COLLINS – What started as a secondary business for Chris and Paula Jeanniton has turned into their farm being one of the leaders in growing industrial hemp in the Western New York region. The Jeannitons own Farm in Peace on Route 39 in Collins, they started with a produce stand in 2016, expanded to a community supported agriculture program in 2017 and this year, will research growing habits of industrial hemp in New York.
Industrial hemp is a member of the cannabis family, but is a non-psychoactive plant that has a variety of different uses. The four main purposes, Chris said, are food, fiber, oil and grain. However, it can also be used as a building material, fertilizer and creating paper products. In total, there are more than 25,000 documented uses for hemp.
Considering the plant looks almost identical to marijuana, the couple wants to ensure their neighbors understand the difference. The level of THC – the agent in marijuana that makes it psychoactive – in hemp is less than 1 percent, which is almost untraceable. To grow the plant in New York, the Jeannitons had to get a license from the Department of Environmental Control and have to keep the THC in their plants under 0.3 percent. Instead, industrial hemp has a high cannabidiol, or CBD, content that essentially renders any TCH useless.
“We have to have it tested before we harvest,” Chris Jeanniton said. “It’s very regulated … and we can lose our license if it’s above that 0.3 percent.”
The Jeannitons had to submit a research proposal through the state, will have to write a report each of the three years they hold the license and have to notify law enforcement they will be growing hemp, due to the physical similarities to marijuana.
“It looks a lot like marijuana,” Jeanniton said. “It is a controlled substance … but it won’t get you high, it’s not a drug. We’re growing it for research purposes.”
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an authorization to grow industrial hemp as a pilot program in 2014. In 2017, 30 DEC licenses were issued to farmers in the state to grow the plant, that number jumped over 100 in 2018. Along with the farmers who were issued permits, Cornell University is also working with the state to conduct research on industrial hemp.
More locally, the Jeannitons have big goals for using industrial hemp. As part of their research, they will plant the hemp in soil of varying nitrogen levels to see how it reacts. They plan to use it as a fertilizer to grow mushrooms, build a produce stand using “hempcrete” and soak potatoes in hemp tea to see if it helps reduce the risk of blight.
“Hemp is as diverse as we are. We’re kindred spirits,” Paula Jeanniton said. “That was our appeal to it.”
The industrial hemp plant can grow to 8 feet, the top 3 feet consist of hemp seed, the entire plant takes about three or four months to grow. Their initial goal is to separate the hurd – the woody inside of the stalk – from the fiber on the outside of the stalk.
Looking long term, they’d like to help create an industrial hemp processing plant in Collins to bring jobs back to the area. Binghamton was recently awarded $650,000 in grant money to build a $3.2 million hemp processing plant in New York. It will allow the state to create its own seed and “lead the way in processing hemp,” according to Cuomo.
“We’re experimenting this year to see what we can do on a small scale,” Chris Jeanniton said. “We want to see if we can make the market ourselves … see if we can get an industry here.”
In the meantime, the Jeannitons plan to continue their CSA services. They recently purchased a new building they hope will eventually become a farm store and space for educational events. There are plans to expand Farm in Peace to include a winter CSA that would provide root vegetables and behind-the-scenes work to grow blueberries and garlic bulbs.
The couple admits there is a lot on the table for them, but see it as a blessing not a burden.
“We just love learning,” Paula Jeanniton said. “We enjoy our life too much … to just do one thing.”
Visit Farm in Peace on Facebook to keep updated on their latest happenings.
What is industrial hemp?
- A member of the Cannabis genus that contains small amounts of THC
- An industrial, non-drug variant cultivated for its fiber, hurd and seed
What are hemps use?
- Dietary products, including raw seeds, milk, protein powder and oil.
- Cloth, including apparel, bags, rope, canvas and carpeting
- Building products such as cement, insulation and paper
Why is it a controlled substance?
- The Controlled Substance Act, signed into law in 1970, established a set of banned drugs. The act grouped marijuana with all types of Cannabis and was made illegal to grow in the United States.
- At the time the law was established, scientists had yet to identify THC as the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. When marijuana was banned, there was no scientific way to differentiate hemp from marijuana.
- Thirty four states have since defined industrial hemp as distinct from marijuana and passed laws allowing its production in pilot programs.
Where can I learn more?