At a pivotal moment in the history of a supercrop, Hudson Hemp is cultivating a long-term vision of a cannabis industry in which social justice, sustainability, and wellness are the gold standard.
The woman-owned regenerative agriculture and research company, based at Old Mud Creek Farm in Columbia County, is gearing up to launch a line of CBD-based health and beauty products in 2019. It’s just one facet of the business, which lives at an intersection of agriculture and culture, stewardship and wellness. And with the legalization of industrial hemp in the 2018 Farm Bill, the scalability of their tactics just took a great leap forward.
“I was very happy to see the bill passed to normalize hemp at the federal level,” says Benjamin Banks-Dobson, Hudson Hemp’s CEO and farm manager. “It will open up opportunities in parts of the country that desperately need a new staple crop, and it will enable us to reassess major supply chains for essentials like paper goods, food, fuel, and building materials."
Even in the wake of federal legalization, a faint whiff of stigma follows the subject of hemp. A non-psychoactive strain of the cannabis plant, hemp was made illegal alongside its THC-containing cousin in 1937, after centuries of peaceful use of its fibers for paper, cordage, and fabric. (Unlike a tree, the hemp plant grows from seed to harvest in about three months.) More and more uses have been found in recent history: biofuels, heart-healthy foods and beverages, bioplastics, building materials, solvents and a wide range of wellness products.
And if that weren’t enough to establish the plant’s cred as the ultimate Giving Tree, hemp is an ideal companion crop for organic growers. It requires little water and no pesticides and increases carbon and microbial content in soil to make it more fertile while removing contaminants. Hemp has even been used to remediate irradiated soil in Chernobyl.
Along with producing organic hemp oil distillate and CBD isolate for the booming wholesale market, Hudson Hemp is committed to the whole plant and its biodynamic properties. Partnerships with regenerative agriculture researchers Hudson Carbon and agricultural genomics company Phylos Bioscience position Hudson firmly on the leading edge of regenerative ag as well as of the emerging cannabis industry, which some fear will get swallowed up in profit-seeking and leave social and racial equity by the wayside.
, in “a world where plant medicine restores the earth, the people, and their industries,” according to the company’s mission statement.
CBD products are at a curious juncture indeed. While the FDA maintains that the cannabinoid is a drug, and therefore an illegal additive to food or medicine, mounting scientific and massive anecdotal evidence indicates its safety and effectiveness for a host of health conditions. As a natural substance, cannabidiol interacts with the human body’s endocannabinoid system to promote homeostasis, offering relief anxiety, pain, and inflammation.
Companies making specific health claims have received warning letters, even as more states and countries move forward with outright medical marijuana legalization and research. But despite the murkiness, CBD oil is projected to become a billion-dollar market by 2020.
When the New York Industrial Hemp Agricultural Research Initiative was expanded to include farmers in 2017, Hudson Hemp’s application was one of the first to be approved. They’ve collaborated with like-minded retailers on product development; products made with their CBD oil can be purchased through Alchemist Kitchen, (Plant Alchemy CBD Oil) Hudson Standard (Watermelon Chill Shrub), Cocorau (CBD raw cacao bites and adaptogenic herb powders), and the Elevated Apothecary line from Source Adage Fragrances.
Banks-Dobson is excited to be moving into production with Hudson Hemp's own Treaty line of wellness products. “It’s been going very well,” he says of the whole operation. “This is our second year of processing, the clean room is ready to go, and we expect to be launching product somewhere around March." But he remains adamant that Hudson Hemp's main focus will always be on the whole plant—and all its many applications. "We’re thinking of putting a small hempcrete building on the property as a demonstration project. And we’re looking into decorticating the fiber from the stalks, which opens up a whole new range of possibilities.”
According to Banks-Dobson, the Hudson Valley, with its once-again-growing ag sector, is well-positioned to benefit from the economic and ecological potential of cannabis cultivation. But then, so could the whole world if the word can be spread fast enough and far enough: the worst effects of climate change can still be avoided if farmers and land stewards widely adopt regenerative agricultural practices, and hemp delivers the goods in unique ways.
“The industrial revolution and industrial agriculture had benefits for humans, but it’s been horrific for the environment,” says Banks-Dobson. “If we retool our systems and supply chains, rebuild with a focus on regenerative practice and use what we know about hemp, we might get this ship turned around yet.”