It’s high time hemp gets its due


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Hemp has gotten a bad rap over the decades. Hundreds of farmers in Pennsylvania, including more than 20 in Bucks County, are out to change that perception.

For thousands of years, this plant in the cannabis family related to marijuana has been used to make ship sails, ropes and paper as well as providing medicinal cures for arthritis and other health conditions.

But in 1937, due to its psychotropic properties, cultivation of industrial hemp and marijuana, a cousin cannabis, were banned in the United States. 

From medicine to building material, hemp has multiple uses

Now that is changing and medicinal marijuana and related products are legally available for sale in Pennsylvania. And research into hemp’s multiple uses as a medical substance, a food and a “green” building material are growing rapidly. 

“A lot of people in construction are keenly interested in hemp … It’s great for the environment,” said Shannon Powers, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. 

Fred Hagen of Sugar Bottom Farm in Buckingham is one of them. He thinks it’s a “miracle” plant that can help to protect the planet from climate change.

A history buff, he wants to restore the plant’s honor.

“It was one of the earliest plants grown in the Americas,” he said. “They grew it in Jamestown. The seeds came over on the Mayflower. It was grown extensively by the Founding Fathers … Fifty-five tons of hemp went into the rigging on the USS Constitution.”

And it has a “perfect” combination of Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids for health benefits as well as anti-inflammatory properties, he said.

Hagen is the founder of Bensalem-based Hagen Construction that has worked on multi-million dollar commercial, hospital and government projects, including the Barnes Museum and the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia; he’s also an explorer who has searched the world for military planes that went down in battle and were never recovered. Through his efforts, the bodies of 18 formerly missing airmen have been buried at military cemeteries across the United States. 

Now Hagen is into growing this “miracle” plant at his Sugar Bottom Road horse farm. 

He’s co-owner of the project with Stephanie Harris, who lives on a neighboring farm owned by her parents. With her knowledge of both agriculture and the wine and spirit industry, she has agreed to run the hemp-farming operation.

They gave a tour of the farm recently, showing the 20-acre field where the hemp plants will be planted and grown again this year now that the chance for frost is ending. 

Hagen’s long-time friend and public relations consultant, George Polgar, joined them. 

“He is very mission based. He believes you can make a difference,”  Polgar said.

Hagen said the plant was grown 8,000 years ago in ancient Mesopotamia for its medicinal purposes. “It has a great history and I believe is fundamental to our future in that it’s a solution for climate change. It’s a renewable resource that is stronger by weight than steel,” he said.

It doesn’t require deforestation and is biodegradable.

Harris has consulted other local farmers and books to understand how to grow the hemp. A crop takes about 90 days, from planting to harvest.

This is the third year Sugar Bottom Farms has planted hemp. In the first year, it harvested about 900 pounds and last year, it collected 1,600 pounds.

“There are many strains of hemp, like there are many types of wine grapes,” Harris said. Hemp varieties that are used for fiber and seeds as well as the oil from the hemp flowers, called cannabidiol or CBD for short, are labeled as industrial hemp. 

Industrial hemp grown for their CBD contain more of that than tetrahydrocannabinol, or TCE, a related compound found more abundantly in marijuana. Both can be used to ease pain and can have sedation qualities but CBD does not give a “high” that TCE can produce in most people. To be sold as CBD, a product cannot contain more than 0.3% of TCE.

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Harris said that farmers growing hemp for CBD need to know when to harvest it so that the amount of TCE in it doesn’t rise above the limit. “We must harvest at or under 0.3% to be compliant with the state,” she said. 

A World Health Organization study notes, “In humans, CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential” and has been used to treat epilepsy and other health conditions.

Growing demand for hemp strains without CBD

Powers, of the state agricultural department, said that fewer farmers in Pennsylvania have sought permits to grow hemp this year — 417 compared to 510 last year — because of the glut in CBD products, but that growing a taller variety of hemp for its fibers or seeds — which don’t contain CBD — is gaining traction as more companies are looking to use the plant to create “bio-plastics” and even building materials.

Processors are seeking hemp growers for these purposes, she said. 

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When the federal government lifted restrictions on growing the plant for medicinal purposes in 2014, Pennsylvania was one of the first to start issuing growing permits for research only. Then the state’s 2018 Farm Bill opened the field up to more farmers. Still, they must register with the state and have permits to grow hemp.

Eric Vander Hyde, a co-owner and farmer for Barefoot Botanicals in Doylestown, said that so many people have gotten into farming hemp for medicinal purposes that he’s heard of farmers who have not been able to sell their crop because of the over supply or because it contained too much TCE. 

 “You have to be careful,” he said. “It’s a new industry and with any new industry, there are a lot of unknowns. Ten years from now, a lot of the unknowns will be known.”

And he advised that anyone buying CBD, herbs or related products should check with their doctor first on their use. “We are not medical professionals. We cannot diagnose or prescribe,” he said. “They should have someone guide them.”

What it costs to grow hemp

Vander Hyde said he thinks a lot of farmers got into the hemp business hoping for their CBD products to be profitable but there are many costs involved. Vander Hyde said he thinks a lot of farmers got into the hemp business hoping for their CBD products to be profitable but there are many costs involved.

They need to become licensed and permitted. Also, they must pay for lab testing of their product for TCE and then they must dry the harvested plants and process them, as well as pay for marketing their products containing CBD, in order to make a profit.

And there are regulations about how and where they can be advertised.

Barefoot Botanicals will sell people the basic CBD compound so they can make their own tinctures and creams, he said. He and wife, Linda, sell their products out of the Mercantile, a new artist collective in the former Bon-Ton store in Doylestown.

Check out The Mercantile: New collective links shoppers with local artists

Harris said she uses the products and has seen them help her spouse who suffers from early onset dementia.   

“In 2020, we even added the super-cannabinoid CBG to our fields for its promising results in studies in Europe,” she said.

CBG, or cannabigerol, is another substance found in a different variety of hemp that like CBD may be healthful without the side effects of marijuana and research is suggesting it may be useful in fighting cancer.

Sugar Bottom Farm also produces pate de fruit gummies containing CBD, and plans to introduce a product that appears to help restore hair. 

“The quality of the hemp we grow is really exceptional,” Harris said.

When she takes potions and oils made from Sugar Bottom’s CBD to sell at health fairs or farmers’ markets and people say that other products haven’t helped them, she implores them to try the Sugar Bottom brand.

“They come back the next week. They’re glowing. It has given them the relief they were seeking,” she said.

Hagen said that since hemp was a banned substance for so long, modern-day research with the latest technology into its multiple uses is just beginning. He wants to see it expand because he believes the plant can help to save the planet from climate change.

Powers agrees. 

Everything from mustards and flour are made from hemp seeds and the fibers are now being used in building beams. And she said hemp plants are great at filtering toxic chemicals in the atmosphere and soil.

“There are so many uses for hemp … It’s mind boggling,” she said. 



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