Cannabidiol. CBD. Hemp.
It’s happening in High Falls.
It’s actually been happening since 2018, when Rick and Tricia Weissman acquired a license to grow high-CBD hemp at the beginning of that year. The approval followed their founding of High Falls Agriculture in 2017 and came about as a research collaboration with the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets under the U.S. farm bill.
In fall of 2018, they harvested their first crop. Not just their first for High Falls Hemp, it was also their first as New York farm owners.
“I had spent the better part of a year learning about [hemp and CBD],” Rick, a now-retired Wall Street executive, explains. “I saw the potential they had.”
Up to the point that he and Tricia decided to pursue a hemp farm, Rick was primarily interested in hemp from an investment standpoint. Yet when, in the course of a year, he found nothing that fit his interests, he realized the industry was largely still underdeveloped. He and Tricia had already been using CBD-containing products for themselves and recognizing noticeable improvements in their overall wellbeing, so they felt confident with their idea to develop a hemp farm of their own in the Hudson Valley.
From the start, farm ownership was a narrative of highs and lows. When High Falls Hemp launched as a brand in spring 2018, prior to its first harvest, it manufactured its products in Colorado. Now, with just under an acre of land in High Falls and an additional 12 in Accord, it produces everything, save the soft gels, here in the Hudson Valley.
As Rick explains it, hemp farming is a science. In the High Falls hempery, he and Tricia germinate and blossom seeds into hemp plants. They’re not just any hemp plants either. To obtain CBD, all plants must be female (male plants only produce pollen).
In 2019, High Falls Hemp had 10,000 plants, half of which were female clones and half of which were seedlings from other farmers. The clones, which are grown from cuttings of existing plants, were reliable producers, since they exactly duplicated the output of the plants from which they stemmed. Unfortunately, the seedlings from other farmers came with an unexpected surprise.
About ten percent of them were male plants.
Combined with the ever-changing climate in the Hudson Valley (a distinct difference from the more arid atmosphere in Colorado, where hemp farming is a significant industry), the introduction of males to the crop resulted in somewhat less CBD production than the Weissmans anticipated. Yet as one of only a handful of hemp farmers in New York State, they knew their work was just beginning.
“We’re planting something on a farming basis that hasn’t been grown here,” Rick observes. “There are a lot of growing pains that go along with that.”
Leading into their third season, he and Tricia continue to improve High Falls Hemp. Working with Ken Oakley, a ninth-generation farmer in the Hudson Valley, the couple hopes to add an additional four acres of hemp fields in 2020. In the low season of winter, they employ four farm workers, then bump that number up toward 16 or 20 during harvest.
To preserve their strain of hemp plants, they’re also collaborating with local greenhouses to create secure, well-maintained greenhouses for their clones. They took cuttings from their most promising genetics back in August and are planning to use them to further establish their high-quality strain of CBD. If all goes well with cloning and crop production, they hope to have 17,000 clones by the end of the year.
While the hemp plants themselves are a large operational focus at High Falls Hemp, they’re only part of the equation. On the production end, the brand uses the extract from the plants to produce its CBD full-spectrum and isolate tinctures, lotions, and tinctures for pets. All of the brand’s products are available on its website, along with descriptions of ingredients and suggested uses, and in Hudson Valley storefronts like Beacon Natural Market, High Falls Food Co-op, and Nature’s Pantry in Fishkill and New Windsor, to name a few.
Looking ahead, the Weissmans have only positive visions for the future of CBD. As relatively small farm producers, they’re excited by the opportunity to establish a presence for themselves within the Hudson Valley and New York at large. In December, New York State governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation to regulate the CBD and hemp industry with a greater eye toward the sale of CBD-containing products. According to Rick, this is good news for hemp farmers across the state.
“We’re continuing to get better,” he says. The industry is just getting established now.”