Our August 2019 CRAFT Farm Tour was well attended even for a particularly hot day at Franny’s Farm(acy) where we discussed hemp, a much anticipated topic for WNC CRAFT members and the wider OGS community. A ‘budding’ industry, hemp was nationally legalized for use in fiber, CBD, and seed production in the 2018 Farm Bill. As a result of this bill, NC became one of the 11 states with a federally permitted pilot program for growing hemp for research. It’s been one of the hottest topics for small farmers over the last few years, and we were excited for the opportunity to talk to Franny and Jeff, now ‘veteran’ growers, who have been growing hemp for the last 3 years.

Terminology & Uses

Franny likes to say that hemp is the “only crop that can feed, cloth, shelter, and provide medicine.” When talking about hemp, it’s important to get your terminology straight. In legislation, “industrial hemp” means hemp used for fiber and seed. To break it down further, “Hemp Oil” is a food product, made from the male seeds. “CBD oil” is hemp oil extracted from female flowers and used for its medicinal properties. This is where most of the research efforts in NC are focused on; the female flower is the most valuable part of the plant for this reason. Other uses of hemp include bioremediation, animal feed, and human nutrition.

For the purposes of the article, we are speaking about hemp being grown for CBD oil and its medicinal properties.

Hemp & Organics

Possibly the most interesting thing I personally gleaned from this tour is that hemp must be grown organically in North Carolina when it’s being grown and processed for CBD. Please note in this context, ‘organic’ means grown without fertilizers or pesticides on fertilizer/pesticide-free soils, and not necessarily USDA Certified Organic.

Because of the end product’s strict state regulations, it can have no traces of pesticides or herbicides. But this also poses a problem for growers in NC. They’re competing with out-of-state sellers from the West Coast who have much fewer regulations. Because hemp is a bioaccumulator, it’s particularly sensitive to anything that may be left in the soil. “The first thing I like to ask people who are interested in starting to grow for CBD in NC is, ‘Do you have land that hasn’t been touched by conventional farming in the last 7 years?’ If the answer is no, [hemp farming for CBD] is just not going to be an option,” says Jeff Tacy, Franny’s husband and business partner.

Hemp Legality in NC

Due to how new this industry is for NC, there’s a lot of information flying around and very few folks who are well informed. Thankfully, Franny’s Farmacy has had to rebuild their vertically-integrated business around fluctuating laws for the past three years. They know about as much as anyone could about what will and won’t fly with NC law enforcement.

The cultivation of hemp is legal in North Carolina under an industrial hemp program, passed in 2015, and codified in Chapter 106 of the North Carolina General Statutes. The North Carolina Department of Agriculture issues licenses to industrial growers of hemp within the state under this program, and these licenses will increase due to the 2018 Farm Bill.

Is Growing Hemp A Sustainable Solution for the NC Small Farmer?

Franny made it very clear they make it work financially due to their vertical integration of Franny’s Farm and Franny’s Farmacy (“From Seed to Sale”), where they grow, process, and sell the product. Most of the hemp product sold in NC is grown by Oregon, Washington, and California. This helps Franny’s Farmacy offerings stand apart in a flooded market. Also, they have a consistent place to sell. “If your flower isn’t up to quality, you’re just going to sit on it,” explains Jeff. Hemp is just one of their many farm offerings, the main income generator being agritourism.

“I encourage people to grow a few plants — maybe 50 or 100 — to get familiar with it,” says Franny. “But because of fluctuating laws, putting all your eggs in that basket could sink a small farm,” says Franny. “Imagine spending $4k on website rebuilds over 3 years!”

Until laws settle out and legislation becomes more clear in NC, it seems complicated to see a future for small farmers in the industry. Changes in legislation already coming down the pipeline favor industrial growth and processing. And of course, the interests of the corporations with the most monetary investment (think: tobacco.) But Franny and others such as Green Heffa Farms and Greenheart Gardens are beginning to make a go at it and we wish them the best of luck in their endeavors.

Thanks so much to Franny and Jeff for hosting us!

Author: Sera Deva

Sera Deva has a B.S. in Microbiology & Agroecology from The Evergreen State College. She is the former Director of Programs & Systems Design at OGS, is the President of the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG) Board of Directors, and is the Administrative Director for The Firefly Gathering. When she’s not geeking out over genetics, systems theory or soil hydrology, she spends her time growing and eating food in the South Toe Valley in Burnsville, NC.