I have driven tens of thousands of miles in recent years traveling up and down the East Coast to visit family in New England and to lecture in Ohio and Athens, Georgia.
During these runs, I’ve had a lot of mindless “what-if” moments between fill-ups and listening to books-on-tape. One “what-if” epiphany came to me while I was gazing out the window taking in mile-after-mile of the open median strip between my lane and the lanes going in the opposite direction on the highway.
Hmmm... So, what if?
What if we farmed all that open land and made it profitable? Enough with the spiny grasses that need endless mowing by workers on tractor/mowers and weed-trimming crews that slow traffic in the breakdown lane. Let’s plant crops in there! Others have come up with similar thoughts to a lesser degree. In Dedham, Massachusetts, the Norfolk County Correctional Center (a state prison) which opened in 1993, is located entirely within a section of wide median of Massachusetts Route 128. And, in nearby Bluffton, the medians on highway 278 are planted with what the local government calls their “botanical gardens.” My what-if moment is grander, however - plant crops.
These endless highway medians in America have contoured banks with runoffs so you wouldn’t need an irrigation system and most of the land is already fertile, organic, and chemical free, untouched by centuries of fertilizers or over-farming. I’m thinking these median strips could be better utilized by growing and harvesting cash crops that would go directly into the coffers of each state. Why not?
I had to crunch some numbers in my head between St. George, SC and Raleigh, NC. Yes - it took me that long. I consulted with Bluetooth, hands-free. When I got to my destination, I did my final numbers.
I’m figuring that a conservative estimate of the width of a median strip between lanes going in different directions is about 300 feet (some narrower, others much wider). Take that number times 5,280 feet in a mile and that would calculate out to be 36 acres of median per each highway mile. OK - bear with me here math guru friends. According to the Department of Transportation in D.C., there are 46,876 miles of interstate highway in the United States. At 36 acres per mile, that comes out to 1,687,536 acres of median. My farmer friends will tell you that there are 640 acres in one square mile - so, if my Dollar Tree calculator is correct, that means there are 2,636 square miles of median strip between lanes of American highways.
Even if you drastically cut that number in half by deducting wooded median areas where the “Staties” like to hide with their radar-guns or garbage terrain covered over in concrete, then you’re talking 1,500 square miles of “farmable” land owned by the folks in each state - land that is otherwise being begrudgingly mowed or abandoned to grasses and scrubland.
I say we reclaim this untapped valuable farmland and turn it into a cash crop for each state to harvest and to profit from.
But what crop?
Not corn or soy or alfalfa - too much maintenance and possible hungry marauding animals crossing the highways. The best crop would be easy to plant and to harvest, bug-free, and market profitable. And what crop fits this bill? Hemp. Hemp - not Cannabis. They’re of the same family but only cannabis contains THC. For 10,000 years, hemp has been grown and harvested as the “wonder-plant.” And rightfully so. Each year, America imports $500,000,000 of hemp to manufacture; paper, cloth, rope, environmentally friendly plastics, fiberboard, seed for feed and even expensive and therapeutic CBD oil. In early America, every farm was required by law to grow hemp. It was legal tender up until the Civil War.
In 2014, President Obama signed the “Farm Bill” re-legalizing the farming of hemp. It is no longer stigmatized and is legal and an extremely valuable crop. Try buying an eyedrop bottle of the CBD elixir oil for less than $50.
Best news? Wild animals don’t like it, it’s easy to grow in all states and easy to harvest and process. Remember that state prison in Massachusetts? They could just step outside and work to pay off their debt to society.
Seriously. This idea makes so much sense, it would never make it past myopic state or federal lawmakers - on either side of the aisle, even though it could take in billions of dollars - split 50 ways.
Just know that there are some free-thinking road-warriors out there driving American highways and solving all the problems of the world.
But it could be that I’m just waiting impatiently for the next pitstop.