Hemp crop matures in Fair Haven (copy)

A densely packed field of industrial hemp grows in a Fair Haven field on Wednesday. Zion Growers, which planted the crop, is opening a hemp processing facility in Proctor.

FAIR HAVEN, Vt. — What may be Vermont’s first private industrial hemp crop is being harvested and, if all goes as hoped, it will lead to good things for local farmers and other entrepreneurs in the years to come.

The crop is on about 5 acres of land north of Airport Road, owned by the Sheldon family. It was being harvested Wednesday afternoon while the people responsible for it being grown looked on, having invited local media to come see how it’s all going.

“We are extremely happy with the way it’s come out,” said Travis Samuels, co-owner of Zion Growers, a St. Johnsbury-based hemp company. “I think the only holdup for us has been the fact we didn’t get as much rain in this area as we’d hoped for, and I think given what we did get and how well this came out … to see how high it’s grown, to know how little rain we got, to see how well it’s come together, this is about as good as we can ask for.”

Samuels believes this is the only private, industrial hemp crop being grown in the state. Hemp has been grown for use in CBD products for a few years now, but industrial hemp works a bit differently. Each individual plant requires less care and attention, planting and harvesting it isn’t much different than for hay, and it can be turned into a wide range of products — from animal bedding to building material.

Zion Growers plans to dry and process this particular crop at the former Vermont Marble Co. building at 52 Main St. in Proctor. The company intends to complete the purchase of the building by the end of the month. The facility is currently owned by the Preservation Trust of Vermont and has a number of tenants, all of whom Zion aims to keep in the building, including the Vermont Marble Museum, according to Samuels.

“After all of this gets dried and baled, we’ll be taking it to the facility where it will get what’s called ‘decorticated,’ so that’s separating the outer fiber from the inner stalk, which is the hurd; basically the whole system is set up just to separate those two things from each other,” said Samuels. “We then bag those up and sell them for animal bedding, hempcrete; people use it for remediation in toilets for smell, it can be made into biochar. The biggest thing right now is building material.”

Zion is working on a similar effort in St. Johnsbury, said Samuels, but the process is moving slower there. It’s possible each facility could hire about 30 people over a five-year period. He said he’s also been approached by several businesses that make hemp products who need a domestic supply. Much of what’s available now comes from overseas.

Lyle Jepson, executive director of the Chamber and Economic Development of the Rutland Region (CEDRR), said Wednesday that this test crop is to show local farmers how easy it is to grow industrial hemp and there will be a place nearby where they can send it.

Samuels said they would have had more farmers growing this year, but the price of corn is unusually high, so many opted to grow for that, but in a normal year a hemp crop can pay more than corn and doesn’t require much from the farmer in the way of new equipment or management practices.

The hemp itself is being grown under a license held by Janet Currie, owner of Valley Stock Farm in Orwell. She’s also a hemp and cannabis cultivation broker and helped pair Zion with the Sheldons and others making this crop happen.

“I’m very excited to do a lot of shared marketing with Zion Growers and Valley Stock Farm,” she said. “Travis and I, we are home grown. I’m from Vermont, and I want to see agriculture get into this arena, and if I have to be the guinea pig for it then no problem.”

Valley Stock Farm and its partners have documented this crop from seed to harvest, she said, so other farmers can see what it’s like to grow industrial hemp. She’s also happy to talk to anyone who’s curious about it.

Suzy Hodgson, sustainable agriculture outreach specialist at the UVM Extension, was in the field Wednesday as well. The extension has an interest in learning more about — and promoting — carbon sequestering crops that can replace petroleum-based products. Hemp can be used for packaging material currently being made with plastic and the like. Much of the work around hemp has looked at it from a CBD angle, but the entire plant has its uses, she said.

keith.whitcomb @rutlandherald.com

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