Meet the people reviving a one-time field standard.
Meet the people reviving a one-time field standard.
By Martha Mintz
The only thing more diverse than the litany of products drawn from the parts of a hemp plant are the people growing it.
Hemp inspires seemingly unrivaled enthusiasm in farming. It appeals to growers, healers, adventurers, problem solvers, idealists and fortune seekers. Touring farms revealed the motivations and ideals of people growing the crop were far more fascinating than the production.
There were greenhouse managers, tobacco farmers, organic vegetable producers, teachers, tech industry retirees, a chiropractor, a pilot, a biologist, a former public relations expert, and a crop consultant.
There were entities employing dozens and families with children working alongside grandparents and friends to plant.
There were those with experience and background, and complete agricultural novices.
Each and every one of them were passionate about what they were doing and held hopes for a bright future for their endeavors and for the crop. A crop they see as a potential solution to many problems from disease symptom relief to providing an ecologically responsible option to a sudden increase in toilet paper demand, for example.
Pets to People. For Longmont, Colo., hemp growers Carina Fisher and John Scaggs, the passion is for wellness for themselves and for pets.
Using a retrofitted chicken house and a few acres with the stunning Colorado Front Range in the background, they clone, raise, and harvest hemp to produce CBD supplements and salves. They started producing bulk CBD, but quickly realized value-added products made more financial sense. Their first product was a pet tincture.
Our dog, Billy, was aging and really showing it. The tincture helped give him a fresh lease on life,” Fischer says. As a former gymnast and traumatic brain injury survivor, Fischer also found relief when they added a CBD capsule to their VitaMia line.
“We have seen a huge difference for ourselves, just in terms of aches and pains,” she says.
Their passion lies in producing a high quality product for end users by controlling every step of the process possible.
“We pour our heart and soul into this business and in turn, CBD has really given us our lives back,” says Skaggs, who also found anxiety relief with CBD.
“We come from a place of helping and healing, not to turn a quick buck,” he says.
Novice to Pro. Encouraged by their 17-year-old son, Quinn, who was working for a hemp farm, Tim and Michelle Brandon, also of Longmont, decided to give hemp a try in 2019. They planted a 1.5-acre plot. Formerly a pasture, they simply dug holes and put in 2,000 plants.
“Our nephew was diagnosed with epilepsy and has had incredible results with THC/CBD based medicines,” Tim says. Noting part of their motivation is to help make sure there’s product for those who need it. “I also love that we get to be outside, working with our family.”
For Zane and Kristen Kunau of Fort Collins, Colo., hemp has become THE family business. This is their 6th season growing hemp and their crop shows it. While others are just planting, their field is full of hip-high, even, deeply green plants.
Zane was a greenhouse propagation manager. When the company got a 30,000-plant hemp account, he thought, ‘Hey, I should do this. I have the skills.’
“Every plant I have I cloned, propagated and grew,” he says with pride. He uses high quality genetics and management to maximize CBD.
“I want to maximize profit per acre with high quality,” he says. “People think they’re going to make $100,000 per acre, but it’s probably more like $10,000 per acre. That’s why I’ve held down two jobs while we built up.”
Having made great strides in fertility and crop management, Zane serves as a hemp crop consultant. But many, many hours are spent alongside Kristen and their 4-year-old daughter, Winter, weeding, cloning and working their business, Freida Farms, together as a family.
Challenge takers. On the other end of the spectrum are an unlikely group of growers in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley. Members of the Bitterroot Hemp Cooperative, the retired — or nearing it — growers have different goals.
Andrew Burgess, a Silicon Valley computer tech retiree, planted his first crop in 2019. For a man who made a life of problem solving, it’s a grand experiment.
“It was my first attempt at farming, so I brought in a brand new seed type, tried various soil amendments and watched how things played out,” he says.
A visual person, he used colored flags to mark the health of individual plants. That way he could look over the field and like pixels on a computer screen, see the larger picture of how his crop was doing.
His friend and fellow co-op member, Arlin Fratzke, is a retired pilot and cattle producer.
“I wanted to cut back and grow a crop, but not grain or hay. Hemp came along and I decided to go all in, putting the herd up for sale and seeding 100 acres to hemp,” Fratzke says.
As opposed to CBD, Fratzke grows for the grain market.
“I may not make per acre what the CBD guys do, but if I can grow 1,000 pounds of seed per acre at $1 per pound, that’s a lot better revenue than my cattle made,” he says. And less work.
Third in the group is Dan Wolf, a chiropractor. First interested in hemp for wood stove pellets, he’s since embraced the scientific challenge of extraction.
His first year he used a cold screw oil press to process 280 pounds of seed. He’s also tried dry ice extraction and is fascinated with possibilities.
“There’s outer fibers that can be used for clothing, inside short fibers that can be used like a hard wood, you can make hemp building materials, even biodegradable plastic,” he says.
Fascinated with the whole process, he hopes to be able to share with the co-op and others. “I can show anybody how to process their own oils.”
Business Builders. There’s also corporate-scale innovators. Advanced Extraction is a vertically integrated Colorado hemp business. Founded in 2015, the company has a jump on creating stable hemp genetics for their use and use by producers throughout the world. They’re also working to perfect large-scale extraction techniques.
In 2019, they produced 1.3 million hemp plugs and extracted millions of dollars of CBD.
“It’s critical to have good genetics and quality plants and services,” says Ed Wassom, president, Advanced Extraction. “We’re looking to build long term, successful relationships.”