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Hemp Could Revitalize Some Farms, But Growers Need a Plan

By Julia Lynn Rubin

Could hemp be the key to the revitalization of the American agricultural industry? According to Hempleton Investment Group, Inc, aka “Hempleton,” the ancient industrial plant provides a sustainable and nourishing replacement for everything from corn and tobacco to plastic and concrete, and may even inspire the next generation of farmers. Welcome to the wonderful world of hemp.

We recently spoke with one of the co-founders of Hempleton, a fully-vertically integrated company founded by North Carolina real estate developer Justin Hamilton and his partner, Zach Mountford, Chief of Field Operations. Mountford explained there is a dire need for a new generation of American farmers, and that he and Hamilton founded their company with the goal of creating a positive and lasting difference on the industry as a whole. Hempleton farms hemp and processes and distributes it through the Hemp Farmacy, of which there are currently seven retail locations throughout North Carolina. The team also owns seven hemp-friendly medical clinics in the state, conducts extensive hemp research, and works to provide a variety of free educational programs for farmers and industry professionals.

“Food, fiber, fuel, medicine, housing, employment, mental health, physical wellness–there is nothing this plant can’t do and we are only scratching the surface,” Mountford tells Remedy Review.  “Moreover, we are more excited about future problems hemp could solve that we aren’t even aware of yet.”

As time goes on, the gap between the rural poor and the non-poor in America continues to widen. It’s an industry in which national policy often favors corporations over family farmers. Since 2013, U.S. farmers and ranchers have suffered a 45 percent drop in net farm income. According to Farmaid, this is the largest three-year drop since the beginning of the Great Depression. Prices for crops such as corn and wheat have dramatically dipped, and many farmers are declaring bankruptcy. As farmers and ranchers provide the foundation for their local communities, this means that when they suffer, everyone suffers.

Hemp, however, could provide a lasting solution, as it’s an “easy switch” from products like corn and tobacco. “Much of the same equipment and infrastructure can be used with only minor modifications,” says Mountford. “However, the economic potential of hemp far exceeds that of tobacco in every category. In addition, recent tariffs with China (a large buyer of American tobacco, soybeans, and pork) are encouraging farmers who are able to switch to something sustainable and healthy, such as hemp, at a higher rate.”

Hamilton grew up on a farm throughout part of his childhood, and maintained an active interest in historical homes. One particular estate in Wallace, North Carolina caught his eye, and he took it on as a long-term restoration project. But when the real estate market declined in 2007, Hamilton and his partner decided to develop it into an agritourism farm to start generating income. While the real estate market continued to look dreary, the cannabis industry was showing exceeding promise. Colorado had legalized medical cannabis by 2012, and agriculture continued to make the news as a new generation of pioneer farmers began making headway. Hamilton went to meet with industry pioneers and leaders in the emerging cannabis arena. He and Mountford had discovered a veritable goldmine: a chance to spread awareness, educate the public, and change legislation over a crop that had been illegal in America for nearly 80 years. It is, in fact, a crop that can alter the landscape of American agriculture for the better.

Unfortunately, Mountford argues, due to the “draconian approach of our federal government,”  agriculturally we’re a century behind where we need to be. In 1970, the Controlled Substances Act classified all forms of cannabis–hemp included–as Schedule 1 drugs, making it illegal to be grown in the United States. The long-term prohibition has arguably done far more harm than good, especially for farmers. In 2014, the U.S. Farm Bill granted states the right to pass their own industrial hemp legislation, and most recently, the Hemp Farming Act of 2018 proposed to remove hemp’s Schedule 1 classification and reintroduce it as an ordinary agricultural commodity. The Act was preceded by a number of other such proposals that never made law. However, progress is still underway, and some states such as North Carolina have legalized hemp production.

Hempleton supports a collaborative approach to farming, in which farmers share information on the best cultivars and farming techniques for different soil types, climates, and the like. This open-source approach, Mountford says, could be key in farmers regaining institutional knowledge during hemp’s long absence from American farms.

“An old timer once told me that if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go with a team,” Mountford explains, “most traditional farming is a rather lonely business.” The average age of the American farmer is over 60, but hemp, he argues, could inspire a new generation to choose a career in agricultural-related fields. And as farming becomes more industrialized and corporate–an increasingly lonely business–“we need all the farmers we can get.”

Hempleton is currently involved in extensive research on hemp fiber, grains and seeds, flowers and a variety of agricultural services. They are partnered with organizations such as East Coast Genetics, Jimmy Cannabis, and NC Help Research Farm Campus, among others, and offer various educational opportunities such as free classes and apprenticeship programs to “budding” hemp farmers.

As exciting as this all is, Mountford does warn farmers of developing a potential “hemp fever.”

“Plan carefully!” he says. “We encourage everyone to make a business plan before you begin and ask yourself just how much money you are willing to lose starting out. Having said that, it is a life-calling and certainly work worth doing to better oneself, one’s community, and even the world at large. Hemp can help us move towards sustainability and wellness, and we could all use a little wellness in our lives right now!”

 

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