Hemp Growing – a year of “Firsts”
In 2019 it became legal to grow hemp in Utah. Many folks debated becoming hemp farmers, and for me it seemed like a super awesome idea. I was mostly right. My farm had a great year, and I was pleased to spend all of my days working outdoors, sweaty and exhausted. I was my own boss. I grew gorgeous, dignified cannabis plants that took my breath away. This was not a get rich quick scheme that many hoped it would be. It also wasn’t a good idea if you don’t like to try your hand at new skills, because starting a hemp farm was full of ‘firsts’.
Me? I’m the type of person who likes to try new things and I’m usually comfortable being uncomfortable. I was outside of my comfort zone when I flew small aircraft and later when I served as a US marine. I was slightly uneasy when I became a registered landscape architect and taught landscape architecture as a tenure track professor. It felt brazen to earn a PhD in environmental engineering. I dove head first into new opportunities and that’s why I jumped on the chance to grew hemp full-time in 2019.
Becoming a new hemp farmer put a new perspective on how crazy a year of firsts can be. This old dog was forced to learn a ton of new tricks! From writing business plans to ordering feminized seeds, I felt that familiar un-comfortableness from day one. Are you thinking about growing hemp? Well, you won’t get rich quick, but here’s a list of new adventures that awaited me:
I quit my job.
I asked my family for loans, and I applied for and took personal loans.
I started my own business and hired an accountant. I filed taxes and kept more records of so much stuff that I still can’t get out from under the piles of paperwork.
I applied to grow hemp in a very conservative state. I was so worried about someone thinking I’m an outlaw, that I did EVERYTHING by the book. That was a first.
I leased 3 acres of farmland from local established farmers.
I got a concealed weapons permit. I purchased a firearm for personal protection because I was scared of vigilante-types taking their beliefs too far. I didn’t know what to expect. One year later, I’m glad to report I had little to worry about.
I wrote legal documents, and because I don’t have lots of money for a lawyer, I wrote MANY legal documents including business plans, loan agreements, material transfer agreements, futures contracts, full-disclosure contracts.
I built a hoop house. My handyman friend and I built the hoop house together. First, I bought a used hoop house. We dismantled it, transported it, stored it, got it stuck in mud, delivered it, and eventually rebuilt it. It’s beautiful. I’m very proud.
I hired and paid my first full time employee. To be clear, this employee is my business partner, an A+ hard worker, and my trusted confidant. But when I wrote her checks from an account that I filled with savings and loans, an account that always withdrew and never took deposits, it left a deep impression.
A stampede of over 150 horses galloped through our field. The neighboring herd of rodeo horses knocked part of the fence down and were excited to go for a run. I locked the dogs in the truck and found high ground. The earth moved under my feet and I imagined it was similar to a wild herd of buffalo.
We killed over 3k seedlings, and for a moment we lost our crop. Two hours of sunlight cooked our plants in 40-degree F weather. We started again and I realized that this setback was actually a blessing this early in the season. It provided me with perspective. We quickly regained traction and continued to plant and harvest a large crop.
I designed and installed plasti-culture with a drip irrigation system. Pumps. Filters. Venture injectors. Drip line tape. After it was installed, I fixed 144 leaks, some of them twice, to make sure it works properly. I know the exact number because I bought 150 couplers (nipple connectors) and I only had 6 left.
I walked up and down the same 13 rows a million times and never got used to how insanely perfect it was, how glorious a growing plant is, or how lucky I was to do this every day.
I hunted and killed gofers. They are cute, but I would rather they be dead than eat my plants. I trained my dog to help find the tunnels. We felt like the real McCoys.
Security alarms woke me up dozens of times in the middle of the night because they caught movement in the field. The field is a quarter mile in the middle of an alfalfa field. No one accidentally strolls by. Usually it was local wildlife.
One time, armed hunters visited the site and lurked all around the hoop-house. Our camera caught it. I got there in minutes and I confronted a man with a rifle. I was glad to have my guard dog even though everyone was kind and it turned out well.
I stared in a movie. Ok, it was just a short video, but I was nervous enough that it could’ve been Hollywood filming. I asked a friend for drone footage, so I wasn’t prepared to speak or be seen, and it’s painfully obvious in the video. Travis did an award worthy job! It turned out well, because I’m now a you-tube star with over 45 views! Check it out at https://youtu.be/VyTCMTW_rMA or at the bottom of our website.
I hunted for male plants and hermaphrodites (plants that produce flower and pollen sacks). I became an expert at spotting male pollen sacks in the field. To keep our ladies from becoming fertilized we killed over 200 hermaphrodite plants. Lesson learned: Get seeds from a trusted source.
The US postal service’s criminal investigation center detained a package being sent for analysis. I had nightmares of law enforcement breaking down my door. After countless hours on hold and a few short conversations with USPS workers in various capacities, the package was readmitted onto the postal system and delivered (40 days later). I thought that was behind me, till it happened again.
I bought a machine that is twice as expensive as my truck. I didn’t have a better solution at the time, and I was hemorrhaging the last of my savings and loans to pay harvest laborers. The machine helped, but didn’t save the world like I was secretly hoping.
I built a website. It was crappy. A year later, my tech savvy niece built a new and improved website. I now have a website I’m proud of! Thanks for visiting!!!
I became a sales person. I hate selling, but no one can sell my plants better than me, so I bucked up and did it. I’m still not great at it, but I kept my integrity.
I’m sure there were more firsts, but I’m too tired to remember them.
Would I do this again? Yes, I plan to! We are opening a processing facility this year, so I’m expecting a new list of firsts next year. Hemp, cannabis, and their derived products have the potential to benefit the environment, our health and the economy. When I was program manager for a sustainable agriculture grant program I was privy to many ideas that support sustainable agricultural and environmental issues. I’m passionate hemp is part of that solution, so I jumped on the opportunity to start at the ground floor- growing! If you are passionate about growing hemp, I salute you! Let me know about your ‘firsts’ in the comments below.
Originally published on our farm's website, Intentional Growth.