Lower Sioux Indian Community celebrates construction of first hempcrete home


— The Lower Sioux Indian Community is building not only homes, but a future full of possibilities, out of hemp, or more specifically hempcrete. After years of work, the community is celebrating the construction of the first hempcrete home in Minnesota and the start of brand new opportunities for community members.

"It's a great project for Minnesota. We're the first tribe in the county to build one of these," said Earl Pendleton, vice president of the Community Council of the

Lower Sioux Indian Community

. "It is a proud moment to finally be inside."

Construction of the first hempcrete home began in July, with an open house held on July 24, to give residents and the public a chance to watch as the hemp-based building material was blown into the walls of the home. The duplex home, when completed, will be used as emergency housing for community members in need. A single-family home, to begin construction this year it is hoped, will be used as rental housing.

"This has always been the goal, to build healthier homes for the community members, to save them money every month on cooling and heating," Pendleton said.

The Lower Sioux has been working closely with


of Allentown, Pennsylvania, a construction company specializing in hemp building. Cameron McIntosh of Americhanvre has been out to Minnesota several times to assist the Lower Sioux with the project.

"This has been very special — you can feel it," McIntosh said at the open house. "This is probably one of the most special projects we have been on."

The Lower Sioux hemp house is starting to get statewide attention.

In early August, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan visited the crew and the first hempcrete house. The house was also open for public visits during


. The Lower Sioux hempcrete construction crew also continues to train on new building processes. They recently went to Nebraska to learn how to build with hempcrete bricks.

"None of this happens unless you have the right people involved," Pendleton said.

The hempcrete home construction began like most homes do, with the construction of a wood frame. A local construction crew led by Denny Desjarlais had the frame and roof up in two weeks, ready for the hempcrete.

"Denny and his crew that he assembled, at every point along the way, they've been amazing, meeting deadlines no one thought they could meet," Pendleton said.

The Lower Sioux had some experience building with hemp, as they constructed a shed using hempcrete last year. They did the application completely by hand, which is doable — cost-effective but labor-intensive.

"It is the most accessible way to do hempcrete, to do it by hand," McIntosh said. "But it is a labor of love. It takes a long time to do it."

In July, McIntosh brought along a new way of installing hempcrete, the Ereasy spray machine. The machine allows the hempcrete material to be sprayed directly into the wall cavities, much like traditional spray insulation. It allows crews to work faster. The crew at the Lower Sioux were able to complete the hempcrete application process in three days.

"It is an example of how you can actually replicate this model for the tribe to build not only affordable housing, but houses that are more affordable to operate," McIntosh said.

According to McIntosh, a hempcrete home can be 30% to 70% more energy-efficient than traditional construction, depending on the energy usage of the residents.

Another benefit of hempcrete is its ability to control moisture in a home. Because of its structure, hemp is able to pull out the moisture in homes, lowering humidity and decreasing the ability for mold to grow.

"Hempcrete does several things very well. It's a great insulator, it is highly fire-resistant and it is also resistant to pests," McIntosh said. "In addition, it creates a healthy environment. We are using plant-based insulation."

Hempcrete is created by mixing hemp hurd — which is the woody core of the hemp plant stem — with a lime binder and water. There are no other chemicals involved.

While currently the lime binder for hempcrete is still mostly being imported from France, the hemp itself can be very local. The hemp inside the Lower Sioux duplex is Minnesota-grown, but that is not the end goal.

"Hopefully in the near future it will be Lower Sioux-grown," McIntosh said. "This community is able to provide themselves with the raw material, which is the hemp hurd."

The vision for the Lower Sioux is not only to build affordable housing with hempcrete, but to create an entire hemp economy based on the reservation. The hemp will be grown and harvested by community farmers, processed at a hemp processing facility to be built near Jackpot Junction Casino. The hurd will be used for hempcrete, which will then become homes constructed by Lower Sioux construction crews. There will also be opportunities to sell the processed hemp and hempcrete blocks to other businesses and individuals.

"This is all about offering jobs that aren't casino jobs," Pendleton said. "It's about keeping our money local."

The Lower Sioux already has about 100 acres in hemp production, with the possibility of around 400 total. Pendleton said the community will also probably partner with farmers outside the community to grow hemp as part of the project.

The community has already purchased the equipment it will need to process around 2,000 acres of hemp a year. Currently it is housed in Olivia, but once the hemp facility is constructed on the reservation, the equipment will be moved to its new home. Pendleton said construction on the hemp campus could begin as early as this year.

McIntosh feels the Lower Sioux Community's plan is a good one, especially because the hemp business in the United States is far behind other nations.

Growing hemp is the easy bit, but processing and finding a buyer for the end raw material can be extremely difficult. The way the Lower Sioux is doing it means they are their own customer base.

"They are going to be feeding their own work," McIntosh said. "It's the right way to do it."

There is a lot of room to grow in hemp, McIntosh said, and the Lower Sioux Community is setting itself up to be able to take advantage of that. Hemp fibers and hurd can be used for a vast array of products — from building construction to animal bedding to clothes.

"The sky is the limit" in fiber and industrial hemp production, McIntosh said. "This is a generational opportunity for fiber/industrial hemp."