This harvest season, pumpkins and apples aren’t the only autumn commodities available to pick yourself in Johnson County.
Now in rural Oxford, pick-your-own hemp is available — at least for a couple weekends — at one of Iowa’s hemp farms. On Sept. 18 and 19, hundreds of visitors flocked to Carriage House Hemp Farm, where hemp farmer Mark Wright helped them clip and bag the right flower buds to take home. Another pick-your-own weekend was also planned recently.
“People stop here all the time and ask questions,” Wright told the Cedar Rapids Gazette.
So, why not let them pick it, he asked himself.
In addition to being one the few hemp farms growing cannabigerol strains instead of cannabidiol, Carriage House is one of the first hemp farms in Iowa to open the lush green plants up to the public for personal picking.
“That is the only pick-your-own farm I’m aware of so far,” said Robin Pruisner, state entomologist and state hemp administrator at the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. “Because it’s such a new crop (to Iowa), people are ruminating about all the ways to make this work. I haven’t seen anyone else do it yet.”
As part of her job, Pruisner travels the state to farms like Wright’s to test for THC levels — a requirement for hemp farmers before hemp can be harvested or sold. THC, short for tetrahydrocannabinol, is the psychoactive compound in cannabis that produces a high.
For Iowa, hemp levels must be below 0.3% THC. If a crop is running “too hot,” it is considered marijuana and must be destroyed. Hemp from Wright’s field had a THC level of 0.096% this month.
“That was one of the reasons we decided to go for CBG. I don’t think there’s a lot of people doing that,” Wright said. “(CBD) is likely to get too hot with THC.”
Pruisner said that about 20% of hemp crops had to be destroyed in 2020 because of excessive THC levels. This year, none of the 10 tests so far have failed, but harvest season is just starting.
“Some valuable lessons were learned,” Pruisner said.
Notably, farmers learned the importance of testing throughout the season to know the right time to harvest.
CBG also commands a higher price with its unique properties, Wright said. Though fewer than a quarter of the visitors over the recent weekend purchased hemp flower to take home, he said many of them left with questions answered — education that hemp farmers hope will trickle through the community.
Wright said he was surprised by the turnout and the types of people most curious about the product during the first pick-your-own weekend.
“What surprised me is the ones I figured would be the hardest sell are people like me — maybe older, skeptical,” he said. “A lot of them are really enthusiastic.”
Cannabigerol is described as the “mother of all cannabinoids” by CBG farmer Megan Booher, Wright’s daughter who grows hemp and sells CBG-infused products from nearby Four Winds Farm in Homestead.
By binding directly into the body’s endocannabinoid system, she said CBG provides fast-acting benefits compared with CBD, which is by and far the dominant choice for growers in Iowa.
Flower purchased for $10 per ounce from Carriage House can be dried and infused into oil, butter, alcohol, vinegar or water with instructions provided by the farm. Trimmed buds of CBG can sell for up to $75 an ounce, Wright said.
Most of the flower harvested from his small field, where the retired Oxford Public Works director used to plant vegetables, will be sent to a company in Wisconsin to be turned into CBG oil.
Though Booher’s farm focuses more on infusing the products to sell directly to consumers online and through farmers markets — soap, massage oil, lotion, body salve and face cream — she’s excited to see the potential growth with the pick-your-own model her father is testing.
“In 2019, we had something happen that’s still haunting the market. When you look at the nation, the 2019 crop was estimated to be 550% larger than 2018′s,” she explained. “However, processing capability and consumer demand didn’t increase at the same trajectory.”
For hemp, that left a big glut between supply and demand that the market still is adjusting to. The number of licenses for hemp farming issued by the state dropped from 85 in 2020 to 50 so far this year, Pruisner said.
“What’s important is they have to economically turn it into consumer goods that people will continue to buy,” she said, calling Booher’s farm “a real template” for producing a quality crop and marketing it within Iowa’s legal boundaries.
Though the state does not track whether hemp farmers are planting for CBD or CBG, the Iowa hemp administrator said CBD was much more popular, in her estimate. Though CBG is gaining more traction, it remains a minority in the market.
For Booher, the positive aspects about CBG were what made her fall in love with it. Though hemp producers cannot market or advertise any medical or pain-reducing benefits from the use of CBG, packaging can call products “easing” or “soothing.”
“CBG works on a molecular level to restore balance and well-being to the user,” she said. “At farmers markets, we let people sample it and they’ll come back an hour later (to purchase.)”
For Wright, a good experience trying it after experiencing discomfort made him a believer.
“It doesn’t give you a buzz, it calms you down,” he said.
And with a product that can be used without showing up on a drug test, Booher thinks CBG could help make hemp and cannabis more mainstream in Iowa.
“Now that we have an industry in the state, people are learning a little more every time they come to see us,” she said. “I think it’s helping to lessen that stigma.”