly $1.5 billion jewel of an economic asset sits at barely 10% capacity so, perhaps it’s time to discuss repurposing and reclaiming this regional asset. This time for our own benefit and not that of some corporate interest destined to elevate the CEO and shareholders’ income to obscene levels while leaving workers to struggle to make ends meet.

What we also have is a region with an established farming and agriculture based economy struggling to sustain itself, even define itself at this point in the 21st century. Farm labor is in short supply. The once ubiquitous traditional family dairy farm is disappearing as farmers age and national diets and tastes change.

This decline in farming exists alongside Utica’s incredibly diverse urban center that suffers with an entrenched  generational poverty which leaves 75% of its children living in poverty. The physical separation of Black and Brown men created by forty years of Mass Incarceration is soon to be undone with NYS’s release of the men who have been missing from these families, the workforce and the community in general. 

Then we have a planet struggling to sustain and even define itself ecologically at this point in the 21st century. When it comes to saving our environment, turning away from reliance upon fossil fuels is not the only concern for transforming our planet to a durable healthy living environment.  

On one small uninhabited island in the South Pacific 38 million pieces of plastic were found. Waterways all over Asia are literally clouded with waste, refuse and plastics. Too many Asian creeks and streams flow with plastic waste. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch has now been joined by four other major giant collections of plastic and trash in our oceans.

It seems as though almost daily there are examples of dead whales washing up on beaches having died of starvation and dehydration with bellies full of plastic. Decomposed bodies of seabirds are regular sights on beaches, their stomach cavities full of plastic parts. And how many giant sea turtles and whales have we seen trapped, wrapped, bound in plastic discarded waste?

The Earth’s plants and animals are declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history. It has been recently reported by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services that over 1 million species of plants and animals face extinction.

As fossil fuels despoil the air and over heat the planet, fossil fuel based plastics are devastating our environment, choking our waterways, spoiling our oceans and killing sea life. If it goes on we will kill the planet, we will die and be responsible for it. 

Then we have hemp, the versatile durable cousin of marijuana. Across the planet, including Cornell Cooperative Extension, research is underway to refine the technology of processing of hemp into the incredible biodegradable plastic that it can produce. It can also be used as a biofuel as well, but for this matter we will focus on its exceptional use as a source of decomposable plastic and textile.

Hemp was once understood to be an ideal cash crop in America. In the 1600’s Americans grew hemp to make rope, sails for ships and clothing. In fact by the 1700’s American farmers in several colonies were required by law to grow hemp for is many qualities.

In 1776 The Declaration of Independence was drafted upon hemp paper. In 1916 the USDA published findings that show hemp produces 4x more paper per acre than trees. 

But by 1937 and the emergence of the petrol chemical industry, resulted in the Marijuana Tax Act which highly taxed all cannabis sales, including hemp, which not only criminalized marijuana but heavily discouraged the production of all hemp based products.

This act is understood to be heavily tied to the nascent oil and gas industry, which by that time had begun to produce synthetic petroleum based textiles such as nylon and of course, plastics.

There has been considerable attention to this bill, as this policy arguably served to crush the hemp industry. It directly succeeded in forwarding and preferring the emerging plastic and nylon industries to dominate their gain in the market share.

How about a repurposed future for the Quad C building housing a hemp processing research center instead of the continually failed attempt to lure a microchip processing plant here to make tons of money off of what our hard earned tax dollars has produced?

The site could become the location for the refining the strain and process for growing this remarkable product. The attached 480 acres of former farm lands could be converted back into cultivated acres and acres of hemp perfectly suited to be turned into the durable rope and fiber for clothing and other applications as well as the sorely needed alternative to the scourge and tangle of plastics we can’t seem to escape from… 

Hemp farming is a labor intensive process.The many undereducated, unemployed and underemployed men and women in Utica’s inner city could be employed in the growing and processing of Upstate New York’s new economy.  Agriculture and farming are 25% of the State’s economy. Bolstering that economy is not to be ignored 

Utica once flourished as a textile manufacturing center of the United States. Sadly its success did so with the weaving of slave cotton. And when Utica was so successful, and it was well into the 20th century, those jobs were not open to Blacks.

In Utica’s renaissance we’re gonna change all of that. Those traditionally left behind for one reason or another, will be aptitude tested and targeted for inclusion according to their results. Emerging new businesses should be developed on an employee stock ownership model where the entire community benefits from its dedication, labor and attention to detail.

Our region also has plentiful water, deep aquifers and a geography that lends itself particularly well to geothermal heating and cooling. This technology should be incorporated into the site as well.

Let’s make Utica the epicenter for renewable plastic manufacturing. Let’s create the one use plastic bag that’s sturdy but breaks down and decomposes in 90 days. It will never clog the guts of a seabird or whale.  Let’s create the disposable water bottle that disappears in 80 days and will never float with thousands of others in a trash heap in the ocean or the plastic straw that will never be found up the nose of a nearly extinct turtle.    

Let’s fill those empty New York State farm silos with this transformative green cash crop and create jobs for the thousands of the soon be exonerated, many of whom went to prison for selling the potent cousin of hemp, marijuana.

The next step should be to call for New York State Governor Cuomo to step out and create the bold initiative to focus on the growth, production and manufacturing of hemp based plastics right here in our underutilized Quad C building. 

In the same way the President Kennedy called for the United States to direct its scientific and engineering might for space travel to the Moon, Governor Cuomo could direct the brain trust of NYS to save this planet instead of go to the Moon.

Let Upstate NY become the leader in this emerging technology. Cornell University, Syracuse University of Environmental Science Forestry and Morrisville College, VVS High School, all of these institutions are poised to direct and focus time, attention and direct the energies and brain power to become the world leader in environmental sustainability.

In an attempt to reverse the heaping landfill everlasting plastic dumps that despoil our landscapes, Governor Cuomo has wisely signed into law the ban of one use plastic bags which will go into effect next March. I call on Governor Cuomo now to go a step further and call for this reuse and redirection of Quad –C by the use of local citizenry instead of seeking outside corporate interests to exploit.

As recently as 1942 Henry Ford built an experimental car body made with hemp fiber which was found to be ten times stronger than steel and nearly ten times lighter. There are undoubtedly other hemp uses and applications our brilliant engineers and scientists will develop.

Two hundred years ago in 1821 NYS began the transformation of the United States with its leadership in technology with the creation of the Erie Canal. In this 21st century let us once again use the collective brainpower and vision of the Great State of New York, the Empire State to transform and save our planet.

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