Help CBD Farmers in the Northeast!
In our ongoing oHHo Fest and celebration of Croptober, we bring you an interview with Dennis Kulesza, the owner and farmer of Green Mountain Grown CBD. Our team spent the day with Dennis during his harvest and quickly became infatuated with the land, his process, but most of all, with Dennis himself. A real-life Renaissance man, there’s nothing that Dennis hasn’t done or can’t do. He’s a world-class restoration contractor, a Merchant Marine, a Brazilian ballroom dancer, he customized his own motorcycle, and now he’s a sustainable CBD farmer in Vermont—and that’s just barely scratching the surface! Dennis is curious, humble, passionate and always eager to learn, which is what makes him so incredible at farming and innovating in the CBD field.
Dennis took some time out of his very busy harvest (think 12 hours a day, 7 days a week for weeks on end) to talk to us about what he loves most about his harvest, the CBD industry and the challenges it faces. Spoiler alert: YOU can help, and it’s so easy!
Dennis, what do you love most about Green Mountain Grown?
One of the things that I’ve found very rewarding in this whole endeavor is all of the wonderful people that I’ve met through this process. Since I’ve been involved in this growing industry I have met people from all over the state of Vermont. They’ve all been so helpful – they come here, they work with me, they believe in what we’re doing.
What kind of people have you met?
I love the families that come up here to work on the harvest—fathers and mothers, daughters and sons, and they come out in these fields, they do a hard day’s work for a good honest day’s pay, and they’re together in the fields. They get to bond in these fields. They get to be proud of what they do in these fields.
Tell us more about the Vermont farming experience.
I’m not a Vermonter, I come from the inner city in Boston, but what I’ve seen here in Vermont and what I’ve learned about the farming industry and the people that have struggled for generations and generations just to be able to support themselves off of the land, it has been excruciating. They can’t keep young people in Vermont for that reason – there’s no future for them in farming.
Hemp farming is a future, one where families can continue their tradition of farming, make a good living and have a good quality of life. It keeps families together and keeps a tradition alive. Vermont has been all about farming for hundreds of years.
Of all the things, that’s one of the most rewarding aspects of this journey, to see the field (as an ATV drives by)–there goes dad there, his daughter is here working with him, he tills the fields, his daughter is running the machines, her life partner is running the other machine, there’s a father and son up there working together – it’s a family affair. It’s a wonderful feeling to see that, and it’s just as a byproduct of what we’re doing.
Let’s back up a minute – can you tell us how you got your start as a CBD farmer?
This is my second season growing industrial hemp for Green Mountain Grown. I purchased this land in 1999 and restored an old barn on the property. After completing that, I went on a quest to see what I could do with this beautiful property. I don’t come from a farming background, so I had to do a lot of research. I made a connection with the University of Vermont, which has tremendous resources available to new farmers. I spent a year and a half researching different crops that could be viable on the land, and I got very close to growing an apple orchard for ciders and the alcohol industry, but ultimately there wasn’t enough money in it to make it worth the investment.
Then all of a sudden there was a big change, which had to do with the 2018 Farm Bill, when they legalized industrial hemp. So I looked into developing a hemp farm. I went back to the University of Vermont, because they have an outdoor industrial hemp grow up in St. Albans, and they were very willing to share their knowledge. From there, I got into it rather quickly. The Farm Bill became law in December 2018, and we were growing industrial hemp plants in 2019.
What challenges does the industry face?
The real hurdle for us is staying complaint with the USDA. Now it’s a matter of us determining if it’s financially feasible to continue growing this plant that has so many uses. Did you know there are 2500 known uses for this plant – industrial uses, in building materials, reinforced concrete, insulation, in automobiles, clothing, food, oil, seeds, and so on. The Constitution was written on paper that was produced from industrial hemp!
Hemp has been used for generations and generations, but under the controlled substance act from the 1970s, the government lumped it in with heroin, cocaine and LSD, and since then there’s been no research done on it, so we’re now almost reinventing the wheel.
Bringing it back to the farming, we are growing hemp for cannabinoids and CBD products. We cannot grow industrial hemp for fiber and things of that nature because our fields are not as wide and open as they are in the South. We grow on hillside farms where our plants are spaced 6’ x 4’ apart. Down in the South they grow it like corn and tobacco, plants within inches of each other, but those plants are not feminized and they don’t produce cannabinoids. We produce plants with cannabinoids that can be used to help people with pain, anxiety, insomnia, skin issues – the health care benefits are almost endless. Your imagination is the only thing that will limit what you can do with a decent, well-grown pure CBD product. That’s what we are all about here, we are committed to helping people.
In order for us to produce a product to help people, we have to be able to afford to stay in business; this is a very labor-intensive business.
…a quick sidebar as Dennis transitions into speaking about USDA regulations and changes:
When Dennis first started growing his industrial hemp plants to harvest for CBD, the legal limit of Total Theoretical THC in the plants was 1% or less, with delta-9 THC being less than .3% as allowed under the Vermont Hemp Rules. Delta-9 and Delta-8-THC are psychoactive (aka they get you high). So he grew his crops according to the legal 1% limit. In a deeply unfair and unforeseen last-minute change, the USDA decided on October 31st, 2019, to change that limit to be a Total Theoretical THC to .3%. 1/3 of what was previously acceptable when Dennis started growing. In most despicable timing, this decision came AFTER his harvest, making all of his efforts for that crop and harvest go to waste.
In addition, changing this acceptable percentage of Total Theoretical THC means that farmers now have to grow three times as many plants to produce the same amount of CBD that they got out of one plant before. A hemp plant will not produce enough CBD to be profitable without producing some THCa (which is non-psychoactive). They have to be allowed to grow under a rule that allows plants to go to a Total Theoretical THC limit of 1% or less.
In a letter to the USDA, after this Interim ruling, Dennis wrote – “The industrial hemp opportunity has been the first ray of hope for decades for farming in the northeast to become profitable and sustainable. Now I am sad to say that ray of hope will be gone if the interim rule goes into effect in its current form. Jobs will be lost, tax revenue will be lost and farming in northeast will continue to take its long downward spiral to extinction.”
…back to the interview. Dennis, how are you going to move forward with these challenges in mind?
We are in it to win it, we are going to stay in the game. We’re trying to get the message out and we need the support as we reach out to the USDA. The Department of Agriculture needs to understand our needs. Vermont growers need it, New England growers need it, the farmers who have suffered for years trying to compete with fruits and vegetables that have been imported from other countries need it.
Hemp farming is a ray of hope. If the USDA doesn’t allow us to produce it within reasonable limits – the limits by which I believe Congress meant it to be which is .3% delta-9, delta-8 – those have nothing to do with Total Theoretical THC. We are .05% delta-9, non-detectable delta-8, but we do produce THCa, which is non-psychoactive. That should not be in that calculation. But the USDA dumped it in there, last October 31st, after we were told we could grow to 1% total THC.
We are focused on the quality of the product at Green Mountain Grown – quality is so important for the industry because bad products are getting out there. They aren’t dried properly, they aren’t cured properly, even the end products have ingredients that they say they have, that aren’t necessarily there. And if somebody uses a CBD product and doesn’t get the results they expect, or worse they get negative results, that’s a black eye for the industry. We need to promote quality.
These agencies – the USDA, the DEA and beyond – that have these rules and regulations that are written by lawyers for lawyers, but they need to come out here and see what we are producing. Make sure we are following the laws, which we are doing. I follow the laws every day, but I know there are farmers that don’t, and they’re the ones that make the money and we’re here struggling.
Agencies not only have to have reasonable laws, but when they come up with reasonable rules and regulations, they have to get out of the office and get into the fields, get some boots on the ground, and see what’s really going on out here. I believe we are going to get to that point as long as we create the awareness and keep doing the right thing.
So oHHo friends, who know how important CBD is for a healthy and happy lifestyle – how can YOU help? Sign a petition!
It states – To Congress:
I support changing the definition of hemp to allow up to 1% THC in the plant. Many farmers have had their crops destroyed due to the outdated definition of hemp. The hemp industry is creating good jobs in farming and manufacturing and we need to ensure the industry can continue to grow and compete with other countries that allow higher THC levels. I urge Congress to change the definition of hemp now so that no more farmers will lose their crops.