Some New York farmers believe they’ve found the state’s next big cash crop: hemp.
A Florida woman posted a video using Facebook Live where she exclaimed at how excited she was to find hemp at a Whole Foods Market. But the product was from Upstate New York.
The hemp was from JD Farms in Eaton, N.Y. It’s the state’s first legal hemp farm in decades.
“We had the idea of hemp as an organic cover crop, initially,” Daniel Dolgin said.
Dolgin left the White House for the farm house. After working in counterterrorism for many years, he now co-owns JD Farms with his business partner Mark Justh.
“You know, as the program was just getting started in New York, we thought it was interesting,” Dolgin said. “As we started looking more at all the various products and the industry as it was unfolding.”
A change in the 2014 Farm Bill made agricultural production of industrial hemp possible.
Hemp comes from the same species as marijuana, and it’s constantly mistaken for pot, but it’s not the same product.
“You could smoke a whole football field of hemp and all you’ll get is a headache, so there’s really no relation in terms of what it will do to your body chemistry,” Dolgin explained.
Industrial hemp plants contain almost no THC, the compound in marijuana that gets people high.
“I think there’s potential for the market to really explode,” Cornell University Professor of Plant Breeding and Genetics Larry Smart said.
Smart is leading the hemp farming effort in the Southern Tier.
“There’s a lot of public interest in hemp in all three products we can harvest,” he said. “And that’s the fiber for fabrics and other building materials. The grain for food products and very healthy oils as well as the CBD that may have some health benefits for some people.”
Farmers said hemp is the new cash crop and could be the next kale.
“And when you look at the nutrition, it’s really an amazing profile, and the flavor is there,” Dolgin said. “And no one was growing this as a baby green, so we thought that would be a really interesting market to explore.”
A year later, after their first crop, JD Farms products can be found at restaurants in New York and in Ithaca. The Piggery sells the farm’s baby hemp greens, and they’re in demand.
“I can’t wait for the next harvest because they have been calling nonstop,” Piggery owner Heather Sandford said.
The Piggery store also makes hemp products of its own.
“We have fun with the product,” Sandford explained. “We make some specialty things: we make a hemp flour-based sausage as well as a hemp leaves chimichurri sauce for our meat here at the shop.”
With a production that’s strong as textiles and high in protein, could hemp really be a superfood like kale?
“The next kale?” Smart said. “Well, I’m not a huge fan, but again, there’s a lot of excitement.”
The plants at Cornell were harvested in October. Experiments are ongoing to see what grows best in New York soil.