Hemp Without the High: Budding Industry Thrives in Gainesville
Rows of bright green, budding bushes extend off into the horizon, where only the sounds of bellowing cows and the hum of cicadas can be heard. Farmers chase the daylight as they masterly groom away each crop’s excess leaves to make room for new growth.
The plant exudes a pungent aroma that could only be mistaken for the smell of money. Through government regulations, Cannabis Sativa has become the crucial ingredient for the thriving hemp industry, with many farmers now growing this crop that is highly prized for its many uses.
What’s the dif?
There are no differences botanically between commercial hemp and marijuana. However, genetic intervention has weeded out or reduced the psychoactive factor, THC, down to levels that do not affect consumers the same way. THC levels in hemp plants must be less than 0.3% to be legally cultivated, so while the plant is the same, the product is very different.
Hemp research in Gainesville
The State of Florida authorized the University of Florida Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences and the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University to launch the Industrial Hemp Pilot Project in 2019. It was a two-year research endeavor to establish the benefits of cultivation, observe the risks and measure the sustainability and viability of hemp in Florida.
To truly capture Florida’s environmental diversity, sites were established in 11 different testing areas across the state. Researchers developed and observed management practices, cropping systems and hemp varieties best suited for each region. The success of the project resulted in the legislative decision to legalize commercial hemp cultivation in Florida.
For local hemp farmer and Southern Sun CBD owner, Tyler Griffin, participating in the pilot project meant getting an early start and trailblazing the hemp frontier for the state. He received his Hemp Cultivation Research license in February 2020 and planted a small crop. After a successful first season, he increased the size of his operation, and there was no looking back.
With the help of his girlfriend and business partner, Ashley Wiggs, Southern Sun CBD was well on its way to success.
“We wanted to start a company to bring locally grown hemp and trusted CBD to Gainesville,” Wiggs said.
After just one year in business, the couple has increased their product offerings and expanded the size of their farm. From CBD cooling rub to dog treats, Southern Sun CBD sells its products both online and at various farmer’s markets around Gainesville. They offer a program that gives members 40% off all products all year long, making trusted CBD more locally accessible.
For information, visit southernsuncbd.com.
Florida hemp farms: Certain rules apply
The passing of the 2018 Farm Bill made commercial hemp legal on a federal level. It was not until April 2020 that state legislation approved hemp cultivation in Florida, and as of 2021, the state has approved 800 cultivation permits and more than 30,000 acres for planting.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture regulates the industry and oversees operations. To obtain the license to cultivate, applicants must pass background and fingerprint checks and must have a Hemp Containment and Transportation Plan. Once approved, the license holder must adhere to the following rules: Growers must post signage, report anticipated yield, disclose where seeds were obtained from and state the purpose of their business.
Because hemp and marijuana are visually identical, only laboratory testing can distinguish between the two. Growers must submit plant samples to approved testing sites 30 days before harvest to determine THC levels and dispose of any non-compliant plants that exceed the 1% THC threshold.
By regulating the industry, the USDA ensures consumers can find trusted products and know their source.
Turning the green into green
From ancient civilizations to Snoop Dogg to present-day farmers, Cannabis Sativa is one of the oldest and most useful crops in the world. Known as the plant with 25,000 uses, it has a long resumé of applications, including rope, textiles, building materials, biofuel, supplements, beer and sodas.
Ongoing medical research continues to explore whether medicinal hemp possesses any substantial healing properties, while many users testify that it does. Whether smoked, ingested or applied topically, the plant’s powers have been known to ease pain, anxiety, insomnia and epilepsy. Some medical practices are implementing hemp as a substitute for prescription drugs.
At the local chiropractic office, Chiropractor and Associates of Gainesville, Dr. Matthew Cline recommends CBD to his patients for pain.
“Hemp is used in our practice to give an alternative to pain medications and to help with the inflammatory pathways of the body around acute and chronic injuries,” Cline said. “I have found that people are able to reduce medication intake with the use of CBD products, as well as having an easier time falling and staying asleep and having less anxiety.”
For information, visit chirosofgainesville.com.
Before the recent legislation passed, hemp products were brought in from afar, and shipping costs drove prices higher. Now, farmers and entrepreneurs can continue to discover the limitless uses of the renewable crop and reap the economic advantages. With growing support and awareness, the thriving hemp industry is evolving into a lucrative empire.
There is still some controversy about whether hemp should be considered a commodity or a controlled substance. Even though it is impossible to get a high from legally grown hemp, there is a persistent stigma surrounding the use of the crop because of its relation to marijuana, which is still illegal to use recreationally in Florida.
For Southern Sun CBD, one of the most important factors and biggest challenges working against hemp cultivation has been education. Griffin and Wiggs strive to inform the community about their products and enjoy chatting with customers at farmers markets. They hope to host visitors at their farm and offer tours in the future.
Skepticism is not limited to the Gainesville community, however.
“Our second biggest challenge has been social media and payment processing,” Griffin said. “Some social media platforms block us from advertising, and payment processors would regularly close our accounts.”
Change is on the horizon. Through continued education efforts and government support, the community is becoming more informed. Businesses such as Southern Sun CBD can continue to bring their local, quality products to Greater Gainesville.
“We see the world changing. Gainesville is changing. Gainesville is up and coming, and we’re happy to be here growing with it,” Wiggs said.
Developing a green-friendly crop
For local veteran, farmer and business owner, Joel Reynolds, sustainability is at the cornerstone of his hemp cultivation operation. When he co-founded his company Kamino Propagation and Research in 2020, he discovered it was the perfect marriage between helping people and botanical exploration.
In just one year, the small team at Kamino Propagation and Research has transformed the nursery into somewhat of an outdoor laboratory, where they discover innovative techniques and technologies in plant viability, crop management and sustainability. They strive to bring a clean, organic product to the community without sacrificing Florida’s ecological health.
“Everything we use on our plants, from protecting them from pests to feeding them nutrients, is 100% organic,” Reynolds said.
As a new crop to Florida, there is not a lot of information on best practices when it comes to hemp, so many farmers are winging it and learning from trial and error. Many challenges for local hemp cultivators have been adapting the crop to Florida’s wet climate and coming up with creative and sustainable ways to prevent pests.
“There’s not a lot of information out there for Florida growers, and unfortunately, there’s a lot of misinformation,” Reynolds said. “So, we all just kind of help each other out and offer up what has worked or failed for us over the last year.”
Local farmers look to the future as the hemp industry continues to evolve and gain community support. Reynolds spreads awareness on the benefits of hemp cultivation and participates with local businesses including Blackadder Brewing Company to create interesting products, such as hemp beer.
As more uses are discovered and hemp gains more exposure, the stigma will disappear, and this industry that is more than 10,000 years old will continue to thrive.
Written by Laura Parrinello