GUILFORD — If not for three serendipitous moments, Andy Loughney and Hanna Jenkins would not be in Guilford today, growing flowers and hemp.
"Hanna is from the Northeast Kingdom and she felt like getting back to Vermont after some time away," said Loughney.
The pair met in Philadelphia after she had returned from a Peace Corps mission in Honduras. He was working on a nonprofit, educational dairy farm when they met.
"Hanna was thinking about going to grad school and searched for land in Johnson, Vermont, and a place on Johnson Pasture Drive came up," said Loughney. "So in 2010 we moved into an off-the-grid cabin in Guilford and we were there for five years."
That was serendipitous moment two, actually, moment one being how he "stumbled into" farming.
"I went to college for psychology and was doing some educational and after-school stuff," he said. "An old family friend converted his farm into a nonprofit and education became part of its mission and that's where I came in."
After Jenkins and Loughney had lived in Guilford for five years, they noticed that the old farmstead at 710 Sweet Pond Road was up for sale. They purchased it and three years ago started Tapalou Guilds, a community supported agriculture (CSA) operation, growing vegetables, perennial food crops, annual and perennial flowers and pastured chicken, as well as collecting honey. Before they bought the land, Paul Boyd was using it, mostly to grow silage.
And then the third serendipitous moment happened at 118 Elliot Street in Brattleboro.
"I met my business partner, Ben James, while we were playing music," said Loughney. "He approached me and asked if I would be interested in growing an experimental hemp crop for CBD oil. I jumped all over it."
In their first year, they founded Bravo Botanicals, and their product can now be found at the Vermont Hempicurean in Brattleboro, the Brattleboro Food Co-op and the Guilford Country Store.
Now, in their second year of farming hemp, Loughney and James grew more than 500 hemp plants, which they harvested on Thursday and hung in James' barn for drying before sending out to a laboratory to extract the CBD oil.
"This may be our last year for our CSA," said Loughney. "Hanna plans on focusing on cut flowers; she makes bouquets and arrangements. Essentially, we've become a flower farm, growing hemp flower buds and cut flowers."
From each plant, James and Loughney will harvest about one pound of dried product. They get about two liters of CBD oil from three pounds of dried hemp.
"We take the material to a lab for extraction, using a method called supercritical carbon dioxide extraction to create a super clean oil," said Loughney.
Hemp has been cultivated for 10,000 years, making it one of the first and oldest known human agricultural crops. CBD, or cannabidiol oil, has a wide spectrum of beneficial qualities without the psychoactive "high" that comes with marijuana.
"Our mission is to provide top quality CBD products that remain accessible and affordable to everyone," states its web site. "We use regenerative organic farming practices to ensure that the health of our ecosystem improves every year. We source organic and fair-trade ingredients to complement our growing standards."
According to a report from the World Health Organization, CBD oil is safe for humans and animals and is not associated with any negative public health effects.
The report stated CBD has "been demonstrated as an effective treatment for epilepsy" in adults, children, and even animals, and that there's "preliminary evidence" that CBD could be useful in treating Alzheimer's disease, cancer, psychosis, Parkinson's disease, and other serious conditions.
Loughney and James entered a market that hasn't even come close to reaching its potential. Currently, they and other CBD producers have a hard time keeping up with the demand. They feel they have been fortunate in establishing their venture in the Green Mountain State.
"The state has been incredibly supportive," said Loughney. "They recognize the potential in hemp to become a real economic boost to Vermont. With young people fleeing the state, this could be something that revives the economy."
It's not all been easy going for Bravo Botanicals, though, said Loughney. "We were denied by a couple of credit card processors, but now we are using PayPal and that seems to be working fine for the moment."
He expects that farming and marketing hemp will become easier once the 2018 Farm Bill is approved by Congress. The bill contains a provision legalizing the growth of hemp.
"The oil itself is legal in all 50 states," noted Loughney. "If the farm bill passes, it will legalize hemp federally."
For now, Loughney said, he and James will stay focused on growing hemp, even though Vermont has legalized recreational marijuana.
"We are open to anything, but that introduces another whole level of security," he said.
They also won't be growing hemp for fiber, said Loughney.
Even though Loughney is technically not a Vermonter, having moved to Guilford from Pennsylvania, he said he and Jenkins have felt welcomed by the community.
"Maybe we got a little bit of extra credibility by living off the grid for five years," he said.
And growing hemp is just the newest phase of Vermont's centuries-long agricultural heritage, said Loughney, with a 21st century spin.
"We are living in such a fractured, toxic time," he said. "This plant can mend some of those things. I feel it is a compassionate plant."
Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151, or email@example.com.