KILLINGWORTH — It looks like cannabis. It feels like cannabis. It smells like cannabis.
But it’s not the kind of cannabis many equate with another product: marijuana . It’s the hemp plant, now growing at Running Brook Farms.
The family owned farm has been in business for more than 50 years and sees the opportunity to grow hemp as a perfect way to extend their growing season. They are one of the first farms in the state to start growing hemp.
“The synergy with our independent garden center is phenomenal, as far as growing cycles,” said Site Manager Becky Goetsch. “So right now, is definitely a slow time for us.
“Everybody’s bought their plants and planted their gardens, so hemp coming into our workflow is really important to us, actually, because the independent garden centers are struggling just as much as the farmers, as far as having a lot of competition with box stores and just the industry in general,” she added.
The farm’s ability to grow hemp is a result of a new state law that requires the state Department of Agriculture commissioner to adopt regulations establishing an industrial hemp pilot program in accordance with the Federal Agriculture Act of 2014.
The pilot program will allow for and study the growth, cultivation and marketing of industrial hemp in Connecticut.
Hemp is considered a booming industry because the plant, a type of cannabis, produces a non-intoxicating substance known as CBD oil, which is used to treat inflammation, pain and anxiety. It is being also being incorporated it into lotions, pills, tinctures and candies.
Running Brook Farms’ hemp will be harvested and sold to produce CBD oil. In addition, they foresee the day when they can grow to supply other farmers with seedlings.
“This new industry presents a multitude of opportunities for businesses and farms across the state,” said Sen. Christine Cohen, D-Guilford, co-chairwoman of the Environment Committee and champion of the hemp legislation.
“It is encouraging to see farms, like Running Brook, taking advantage of this lucrative cash crop. Seeing the seedlings going into the ground for eventual sale and use generates an air of excitement and promise for these land owners and manufacturer,” she added. “Ultimately, everyone in Connecticut reaps the benefits of this pro-farm, pro-business legislation.”
The Connecticut Farm Bureau Association has estimated that an acre of hemp could generate 500 to 1,500 pounds of dried flowers and pull in profits of $37,500 to $150,000.
Farm Bureau President Don Tuller emphasized that the industry is highly regulated, but allowing hemp farming in the state allows farmers to become diversified, which is important for their success.
“We just wanted Connecticut farmers to have the opportunity to at least participate,” Tuller said.
“The problem was that while they legalize production of hemp, it’s still a highly regulated product because it looks just like cannabis,” he added. “So, our push was to just allow Connecticut farmers to be in the game.”
Running Brook Farms Owner Scott Papoosha is excited to be a part of this new enterprise.
“We figured this year would be a learning year, get our feet wet, get grounded and then next year we’ll ramp up production,” he said.
The farm currently has two 3,500-square-foot greenhouses on their Killingworth site and two acres of land in Deep River dedicated to hemp plants.
Goetsch and Papoosha invited individuals who were instrumental in passing the legislation to the farm to learn more about growing hemp. In addition to Cohen and Tuller, guests included Bryan Hurlburt, commissioner of the state Department of Agriculture, First Selectwoman Catherine Iino, and Jeff Wenzel, founder of the Connecticut Hemp Industry Association.
Standing in one of the two 3,500-square-foot greenhouses that are dedicated to growing hemp, Goetsch said there is a learning curve to growing the plant and the greenhouse offers a very controlled environment.
The seeds were planted the first week of June and harvest is anticipated in October.
Goetsch proudly showed off her Hemp Grower License, strategically placed on a greenhouse work table. She added that a second license is at the field, three miles away.
Hurlburt said this license is important to have handy, in light of the similarity between hemp and cannabis.
“We’ve been working with public safety to make sure that we’re creating an online database, so if they pull somebody over, that person should have the certificate of authenticity that’s saying, ‘Running Brook Farms, I am allowed the grow hemp,’ explained Hurlburt, using Running Brook Farms as an example of a state registered hemp farm.
“They can hand it to a police officer and the police officer’s not thinking that the individuals are running marijuana,” he added.
Running Brook Farms entry into hemp production is exactly the type of business that will help Killingworth grow, according to Iino.
“We have a whole bunch of really diverse agricultural enterprises going on here, now,” she said. “We have a cranberry farm, a lavender farm, a mushroom farm, alpaca farm, so having this is just one more – it’s what we do in Killingworth.”
“This is one thing that we can do to make our land productive and to keep the character of the town, which is basically rural and we like it that way,” she added.