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.