HONESDALE, PA — Monique Milleson stands against the background of Anthill Farm Agroforestry, just outside Honesdale. There’s fruit on the trees, the bees in the beehives are buzzing, a …
HONESDALE, PA — Monique Milleson stands against the background of Anthill Farm Agroforestry, just outside Honesdale. There’s fruit on the trees, the bees in the beehives are buzzing, a far-away wind farm is just barely visible on the horizon. It’s all traditional, like a farm in a painting, and you expect vegetables, corn maybe, to be growing in the fields.
Instead, those plants are hemp.
Not as in pot, but hemp as in CBD, cannabidiol: the latest wellness ingredient found in lotions and oils and bath bombs and gummies. In 2018, it was a $4.6 billion industry and it’s expected to keep growing.
Milleson and her husband, Sky Ballentine, are running the 35-acre farm and have for 13 years, growing fruit and, in the past, vegetables. She’s not from a farming background but speaks about the fun and challenge of the modern farm with ease of experience. They’ve been growing hemp for CBD since 2019.
Hemp is not always marijuana, no matter what 1970s movies say. For one thing, in Pennsylvania it’s legal, Milleson said, unlike recreational pot. Hemp, Cannabis sativa, is a seed and a fiber and, in fact, can be turned into fabulously soft fabric.
It also contains CBD, and that is what hemp is famous for these days. Industrial hemp came off the prohibited list in Pennsylvania in 2018 and suddenly people could buy CBD products at the corner shop.
Anthill Farm sells products made with full-spectrum CBD, which includes all the cannabinoids found in the plant. There’s less than .3 percent THC—the compound that gets you high. (You can also find isolate, which is made with just CBD, and broad-spectrum, which has many of the cannabinoids but not THC). Marijuana is that related plant with a higher THC content.
But, again, let’s be clear: just because their CBD products include THC, that doesn’t mean they’re selling pot. “You can’t get high from this,” Milleson said. “CBD is legal in all 50 states; it’s not intoxicating.”
Hemp is being bred for different purposes. Industrial hemp has tougher stalks to improve the fiber for fabric or paper. Hemp-for-CBD is grown for disease resistance, for different flavors (which carry over into the oil) and for different amounts of THC, all within legal limits.
“It’s such a versatile plant,” Milleson said.
She likes to experiment with the oil, making tinctures; they also sell massage oils, lotions and body oils in the online shop, as well as tea. Her extracts are done in a lab.
In case you thought CBD was just another bit of alternative medicine, the Harvard Health blog begs to differ, saying that it treats some of the nastiest childhood epilepsies, even where standard seizure meds don’t work. It helps with chronic pain, according to a European Journal of Pain study, and of course, advocates praise it for reducing anxiety and helping with sleep.
Marketing CBD products is tricky, though. If you’re a small farmer, you can advertise your products on Instagram, Facebook and Google—but not if you’re selling things made with CBD. You can’t show the products. You can’t say “CBD.”
“It’s very circuitous,” Milleson said, sighing.
Larger businesses can pay influencers to advertise their products, “but we’re a small business,” she said. “Just in general, being a small business is a ton of work.” Nevermind running a farm.
But there’s always bricks-and-mortar. Think gyms and yoga studios, but also Nature’s Grace health food store, the Callicoon Pantry, the Herbary in Pleasant Mount.
Could they sell medical marijuana?
Growing hemp for CBD is far less expensive than trying to qualify to grow medical marijuana. “It’s prohibitively expensive,” Milleson said. “You need to show you have capital” in order to comply with security requirements. Which basically would eliminate the small farmer.
A CBD farmer needs to pass a background check, a certain amount of acreage needs to be cultivated and there are inspections, but it’s doable. And maybe, Milleson says, it’s an answer to the dying family farm, which already has the skill sets needed..
“I think about dairies. They know how to bale. More people should be able to get a slice of that pie. Maybe small farms can grow.”