Benton farm among growing industry of hemp producers

September 10th, 2018 | Joy Hollowell | (c) WABI Channel 5

BENTON, Maine (WABI) – Two years ago, we featured Wild Folk Farm in Benton and their efforts to put Maine on the map for growing rice.

Today, their rice harvest is still strong, but so is another up and coming crop.

Joy Hollowell headed back to Benton to to hear why our state is also good for growing hemp.

At Wild Folk Farm in Benton, you’ll find beans, cabbage, tomatoes and hemp.

“Hemp can grow well in a lot of places,” says owner Ben Rooney. “The cold weather can really sweeten the crop.”

Studies show hemp can be used to treat a variety of ailments ranging from pain and inflammation to controlling epileptic seizures. Current research links it to helping with drug addiction withdrawal. Ben Rooney says his decision to grow this non-hallucinogen form of cannabis came out of a desire to bring something new to Maine’s agricultural economy that would still work well on a small scale.

“The plants look very much like marijuana plants,” explains Rooney. “We tend to and cultivate them similar to how you would cultivate marijuana plants. But it has very little THC.”

0.3% is the legal limit of THC allowed in hemp plants. The state sends out inspectors in the spring to certify seeds or clone sources then again in the fall when farmers are getting ready to harvest. Crop testing above the allowable THC limit will be destroyed by the state with the licensee paying the cost.

“We have two different varieties here,” says Rooney. “One is cherry and one is stout.”

Maine began issuing industrial hemp licenses in 2016. This year, they accepted 82 applications. According to Gary Fish, State Horticulturist with the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, of the licenses granted this year, 78 actually grew hemp. And while the final number is still be tallied, Fish says about 450 acres of hemp was planted in Maine for this growing season.

Unlike marijuana cultivation which is monitored through number of plantings, hemp growing is based on acreage. Industrial hemp and medical marijuana plants can not be co-mingled.

A proposed 2018 federal farm bill would legalize the production of industrial hemp across the country.

Rooney says he is one of only a few in the state that are MOFGA certified for clean cannabis.

“There is a huge market for hemp in Maine and we were some of the first people on shelves in Maine,” says Rooney. “At the same time, we’re looking to keep our farm small, keep it human powered and keep it so we can be really close and intimate to our plants and medicine.”

Rooney planted about 300 clones which are a genetic copy of the plant they come from. Rooney believes this better ensures that quality and certification of their crop. “Seeds have a lot more variability,” he says.

Rooney expects to begin harvesting the hemp later this month.

“We’ll cut down the full plant and we’ll hang them upside down so that helps all the nutrients from the roots, from the stems come up into the plant,” says Rooney. “We make most of our salves and tincture from the flowers mixed in with the trim leaves.”

Wild Folk Farm’s hemp products are in 28 places around Maine. Rooney says like any crop, hemp takes work to grow. but the rewards are much more tangible.

“It’s something if you eat carrots and tomatoes every day, the idea is that is going to help you live longer, it’s going to help you feel better,” he says. “Whereas with stuff like this – we’re getting feedback from people daily about how it’s changing their lives.”

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