By Rich Place
Christopher and Paula Jeanniton, the owners of Farm in Peace along Route 39 in Collins Center, have learned a lot about hemp farming in their first year of growing the crop.
And as they continue to learn about it, the husband-and-wife team are hoping to educate the public about the plant during a series of tours on weekends throughout this month.
The Jeannitons were among a handful of farmers throughout New York that took advantage of the state opening up the growing and processing of industrial hemp. They planted about nine acres on their 56-acre farm.
“This year we really wanted to focus on educating people,” said Paula during a tour of the farm last week. “We have been growing this now since June and I still have aunts and uncles who think we are growing marijuana. I really need to stress the difference to people, so we are going to host these educational tours.”
The couple applied to grow hemp plants last fall after reading an article about it and deciding to give it a try themselves. They also grow about 50 different varieties of produce for their roughly three dozen CSA members and operate a roadside produce stand.
The application process included a research proposal, and the Jeannitons noted they plan to look into whether hemp is a suitable substitute for peat moss or other soil mixes.
“It’s something to be on the forefront of, too,” said Christopher. “It’s not new but it’s coming back again so we’d like to be at the front of it.”
Learning all about hemp — from how to plant it, how to maintain it and eventually how to harvest it — has been an experience in itself for the Jeannitons.
“We are just trying it out, seeing what kind of happens,” said Christopher. “Hopefully this year is a learning curve, seeing how well it grows here and how we can adjust to help it grow better so we can actually get a good, marketable crop.”
In the future, the Jeannitons may be able to offset the cost of growing the plant by selling the grain, he said. But everything from how much fertilizer to use to how exactly to harvest the course, fibrous plant is a work in progress and sometimes trial-and-error methodology.
The stalks have two components: a woody, inner stalk that can be used for more industrial applications and an outside part more suitable for things like twine. Because of its consistency, finding an inexpensive way to harvest hemp has proven difficult.
The Jeannitons had someone lined up to harvest it with a combine, but further research revealed the potential for fires because of the plant’s fibrous consistency that gets wound around shafts in the machine.
“We don’t have to totally reinvent the wheel — they were growing it in the ‘30s and ‘40s,” said Paula. “So it’s not that long ago, but it was before a lot of automated equipment.”
The plant was made illegal to grow without a permit in 1970 when it was added to the Controlled Substances List because of its relation to marijuana. But you can’t get high off hemp because of its low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.
The Jeannitons must contact the state 20 days before their harvest — which is expected to take place in late September — so their crop can be measured for THC levels. It must be under 0.3 percent, Christopher said.
Along with educating the public about the differences between hemp and marijuana, Paula said she also hopes to clear up another misnomer: that farmers will use hemp to simply hide marijuana plants in their fields.
Cross-pollination by planting the two crops close to each other would be bad for both, she said, and wouldn’t make sense from a farming perspective to do so.
“You’d get bad marijuana and bad hemp, so no one would want to do that,” she said.
What remains to be seen from this year’s hemp crop is the success of its harvest. Some plants have grown to several feet but many were stunted, perhaps related to the amount of clay in the soil, Paula said.
Earlier this week, the couple posted on their Facebook page that the female plants were starting to produce grain heads, giving hope for some sort of yield this year.
Tours of the farm to learn more about the hemp crop will take place at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Aug. 11, and 12 and Aug. 18 and 19. The tours last approximately 90 minutes and include a presentation, a half hour of walking in the field and the showing of various educational video clips about hemp.
Attendees are welcome to bring a picnic lunch to eat on the farm and there will be a children’s craft area, concession stand, gift shop and produce stand. Admission is $3 per person and sessions are limited to 30 people.
For more information including ordering tickets, visit facebook.com/farminpeacecollins.