Finding a market for hemp
Those familiar with the Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival might be surprised to find that a different kind of bud has been growing at the farm famous for its colorful spring blooms.
The farm now grows acres upon acres of hemp, a plant that looks (and smells) like marijuana, but contains only trace amounts of THC, the compound in marijuana that causes users to get high on the drug.
Hemp has a variety of uses, and it's been used for millennia as a fiber to make cloth and paper. Recently, it's also gained attention as a nutritional supplement, with hemp seeds becoming a popular source of fiber, protein and omega-3 fatty acids.
But the Iverson family that owns the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm grows hemp purely for CBD, or cannabidiol, a medicinal compound that's also found in many strains of marijuana. CBD, unlike THC, doesn't get users high, but has worked for many as a solution for pain, sleep problems and other medical ailments.
the tulips' off-season. That's included wheat, potatoes and grass seed, among other crops. Now, for the past two years, the family is transitioning to growing hemp in the farm's expansive fields.
It's the perfect cover crop for tulips, the family said. Unlike crops like grass seed, which the Iversons said destroy the soil, hemp purifies and enriches the soil.
And, the family believes the crop can provide a lot of benefits for its consumers. They came to that decision after a family experience that shifted their views on hemp and marijuana products.
Ross Iverson, the patriarch of the family and the founder of the farm, developed ocular melanoma in 2015. He underwent radiation, but eventually the cancer metastasized to his liver.
In March 2016, when Ross Iverson was 90, doctors said he only had a few days left to live. He was sent home from the hospital to live out the remainder of his life. His doctors had prescribed an opiate pain medication to help with any discomfort.
But the pain medication wasn't working for Ross Iverson. It was too powerful, and caused him to have trouble getting out of bed.
"We thought, this is horrible," said Emily Iverson, one of Ross Iverson's grandchildren.
A member of the extended family worked in the marijuana extraction industry, and suggested the family look into CBD to help with the pain.
A lot of the family was suspicious of anything involving marijuana. "We learned the things that they teach you in school, about gateway drugs and things like that," said Emily Iverson.
But the family was desperate for a solution, so Ross Iverson started taking CBD supplements. The family could hardly believe the drastic results.
"The next day he was up on his feet, he was eating," Emily Iverson said. "We were shocked, because as farmers in this area, we were so against anything that involved weed."
For 42 days after he started taking CBD, Ross Iverson was able to continue going about his life and spending time with family. For that duration, he didn't take any opiate pain medication — just the CBD pills.
Eventually, the family put him back on the prescribed pain medication when the CBD was no longer effective enough. Soon after that, he passed away.
But the Iversons haven't forgotten those 42 additional days they had with Ross Iverson, something the family thinks wouldn't have happened without CBD.
Emily Iverson said the family asked Ross Iverson soon before he passed away if he would approve of them growing hemp at the farm. He did.
The time was right for entering the hemp market — in 2015, a year before Ross Iverson passed away, the state of Oregon's Department of Agriculture issued its first industrial hemp grower and handler licenses.
In 2016, the family purchased the necessary $1,500-a-year hemp grower license from the Department of Agriculture, and after the tulips were cleared from the field, the family planted a few acres of hemp with the goal of making CBD-infused products.
Being a new industry in Oregon, and an industry that's for so long been associated with illegal drugs, the family hit some roadblocks in its endeavor to grow hemp.
That included trusting a few of the wrong people, including a purported expert hemp grower who gave the family some bizarre advice about the crop.
"We had to change the pH of the water, I think we had to use a full moon to plant," said Barb Iverson, the mother of Emily Iverson and the current owner of Iverson Family Farms. "It didn't take us long to find out, you know, the plants need water. You don't let them die because you ran out of pH-neutral water."
The family's had to learn as it goes, figuring out where to store the hemp plants once they've been harvested, how to dry them out and how to process them.
"It was a little learning curve," said Barb Iverson. The family worked out a deal with a local hop grower, and now they transport to the hemp to that grower's hop drying facility to dry out the hemp.
Luckily, some of the equipment the family had used for past crops worked for hemp. That included the trucks and conveyers used when growing potatoes.
"A lot of it is innovation kind of on the go," Barb Iverson said.
The family said that in the current hemp market in Oregon, it's absolutely crucial to figure out the least labor-intensive ways to grow and process the crop. Although the hemp market is still relatively small, it's been growing at a rapid pace.
Though it's only been two years since the Department of Agriculture started issuing hemp grower licenses, there are 18 licensed hemp growers in Marion County and 233 in Oregon as a whole.
Barb Iverson said the prices of hemp products are going down and they're going to continue to fall as the market grows. While that may be good for consumers, it's not good for hemp farmers, who are already facing steep costs upfront to grow the crop.
"Whoever can do it the most efficient and the cheapest is going to be OK," Barb Iverson said of hemp farmers.
There have also been challenges with things like banking. Barb Iverson said that when her bank heard the farm was growing hemp, they immediately informed the family they couldn't do any banking related to the crop.
Even banks known for working with marijuana growers wouldn't work with hemp growers. That's because marijuana is highly tracked and regulated, but the hemp industry is a lot less regulated, Barb Iverson said.
"The regulation part, the federal versus state regulation, there's a lot of gray area. Actually, all of it's gray," Barb Iverson said.
But one of the biggest roadblocks has been what the family calls an education gap. There's still a lot of misinformation surrounding hemp.
They've had people pull up to the farm from the nearby road to pick the farm's plants, thinking they're marijuana. Signs reading "Not pot, no high," haven't deterred them.
"It's not going to give you a high. If someone tries to smoke the bud, it's just going to give them a headache."
"It's not going to give you a high," Emily Iverson said. "If someone tries to smoke the bud, it's just going to give them a headache."
It's been especially challenging teaching the baby boomer population about hemp — often, baby boomers don't see the medicinal value of the crop, but they're also of the generation that would most benefit from pain-reducing products.
With the family's agritourism business, which includes the annual Wooden Shoe Tulip Fest, weddings, wine tastings, and other events like its recent hosting of solar eclipse campers, the farm has enough financial flexbility to try growing potentially risky crops like hemp.
"Putting an investment into the hemp industry is pretty expensive, to buy the seeds and stuff," said Emily Iverson. "The Tulip Festival helps a lot when it comes to money."
It wasn't until recently that the family began producing CBD-infused products, which will be the main source of revenue for the hemp farm. The family has no plans in the near future to sell the crop to another business or hire a processor to extract the CBD. So far, all of that's been done onsite.
The family recently launched its hemp products company, called Red Barn Hemp. So far it's selling two products, a muscle gel and a cream, both infused with CBD oil.
Soon, the products will be for sale at the company's website, redbarnhemp.com. Eventually, the family hopes to sell the products to nearby natural food stores.
And eventually, Emily Iverson, who is 18 years old and starting college in the fall, will head Red Barn Hemp along with her cousins of the same generation. "It will be developed like Wooden Shoe was developed," Emily Iverson said. When she's done with college and has finished her family's required two years of employment outside the industry, she hopes to come back and work on the new brand, along with Wooden Shoe as a whole.
In the meantime, the family is focusing on educating the public about CBD and hemp, including reversing the common rhetoric about everything marijuana-related being harmful.
"This isn't a gateway drug," Barb Iverson said. "You look at opiates. People go from opiates to heroin. Which is worse? How many heroin overdoses do you see?"
The Iversons see CBD as a non-addictive alternative to opiate pain medication. Already, they've seen some miraculous changes in the customers who've tried the CBD products.
That includes one woman who had suffered from painful herniated disks for years before seeing quick and dramatic results from CBD.
"Two hours later, she's skipping down the hall after she'd taken the pill and put the cream on," Barb Iverson said. "You get those stories. The more you give the samples out, the more you hear, 'It works for me.'"
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