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Ex-Mortgage Broker Gave Up Riches for a Cause

Roger Sideman, Santa Cruz Sentinel , 15th July 2006

Just 24 months ago, Aaron Carvajal had all the trappings of success: silk ties and suits in his closet, an orange Infinity SUV in the driveway, a corner office in a building overlooking Watsonville's Downtown Plaza and a $600,000 salary to put in the bank.

"But I felt I was in a cesspool of desire," he says. Carvajal abandoned his mortgage lending business and packed up for Santa Cruz, acquiring a new biodiesel car, a loose, earth-toned wardrobe and a redefined meaning of success.

"Driving home every day I knew the desk job was a means to an end - that I would always end up working in an 'eco-industry,'" he said.

Now, Carvajal with his beaming smile and close-cropped hair stands in front of a hemp American flag at the new U.S. Hemp Co. store and museum on North Pacific Avenue.

He sells clothes and twines, health foods and cosmetics, all made from hemp.

But what he's really selling is a cause. Carvajal's ideal, the retailer-as-activist, is about discrediting "government lies" about hemp while promoting its virtues as the cure-all crop of the future.

"That means you're an advocate and gotta make people's ears bleed by telling them about hemp," he says, his eyes wide. He laughs.

The state-approved medical marijuana card he keeps at home is his reminder that the hemp plant is more outlawed than its psychoactive cousin cannabis. He doesn't confuse the two, so why should the government, he asks.

"I make a fraction of what I made, but it's exponentially better now because each day I talk to someone about - and this is not an exaggeration - the most valuable plant in the world."

Last week, he sold a VHS documentary to a chance customer who teaches history at Pajaro Valley High School. Carvajal told him the plant fiber's importance for paper and cloth before the cotton gin was invented in the 19th century.

"I'll include you in my bit on the industrial revolution," the teacher told him before walking out the door.

"That's what it's all about," Carvajal said.

Aaron Carvajal:

Age: 36.

Birthplace: San Jose

Business: U.S. Hemp Co., Santa Cruz.

Whay he left: 'To use an eco-word, it was unsustainable.'

Goal: 'To ignite mass consciousness of the truth to a level that cannot be ignored.'

Top three worst habits:

1. I work too hard

2. I have a hard time saying 'no.'

3. I crack my ear 'bone' like knuckles and it makes a loud pop.

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