On Saturday, Sept. 9, about 400 people gathered at the Burke Mountain Resort for Hemp Fest, a daylong series of workshops and displays focused on the cultivation of industrial hemp.
Hemp Fest was organized by Heady Vermont, an advocacy group dedicated to what it calls “cannabis culture.” Outside the resort, brewers offered samples of hemp beer, a hemp plant in a pail of soil sat in the back of a pick-up truck and an instrument-maker showed off his wares.
Most of the hemp cultivation in Vermont seems to be going to the production of an oil that contains cannabidiol, or CBD, which is reputed to have medical benefits.
State Sen. John Rodgers, who represents Essex and Orleans counties, has been using CBD to cope with the aches and pains of his working life, which started as a child on a dairy farm and continued as an adult doing stone and excavation work.
“I have a couple knuckles that are arthritic and if I remember to rub it on at night, they definitely feel better in the morning,” says Rodgers. “I've just started on an oil that I've been taking that has seemed to help with my back.”
Rodgers grew a dozen hemp plants this year at his home in Glover for seed, and he plans to put in two or three acres next year.
“I think there's real potential for this crop to help out individuals who want to get back to ag that don't want to have a giant industrial farm,” Rodgers says.
Among those who attended Hemp Fest because they were pondering the possibility of hemp farming were Peter Backman and his wife Annie Christopher.
The couple ran a successful condiment and salad dressing business for 20 years called Annie's Naturals and now have a 50-acre medicinal herb farm in North Calais. They plan to start by planting five acres of hemp next year.
“I think it would be extraordinarily easy to grow for us,” says Ben Uris, their farm manager. “With the crops that we're doing, we're drying everything — so we're doing large batch herb drying using forced hot air. So we already have that infrastructure in place, as well as some processing machinery to separate the material.”
Inside the resort center at Hemp Fest, exhibitors displayed hemp garments, bricks of hempcrete and a ginger-CBD kombucha made in Irasburg by a company called Creek Valley Cannabidiol. Sixteen-ounce bottles of the kombucha are currently sold in six stores around Vermont.
Creek Valley Cannabidiol was founded by 31-year-old Kyle Gruter-Curham, whose sister suffers from seizures.
“I got some CBD oil from Colorado. She tried it. It offered her relief, and I did a thousand plants on an acre for her,” Gruter-Curham says.
That was back in 2016, and this year Gruter-Curham grew six acres of hemp. He plans to double the acreage next year.
Bill Reilly is co-founder of the Burlington-based company Reilly's HEMPVET, which makes a canine supplement that contains hemp.
“Right now hemp is gaining popularity in humans, and for pets it has the same therapeutic results,” Reilly says.
The canine supplement the company makes has the consistency of a Tootsie Roll. Ten different formulations claim to benefit everything from your pooch's joints to its nerves.
“I've been in the nutritional supplement business – both human and animal – for 15 years, so I know the category,” Reilly explains. “This hemp category is an explosion.”
Perhaps nowhere is that explosive growth more evident than in Hardwick, where the Green Mountain CBD farm is expanding.
Tom Stearns, founder of High Mowing Seeds, confirms that he'll lease around 40 acres in Hardwick and Hyde Park next year to Green Mountain CBD, effectively tripling the acreage of the Hardwick-based CBD capsule manufacturer.
Correction 6:00 p.m. A photo caption in a previous version of the post misstated the name of the business Stearns founded as High Seeds Mowing. It has now been corrected to read as High Mowing Seeds.