Over the past two years I've gotten to know the hemp industry pretty well. Not just here in Pennsylvania, but around the country. I've been recording interviews with hemp farmers and processors, policy makers, inventors, builders, writers ... all kinds of people who all have at least one thing in common. That thing is hemp.
Last year, I tried to visit hemp farms whenever I could. And there were hemp events too, like at Penn State's research farm in Landisville, or out at Steve Groff's farm in Holtwood, or to the other Steve Groff's place in York County. And then there was the inaugural hemp summit in Lancaster last October. And of course, at the Pennsylvania Farm Show, there was big hemp exhibit.
It seemed like there was always some way to get together with hemp people to celebrate this ancient crop that was suddenly new and exciting again.
But then along came the coronavirus and the shutdowns. For the past six months, I've been working remotely from my barn in Chester County. All of my contact with hemp people has been over the phone or on a computer. And believe you me, it gets old real fast. I miss connecting with people. I miss being out in the field.
The whole world weighs on my heart these days. The pandemic. The fires. The political uncertainty. The Interim Final Rule. The idea that hemp farmers could become criminals if their crops go hot. All of this stuff is heavy, and I've started to feel disconnected and a little disillusioned.
So, for my 101st Industrial Hemp Podcast episode, I decided to hit the road in effort to reconnect with hemp farmers and hemp farms, hoping the trip would reinvigorate my spirit and inspire me to keep producing the hemp podcast.
I visited four hemp farms on Friday, Sept. 11, and conducted video interviews with hemp growers.
First, I headed south to Paradise Hemp Farm in West Grove, Chester County, where hemp farmer Eric Trajtenburg showed me around his 14 acres. He's growing CBD and CBG varieties, and he's just a few weeks away from harvesting. He was challenged earlier in the season by heavy rains and later in the season by caterpillars, but his plants are big and healthy and developing nicely.
My second stop was a visit with Cynthia Petrone-Hudock, CEO of Hemp-Alternative, who has partnered with the Hicks Brothers to grow CBD, CBG and fiber varieties at Meadow Springs Farm in Kennett Square.
"We just started our state testing and some of our harvesting, so we'll be testing and harvesting in a bit of a rotational effort to make sure that we get everything out at the highest quality and quantity without jeopardizing the compliance," Petrone-Hudock said. She also talked about the product line her company is launching and the mobile drying facility that her husband, Mike Hudock, designed and built.
The third stop on my hemp road trip was to Oakley farm in Christiana, Lancaster County, where King's AgriSeeds owner Tim Fritz and hemp specialist Sarah Mitchell gave me a tour of the test plots where they've been trialing different kinds of hemp, including autoflower varieties. Their hemp seed sales, while not a large percentage of their overall business, are growing steadily.
The last stop was at Cedar Meadow Farm in Holtwood, Lancaster County, to talk to Steve Groff, who told me about his challenges with weather.
"We had a little dry weather there in July, and then it got a little wet, and now it's like, please, just nice days for the rest of September for our hemp crop here because we don't like the foggy days like we had the last couple days, but so far I think we've had a decent year," he said. He also talked about his frustrations with compliance testing and his work toward launching his own CBD brand later this year.
It was a whirlwind trip to say the least, but it was good to get out into the field and connect with these farmers. And it worked. I feel more connected, more inspired than I've felt in a while. There's something about being on a farm that's good for your soul.