POULTNEY — Four friends, one mission: to organically grow as much hemp on their farm as they can.
Todd Curtis and his wife, Erika French, bought a house in Lincoln last summer, saw the land, met the people and fell in love with the weather. Their mutual friend Aidan Attardo suggested their friend Tom Whyte consider extending his small 10,000-square-foot cannabis farm in Penn Valley, California, into the Green Mountains.
Once in Vermont, the friends visited other hemp and cannabis growers in the area and were inspired to purchase land. Whyte found the perfect piece of property in February: 55 acres on South Street in Poultney with prime soil and space for a greenhouse, which arrived in April.
Finding a loan for the property was difficult, so Whyte ended up buying the property outright, he said, before purchasing a license for just $25.
“The price was right, the soils were right, everything made sense and it’s close by to some friends we have,” Whyte said.
And just like that, Hill Rich Hemp Co. established its second campus.
Originally from Cleveland, Whyte moved to California in 2008 to try to make a living as a self-made man when the U.S. economy wasn’t doing so well, and in a few years began to see legalization of cannabis sneaking through and creating its own industry.
“I chose the legitimate market,” Whyte said. “In California, they over-regulate everything, they tell you how to run your business, and you can’t run your business (out there) unless you have a ton of money.”
His own small quarter-acre plot back home, where he resides permanently with his family, yields high-THC cannabis, but the plan for the farm in Vermont is only to grow hemp with high CBD levels and no cannabis with THC, the active psychoactive chemical in the plant.
“(This September) we’re expecting 60,000 pounds,” Whyte said. “We started over 100,000 plants here. ... We want young, hard-working people (to help us harvest).”
Whyte and the other four managers on the farm wake with the sun and work every day to battle Vermont’s cold, wet spring to lay plastic mulch on beds in the field, transplant their developed plants and seed new ones inside the greenhouse, which is already home to the ladybugs they introduced as part of a proactive pest-control plan.
“Everything has almost fallen apart daily since we got here,” Whyte said. “Nothing has been easy, but we just don’t give up.”
“We are out here grinding,” Curtis said. “Like 12-hour days.”
They’ve laced the soil with wood ash and chicken manure, encouraging healthy amphibians and insects to settle in their fields to add more nutrients to their crop. They have no plans to spray any pesticides or fungicides, Whyte said.
To cut down on the cost of equipment, Hill Rich aims to hire local farmers with tractors to till, plow and reclaim their fields to make sure the money stays in the community, and would be willing to discuss part-time work.
Most recently, Whyte said he has made inquiries about a possible location to use as a processing space for transforming their medicinal hemp, which will then be sold wholesale to companies making CBD products.
“Daily, I’m reaching out to every local processor,” Whyte said. “I think older people have an easier time (these days) separating CBD and THC. ... It’s not a criminal crop.”
Going forward, Whyte and Curtis said they’d like to partner with other farmers who have fields they would like to turn into a hemp crop.
“All the farms we looked at (to buy) were old dairy farms and sugar businesses,” Whyte said. “Farming is a tough industry to get into. ... We’ve been welcomed to this area. People will stop us while we’re working and tell us that they hope we succeed.”