Area farmers form Hempire State Growers Hudson Valley to capitalize on CBD market

Left to right: Gerry Greco, Amy Hepworth and Gail Hepworth of Hempire State Growers. (Photo by Lauren Thomas)

Every five years, Congress passes a new Farm Bill, legislation that establishes national policy in agriculture, nutrition, conservation and forestry. The 2018 Farm Bill included “The Hemp Farming Act,” which moved hemp from the category of a controlled substance to that of an agricultural commodity, officially ending a federal prohibition on hemp farming and opening the door to new opportunities for Hudson Valley farmers.

Hemp plants contain cannabidiol, more commonly known as CBD. When resin from the stalks of hemp plants is extracted and combined with a carrier oil such as coconut or olive oil, the resulting CBD oil can be used as a natural form of pain relief. Scientific studies and anecdotal evidence alike have shown that CBD oil is helpful in reducing the symptoms of a wide variety of ailments, from lowering high blood pressure to providing relief for the side-effects associated with cancer treatments. And because CBD is not addictive and is non-psychoactive – hemp plants contain no THC, the substance in marijuana plants that gets a person high – the cannabinoids in hemp can create changes in the body that contribute to good health and wellness without altering a person’s perceptions or judgment.

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With legal obstacles to growing the plant removed, local farmers are beginning to seed their growing fields with hemp. But while the rising demand for CBD oil would seem to make hemp-growing a no-brainer in terms of being a profitable endeavor, farmer Gail Hepworth is concerned that if the cultivation of hemp locally isn’t handled in a way that benefits regional farmers, they could find themselves on the losing end of what’s sure to be a lucrative market. 

The current agricultural reality, she says, is that the farmer is at the bottom of the list when it comes to who is making money from the crops they grow. “We grow the food, but everybody else along the value chain, before it gets to the consumer, is making the money. And it’s the farmers who take all the risks.” The challenges include a number of things, Hepworth explains, from dealing with weather conditions like frost to suffering the whims of the marketplace. For example, a farmer may devote ten years or more to bringing a particular variety of apple to fruition only to find the buyers at that time following the trend for another variety.

Gail and her sister, Amy Hepworth, own and operate Hepworth Farms in Milton, a 550-acre, seventh-generation family farm founded in 1818. Along with more than 300 varieties of vegetables, they’re now growing hemp. And earlier this year, the sisters co-founded “Hempire State Growers Hudson Valley” in order to protect the interests of local farmers growing hemp.

“We’re a tight-knit group of farmers working in a cooperative model,” says Gail. “We’re working together to be a part of this economic opportunity. But if this isn’t done with the farmers’ interests at heart, this crop could be harmful to farmers or at best, be like any other agricultural commodity which has not served farmers well.”

With more than 30 local farmers currently involved in the group and additional farmers expected to join by next year, the members of Hempire State Growers plan to use their combined farming knowledge and experience to bolster one another’s efforts in growing hemp as a supplement to what they’re already producing on their individual farms. The group’s objective is to develop a pure, organically-grown hemp plant with characteristic flavors and qualities specific to Hudson Valley growing conditions, which will make the group the “go-to” entity for CBD production and processing in the region.

The membership of Hempire State Growers includes some well-known farms in the area along with smaller enterprises. Along with Hepworth Farms in Milton are Black Creek Farm in Highland, Cavallaro Farms in Goshen, Dagele Brothers Produce in Orange County, Davenport Farms in Stone Ridge, Full Moon Farm in Gardiner, Hepworth Farms in Milton, Leo Boice & Sons in Kingston and Taliaferro Farms in New Paltz. A few of the farms are offering public tours of their hemp fields, among them Dubois Farms in Highland, Lawrence Farms & Orchards in Newburgh, Minard Family Farms of Clintondale and Wright Farms in Gardiner.

The farmers are focusing on producing organic hemp with maximized cannabidiol (CBD) concentration, and will use state-of-the-art extraction and processing technologies to bring the natural remedy to market. Their collaborative approach provides added risk protection and reduced production costs through the sharing of knowledge, equipment, processing facilities and agricultural workers.

“How it all works will have to be figured out as we go,” Gail says. “But we have a model, and the model will be available for others to use. We have to refine it, but we have a seasoned finance person on our team, with 35 years of corporate experience, helping us to build the financial model and the true spirit of a cooperative.” 

Growing hemp will be more than just another crop for local farmers, Hepworth says; it will literally be essential to the very survival of local farms. “It needs to happen. But for it to happen, our model is a bottom-up model. That means that we’re going to capture the wealth creation, because we’re going to be growing it, and we’re also going to be processing it and selling it. It’s not just the growing of the crop we’re after, it’s the wealth creation that happens after the crop is harvested that this cooperative is set up to capture.”

The group has already turned down millions of dollars from investors “in order to retain our sovereignty,” she adds. “We could certainly use the money, because we have to build the infrastructure, but we walked away from those investors because they want to own us. And the difference in our model is, we are not owned by anyone. It’s better for the farmers, and it’s better for the community, because when farmers do well, communities do well, too. We have an intention to turn the Hudson Valley into a CBD region in concert with and in complement to what is already established here by the food-to-table movement and the agri-tourism business.”

And because the profits from growing hemp will allow the farmers to continue growing their food crops, Hempire State Growers is ultimately about that, Hepworth says. “The real thing is feeding people; that’s actually our inspiration.”

For more information about Hempire State Growers Hudson Valley, visit https://hempirestategrowers.com/.

There are 16 comments

  1. A Wealth-Creationist

    The separation of THC from marijuana was first accomplished in 1964 by two Israeli scientists. They both said they never smoked it, but they were sure some disappeared under the lab table when their interns came in to work.

  2. Sheila Coleman

    Are any of these farms owned by POC? Are POC involved at all with this venture in any form? Did the reporter think to ask these questions, and whether a POC or POC-led organization had comment? Years of racist drug policies have devestated POC communities, and now large white-owned farms are going to cash in on marijuana?

    Sorry, no.

    That’s not justice. That’s not restitution. That’s not equity.

    Stop white-washing marijuana and give these licenses to POC farmers and distributors. If there aren’t sufficient POC farmers and distributors available in this region, consider requiring that POC be brought in as business partners at 51/49 stake in order to proceed.

        1. The Sirens of Hemp

          “Paid On Call” (firemen) is what this municipality needs, guys to get the job done right. They are never there when you need them, but they are always on time. And they can come stoned, too!

    1. Coolidge

      Imagine going through life being this obsessed with race

      I can’t even tell if this comment is a troll or not. No one is stopping anyone regardless of their race from cashing in on CBD. Who reads an article like this an their first thought is the racial breakdown of people in this emerging industry? Holy shit.

      1. Sheila Coleman

        “Obsessed with race”

        This is the type of thing one ONLY hears from privileged white men. I have no ill will toward privileged white men, but y’all have been talking for a LONG TIME. Maybe it’s time you listened?

        You have the luxury of race being something others are “obsessed with” or not. Did you ever stop to think that for POC, there’s no choice but to be “obsessed” with race, because the entire nation is built on exploitation of you and continued expropriation of your resources? That no matter what you do, where you go, you will always be lesser in the eyes of the ruling powers of this country? That when you are killed, raped, unjustly imprisoned, assaulted, by a racist justice system – just because you are POC – that no one will care?

        Yeah, didn’t think so.

        You say I’m “obsessed.” I’m just looking at things as they are.

        1. Coolidge

          Last I checked I didn’t post a picture of myself with my post so you seem to be making a lot of assumptions. I could be a black, trans, indigenous, woman of color in a wheelchair for all you know. You are ideologically possessed. You are only capable of seeing the world through the prism of the intersectional oppression olympics. The smallest minority is the individual, every human being has things outside of their control to contend with; societal, sociological, biological, environmental. Life’s not fair but it is more fair in this corner of world at this point in time than just about anywhere ever, for everybody.

          This article has exactly zero to do with race yet you felt compelled to rant and rave about your redistributionist fantasy. Why don’t YOU get some investors involved and build a CBD oriented business with people of whatever shade you want?

          I meet non-white business owners every day in my line of work, I guarantee you they don’t spend their time spouting off how “woke” they are on local news websites such as HV1 because they’re busy getting shit done. However, I still think your original comment is bait because it couldn’t be closer to an actual parody of the “woke left.”

    2. Workforit

      Give these licenses? How about every person, regardless of who they are, go out and earn their own way?

      Sorry, but enough is enough of this b.s.

      Restitution? Reparations? For what?

      We all struggle and most white men are not rich and privileged.

      This article had absolutely zero to do with this nonsense.

      My Dad used to say – Want everything in one hand and shit in the other and see which fills up first.
      So, go ahead and keep believing the world owes you something and see how far you get without effort.

      The color of ones skin means nothing.

      1. Reality Check

        I really wish the color of one’s skin meant nothing in this world and in this country, but that isn’t true at all. You know it isn’t true. Heck, color aside, if you were born into a family with real big money, do you really think you’d be reading this rag and posting here?

        This world isn’t run by an honest meritocracy, and there aren’t so many rules that cannot be bent when you have enough cash or pull. Meanwhile, the ones with money aren’t any better than you or I, nor have they worked harder. I’ve seen both sides, and there is a difference, one that is arbitrary and cruel beyond belief. The fact that you can’t understand that speaks to just how lucky you are, maintaining your disbelief in such a rotten world. Now you go and imagine what it’s like for the ones crying foul. You suppose all of them are liars or goldbrickers?

        You go and see how far the bootstraps get you, then talk to the guy in the Benz and ask him what daddy did. You’re dreaming of a nicer gentler world, and I envy you for that alone. But don’t you think it’s a shame to perpetuate this nonsense? Nobody’s paying you for it, and it makes you out to be a rube. Nobody here wants to take anything from you. The people who would and have done so are the people who you’d pay lip service to.

        Think bigger, and love people like Jesus would. At the least, love yourself a little more before you mouth off like that.

    3. RC

      Legalization isn’t about equality, it’s about money. I fear that POC growers would be at best modern day share-croppers under anything the NYS legislation brings about. It will be taxed as high as possible, and the most moneyed interests will get theirs and skirt the law as much as possible. Look at the music industry: Jazz music was obscene, now it’s copyrighted and owned by large interests. I see a pattern.

      Nobody can let legalization be hailed as a victory for equality so much as they recognize it as a cynical cash grab. There never should have been any laws against marijuana in the first place, and the entire underlying justification was a smear campaign on black people and hispanics. The “war on drugs” was always a war on specific groups of people, and later a profit funnel for modern day chattel in the prison industrial complex.

      Any state proceeds from this should be used to make amends for that injustice, at the least. So yes, hell yes, reparations please! And there ought to be a affirmative action schedule for licensure, or no limit to licensure in the first place.

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