Tractor Time Episode 38: Mimi Casteel and Regenerative Wine

On this episode, we welcome Mimi Casteel, a wine maker in Oregon’s Eola-Amity Hills. At Hope Well Vineyard, Casteel is blazing her own trail and fast becoming one of the leading voices in the regenerative agriculture movement. Mimi talks eloquently and brilliantly — not just about wine, but agriculture and land use in general. As you’ll hear, her beyond-organic farm is singular within the American wine world. It’s not your typical vineyard, with its neat and tidy rows, it’s a dynamic ecosystem that incorporates livestock, welcomes in wild animals, eschews industrial inputs and produces prized pinot noirs. And for this work, Mimi was recently named the Wine Person of the Year by Imbibe Magazine.

She grew up on her parent’s vineyard, and winemaking is truly in her blood, but so are wild landscapes, the ones she drew nourishment and meaning from when she was a botanist for the Forest Service. She left that job in 2005 to work at her family’s vineyard and eventually started her own on an old Christmas Tree farm. Although it might be a surprising coming from a former Forest Service employee, she believes that the world won’t be saved by wilderness areas, but by completely re-envisioning how we grow our food.

Mark Sturges, a longtime friend of Acres U.S.A., referred us to Mimi. Mark is the proprietor of Chili Nervanos in Bandon, Oregon. To learn more about Mark, click here.

Mimi Casteel Joins 2021 Healthy Soil Summit Speaker Lineup

2021 Healthy Soil Summit info

Learn practical, economical approaches to soil health management at the 2021 Healthy Soil Summit! Mimi Casteel joins our regenerative farming experts to provide two full days of educational content. Join this virtual event from anywhere on Aug. 25-26 and learn how to create a real ROI for your soil health management system.

Learn more here!

Opinion: Take the THC Burden Off Hemp Farmers (Doug Fine)


Doug Fine
Doug Fine

Hemp, one of humanity’s longest cultivated plants, is back in a huge way. That’s thanks to a provision in the 2018 federal Farm Bill. As a hemp farmer-entrepreneur, this thrills me: it’s almost planting season again. Last year (my fourth season), the soil provided a terrific harvest (including food for my family and goats), and, like thousands of fellow hemp farmers, my next batch of product is processed.

In total, American hemp farmers planted 300,000 acres in 2019, up from zero in 2012, according to the advocacy group VoteHemp. One of my own crops is certified organic, which is a satisfying federal designation to receive for a crop that was a Schedule 1 felony just a half decade ago.

Suddenly, hemp is the most impactful economic development since Silicon Valley. It crossed the billion-dollar annual revenue mark in 2018. But what makes me the most excited if that most of these acres are cultivated outdoors, sequestering carbon and, as the industry grows, playing a significant role in humanity’s effort to mitigate climate change.

Not to mention hemp farmers are producing healthy products, such as the superfood that derives from the seed part of the hemp plant (my family has eaten its omega-balanced hemp hearts today, as usual), and the benefits many folks are receiving from CBD and other cannabinoids (which derive from the female hemp flower.)

So what’s the problem? Shocker alert: government regulations. We need some simple and immediate revision in a key area, and that is the THC definition of hemp.

THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the psychoactive cannabinoid in cannabis/hemp, and in small levels (such as, say, three or four percent or less) it’s not an issue, when it comes to either psychoactivity or some kind of fantasy about diversion to a ganja market. But the current definition of hemp, which is cannabis with 0.3 (that’s point three) percent or less THC, is an absurdly low number that was admitted chosen “arbitrarily” by the Canadian researchers who proposed it in 1976.

Now, I’m not a panicky guy in general, but when between twenty percent (the nationwide average) to more than fifty percent (in some states) of hemp farmers test “hot,” meaning their crop, when tested for THC, comes in slightly above that current 0.3 percent level, well, that’s not a farmer-friendly way to launch an industry.

I have multiple friends and colleagues who have lost their entire crop over minute levels of THC that were within the testing equipment’s margin of error, including my colleagues at the family-owned Salt Creek Hemp in 2018. In my own crops in 2019, the same seed tested at 0.25 percent in one state (pass) and at 0.52 in another (no pass).

THC levels in hemp/cannabis flowers can vary of the course of a single day, and even the choice of testing equipment can have an effect.

The urgent, immediate effort is therefore on, among hemp farmers nationwide, to raise the federally defined THC level to one percent. That would allow 90 percent of hemp crops to pass their THC tests, and has absolutely no down side.

Since hemp’s 0.3 percent definition is in federal law, this requires a legislative change (as in Congress). The farmer outcry on the one percent issue has resonated so loudly (I’ve personally heard from farmers in Oregon, Vermont, New Mexico, Kentucky, Colorado, North Dakota, Minnesota, Hawaii, Alaska and Louisiana) that multiple U.S. Senators expressed willingness to include the new definition in a budget bill last December.

That didn’t happen, but the administrator of Vermont’s hemp program, Cary Giguere, who is also of my hemp farming partners, said it could happen any time this year, and it’s up to us to make the necessary noise. But he added that even as Congress fixes the THC definition, we must also ensure that some key changes are made to the USDA’s hemp regulations. When hemp was removed from the Justice Department’s controlled substances list and moved back to the farming arena where it belongs, we all suddenly found ourselves in a “be careful what you wish for” situation.

Which is to say, Giguere took one look at the initial proposed USDA regulations for hemp that came out late last year and called them “unacceptable” on several fronts. When I waded through the 162-page doc, I saw immediately how right he is. There are a number of key areas that must change in these interim final rules, and the best thing that can be said about them is they allow state hemp programs to operate under the previous, 2014 hemp farm bill “pilot” provision for one more year (the 2020 season).

But the most egregious non-starter in the USDA interim final rules is a provision that states THC tests higher than 0.5 percent can be referred for criminal investigation. That alone should send the folks at the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (the department tasked with issuing hemp rules) back to the drawing board — especially with all forms of cannabis being legalized federally at any moment.

Oregon already allows export of psychoactive cannabis – and we’re somehow still punishing farmers about micro levels in hemp? Obviously, with a federal definition of hemp at one percent, this 0.5 percent criminalization provision becomes moot. It should be totally removed (to allow states to determine negligent THC levels), but most farmers with who I speak could live with a decimal point move to the right: a crop testing at between one and five percent might have to be composted or provided to dispensaries, but there is no criminal risk to farmers.

The other key components of last year’s USDA interim final hemp rules that must be changed immediately include, 1) a provision that forces farmers to harvest within 15 days of a THC test (that should be at least 45 days, but really it should be a state by state decision), and 2) a provision that all farmers across the land must conduct their THC test at a DEA approved lab. Sorry. The DEA is out of the hemp business. Time to work on real problems, like the opioid crises.

Raising the THC definition to one percent is terrific, and it’s an important first step in helping ensure that independent farmers, including those on small acreage, are the key players in this new, lucrative, climate-balancing industry.

The next step, what we might call the end game, is total THC irrelevance until the retail level. Here’s why this is important: Hemp plants want to contain THC – the plant has evolved to use it for predator defense and other purposes, and denying it stresses a plant. Its presence can increase plant performance.

Farmers famously can cultivate hemp for what Popular Mechanics called, in 1938, “25,000 uses.” Some, such as fiber apps (feedstock for regenerative homes, paper, vehicles and even supercapacitors), might perform better if higher THC (which will never be smoked) is in the flower. There is functionally no THC in the fiber.

All THC burden should thus be off farmers in the field, and on to the processing phase, where final product goes to market. Already today, when a hemp flower is processed by most common modes (like cold ethanol processing), say, toward a final CBD tincture, all cannabinoids, even THC, are concentrated. A “crude” paste emerges from processing that might contain seven percent THC. No one cares when this happens in a processing facility, and indeed no one should care, because the THC level is diluted before a product heads to customers. Therefore, the last folks we should be burdening on THC are farmers.

THC should never matter for any cannabis/hemp plant unless a flower (and only a flower, not a fiber or seed product) above a state-determined THC level is destined for the retail market. In that case, of course, the product might be regulated for adult or medicinal use. Otherwise, it’s time to unleash farmers to grow this plant in the digital age with no more restrictions than if we were cultivating tomatoes. Our rural economies and our climate depend on it.

And with your help and mine, it will happen. Given the overwhelming chorus from farmers across the land on the immediate one percent THC issue, we can work toward all of our goals with some confidence. And since Congress has been so friendly to hemp in recent years, I’ll predict success and end on a positive from the field: No one I know is cowed by the early hemp hurdles. Personally, I and my family will be out preparing our soil with mycelium and our goats’ organic manure this week, confident that these changes will be made, and the industry will launch in a manner maximally friendly to independent regenerative farmers.

Doug Fine is a solar-powered goat and hemp rancher in New Mexico. He is the author of the bestsellers Hemp Bound and Farewell, My Subaru. His forthcoming book, American Hemp Farmer. His website is and on social media he’s at @organiccowboy.

Connect Soil Health and Hemp

Join Acres USA for our 2nd annual Advancing Hemp event on May 20, 2021. This virtual event is designed to prepare farmers for successful hemp production through practical, applicable advice from industry-leading experts and growers. Learn more here.

5 Standards to Look for When Purchasing CBD Medical Hemp Oil


With the passing of the 2018 US federal farm bill, hemp CBD has been removed from the Controlled Substances Act, making it legal to ship to all 50 states. Today, everyone and their mama is making Cannabidiol (CBD) products, including Martha Stewart and even Kim Kardashian. As the market gets saturated, remember that not all CBD is made the same.

Being an educated consumer means the difference between receiving an array of benefits from this compound — found in Cannabis sativa L. plant species — and wasting your money on snake oil. For such a sacred plant compound, there’s a lot of slime, greed, and ignorance in the industry. Meanwhile, there is also a lack of transparency and regulation in the marketplace that makes things worse.

“Barely in its infancy, the CBD medical market is still largely unregulated; quality control is meager at best, and consumers are largely unaware of what to look for when shopping …,” explains Carlos Frias of the Texas Wellness Center. Frias, who has been with the cannabis industry for more than 15 years, has seen, firsthand, the shadiness that exists in the CBD market.

When looking for a CBD brand that works for you, there are many aspects to consider! Here are 5 standards to look for when purchasing CBD from industrialized hemp.

1. Extraction Methods

To obtain CBD-rich oil, you need to extract it from the cannabis plant. There are a handful of methods used, but typically this isn’t something customers know to ask about. 

Not surprisingly, many companies cut corners and use cheap methods that involve nasty toxic solvents such as propane, hexane, pentane, and butane, which are flammable hydrocarbon gases found in petroleum.

“Cannabis oil made with neurotoxic solvents like butane and hexane may leave unsafe residues that compromise immune function and impede healing,” explains Constance Finley, founder and CEO of Constance Therapeutics.

Beware of companies who try to convince you that using a hydrocarbon method stays the most true to the plant. Butane is illegal for a reason.

“Butane extraction is cheap and efficient but is toxic to make and use,” adds cannabis and medicinal plant expert Medicine Hunter Chris Kilham. “Inhalation of butane residue can cause cardiac and respiratory problems.”

Some industry insiders argue that organic, pharmaceutical-grade ethanol, which is a grain alcohol, is optimal and eliminates certain toxins and residues in the raw plant material itself. But others say that while this extraction method yields a high amount of cannabinoids and is GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) for human consumption, it destroys the plant’s waxes, leading to a less potent oil.

Conversely, to preserve most of the plant’s trichomes – these are cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids – look for Supercritical (or subcritical) CO2 extraction. This method uses carbon dioxide under high pressure and extremely low temperatures to isolate, preserve, and maintain the purity of the medicinal oil. While this method is more expensive and involves complex equipment and expertise, it ensures quality.

“The CBD oil obtained through supercritical extraction is a full-spectrum cannabinoid-rich product,” says Elizabeth Moriarty, Clinical Herbalist and Formulator at Luminary Medicine Company. “This method also produces a cleaner taste, and meanwhile, mycotoxins cannot survive this process.”

This extraction method is also eco-friendly and non-flammable, creating a safer laboratory and manufacturing environment, as well as better product control, adds Gabriel Ettenson, licensed physical therapist and general manager of Elixinol, an organic Hemp CBD Oil company.

Finally, olive oil or coconut oil can also be used to extract cannabis oil. According to Dr. Arno Hazekamp, director of phytochemical research at Bedrocan BV, which supplies medical cannabis for the Dutch Health Ministry, this method is both safe and inexpensive. “You won’t blow yourself up making cannabis-infused olive oil.”

With that said, cannabis-infused olive oil — whether CBD-rich or THC-dominant — is perishable and should be stored in a cool, dark place.

2. Sourcing & The Importance Of Organic

The quality of CBD oil is really based on its source; where was it grown, how it was grown, and the species of cannabis (e.g., sativa, ruderalis, or indica). When it comes to the “best” genotype, it really depends upon what one is hoping to treat or effect

“The soil, climate, plants growing on the farm next door, the flowers in the farmer’s garden, etc. are all reflected in the final essence of the plant,” adds Finley.

Consider that hemp’s cultivation environment is particularly important because the cannabis plant is a “bioaccumulator,” meaning it easily absorbs contaminants from the soil while it grows. As if the plant wasn’t miraculous enough, hemp is used in bioremediation, a cost-effective plant-based approach to clean the environment of toxic heavy metals and organic pollutants. Hemp was used to clean contaminated fields in Chernobyl.

This is one of the reasons it’s important to know how the hemp used in medicine was grown, says Finley.

If the soil is polluted, then that plant will likely contain high levels of heavy metals such as lead or mercury. According to Frias, there have been instances where children have almost died taking hemp extracts that were high in lead.

Essentially, she adds, “those companies have given the rest of the CBD industry a black eye because they were more interested in profiting off the sick instead of creating a quality product and testing it.”

While certainly a subject of debate among hemp experts, the general consensus is the best hemp extracts are found in places hemp has been grown legally for generations and the environment is well-preserved, ensuring plants free of toxins.

The passage of the Farm Bill should dramatically increase hemp farming in the US, explains Jonathan Miller, who worked directly with Sen. McConnell to get the hemp provision included in the farm bill.

“The 2014 Farm Bill permitted growing hemp for CBD as part of state pilot programs. The 2018 Farm Bill makes this arrangement permanent,” adds Miller, who is also general counsel for the U.S. Hemp Roundtable.

Hemp farming is now allowed in at least 41 states, including Alabama, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, and Florida. Miller says that farmers will still have to apply through their state agriculture programs, noting that “the USDA will likely develop regulations for growing outside of state programs in 2020.”

The passage of the federal bill effectively makes it possible for any domestic brands of CBD products that use imported hemp can now turn to domestic sources, adds Allison Taylor, Vice President of Marketing at Receptra Naturals — a family-owned Colorado hemp CBD extract company serving the health and wellness and pet communities. The bill gives every U.S. company the ability to make a high-quality, consistent product that they control every step of the way.

“It will be interesting to see which of these brands choose to follow best practices, now that they have the option,” says Taylor.

So what should you look for in your CBD products? Look for brands that source their cannabinoids from organic-certified, hemp-grown farms in pristine regions. Also, look for ingredients that are certified organic and wildcrafted.

“As a hemp farmer, achieving organic certification for one of my hemp crops in 2018 was a great moment for myself and my colleagues: we saw a plant go from Schedule 1 to accepted as organic in a few short years,” says Doug Fine, hemp farmer, researcher and author of the book Hemp Bound.

“With hemp, as with anything you put on or in your body, knowing the source is essential. I also prefer to  cultivate and patronize farmers who cultivate outdoors. This is the best way to build soil and sequester carbon. And I think it results in the best crops.”

Reputable CBD companies have lab results from independent labs available on their websites, this can also be used as an indicator for consumers about which companies are providing high-quality CBD.When sussing out a brand, look into independent testing by accredited laboratories with globally accepted analytical methods ensures the organic extract is intact from pesticides, heavy metals, or microbiological contaminants.

3. Bioavailability

CBD is everywhere, but with so little regulation, labels will lie. Unfortunately, there are many instances/brands where products do not have the amount of CBD that they claim. This gives the industry yet another proverbial black eye.

If you do buy a product with CBD, this still doesn’t mean that amount actually enters the body and central nervous system. In food products, cannabinoids are subject to degradation and reduced bioavailability, depending on overall formulation/delivery.

CBD products

Driven by the desire to turn a quick buck, producers use misleading marketing and deceptive advertising, banking on the fact that people are ignorant and in need. Beer and coffee laced with CBD is mostly marketing hype.

“CBD can be an amazing, but a very expensive solution for those that need it, so maximizing bioavailability is going to be essential to lower the cost,” explains Joe Santucci of Solstice, a commercial cannabis production company.

While bills for more stringent regulations are in the works, it’s important to know what to look for and what to avoid. 

“In terms of ingestion, the general consensus is that sublingual (under the tongue) and/or rectal delivery provide the highest levels of bioavailability,” says Ettenson of Elixinol. Some believe that vaping also produces high bioavailability as well. “Topical and ingestion (through soft gels for example) have lower levels of absorption.”

If you are vaporizing CBD-dominant strains of cannabis, bioavailability is through the alveoli, tiny sacs in the lungs, clarifies Kilham. If you are taking CBD strain capsules, he suggests eating some fat or oil, like a handful of nuts or some full-fat yogurt, to improve absorption and bioavailability. Cannabinoids are fat-loving molecules and are taken up readily into the small intestine with a bit of dietary fat.

“The need for enhanced bioavailability of the CBD phytonutrient is paramount,” adds Moriarity, “but tricky to accomplish without synthetic chemicals.” Most CBD products do not offer any bioavailability optimization, so 90 percent of the CBD is lost to first-pass effect, a phenomenon of drug metabolism whereby the concentration of a drug is greatly reduced before it reaches systemic circulation.

Meanwhile, the products that do engage in optimization efforts “are generally using a synthetic chemical soup of solvents, surfactants, and emulsifiers — none of which must be disclosed on the label since they are characterized as ‘processing aids,’” says Moriarty.

An optimized formulation, however, offers delivery via mucosal membrane permeability in tandem with precision production/formulation methods. Reducing the particle size of the cannabinoids and immersing them in a matrix of exclusively natural ingredients is best if you want to synergize and to enhance absorption through oral membranes. When cannabinoids are transported through membranes and directly into the bloodstream, the phytonutrients are delivered more quickly, and crucially, avoiding first-pass degradation in the liver. 

“We know the manufacturing process can also influence bioavailability,” says Ettenson. “For example, reducing the size of the CBD compound through the use of liposomes improves absorption and bioavailability.”

“When purchasing a CBD product, keep in mind that a transparent company’s CBD milligram (mg) strength is reflective of the actual active CBD in that particular product,” states Farias. “If a bottle says 250 mg of CBD, then that product should contain 250 mg of actual active CBD. However, a lot of companies currently in the market will list the milligram (mg) dosage of their CBD hemp oil without publishing the strength of their actual active CBD.”

Ideally, look for CBD products that proportionately offer 4 or more parts CBD to 1 part THC, for maximum relief and minimal or no storage issues.

4. Greenwashing Tactics

Upon investigation there are companies that engage in the use of “window dressing.” For example, one popular brand brags that they use the superfood moringa. This of course lures people in. But keep in mind that for added antioxidant benefit, you would need to ingest 7.5 g (7,500 mg) of moringa within the context of a meal or beverage. The entire 30 ml bottle of said brand contains 33.3 mg; so at the recommended dose of 1 ml daily, the daily dose of moringa would only be 1.11 mg; therefore, it’s doubtful the addition of this antioxidant will have any impact.

“The truth is that the gray zone of medicinal cannabis invites lots of shady characters into the burgeoning industry,” says Finley. “A lack of critical thinking, quality business practices, transparency about products and plants, all have been part of the black market.”

Now that companies can have more control about sourcing hemp, they’ll need to develop best practices to ensure high-quality products.

“When the conditions are “primed” in these four areas,  you set a high standard of quality for the whole plant efficacy, and CBD can provide outstanding health benefits for longevity and wellness in high grade medicinals used for health repair,” says Cherie Arnold, Founder and CEO of MediQI Energetics.

Always look for hemp plants cultivated onsite and carefully overseen by experienced farmers who understand the intricacies of the organic growing practices.

5. Isolate VS Full Spectrum

The process of isolating, as the name implies, isolates cannabidiol (CBD the cannabinoid). This is done through a refining process that strips out any additional cannabinoids, terpenes (unsaturated hydrocarbons that exist in the essential oils of plants), and plant components found in the hemp plant. The final product is a fine white powder that contains 99 percent cannabidiol. This is CBD in its purest form, but this may not be the best way to process it, as it takes away a lot of the beneficial parts of the hemp plant

Whole plant hemp extract CBD, on the other hand, keeps the full properties of the hemp plant intact. In addition to CBD the cannabinoid, this extraction methods results in the inclusion of terpenes, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, phytonutrients and any other materials, along with other cannabinoids that provide their own unique benefits.

A growing body of evidence shows a greater efficacy of whole plant medicines over isolates thanks to the “entourage effect” – something herbalists and holistic practitioners have known for a long time.

But because of stringent FDA rules and the inability to make claims those in the dietary CBD industry feel they cannot say a fraction of what whole spectrum plant medicine can do.

“I prefer whole plant modes to isolate, for the same reason that I prefer to eat whole foods rather than isolated nutrients. I believe it results in the most nutritive bioavailability in the body,” adds Fine.

“The research community is notorious for focusing on isolates,” says Moriarty. “It’s easier, and drug-development is entirely focused on isolated compounds. The money thus supports research into isolated compounds and feeds the misperception that science supports isolate use.  When we focus exclusively on isolate, we have pharmaceuticalized the plant.”

Big Pharma’s method of operation is to synthesize, patent, and control. Which is the case with GW’s Epidiolex, the only FDA-approved CBD drug.

“Big Pharma does not understand botanical medicine,” said Ethan Russo in an Undark article. Russo is a neurologist and former medical adviser at GW Pharmaceuticals who now serves as director of research and development at the International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute. Undark focuses on the intersection of science and society. “I can tell you having worked with GW, they were sure aware of (the entourage effect).” 

But apparently they chose to ignore it.

About the Author

Maryam Henein is an investigative journalist, entrepreneur and the producer of the documentary Vanishing of the Bees. She can be contacted at

Connect Soil Health and Hemp

Join Acres USA for our 2nd annual Advancing Hemp event on May 20, 2021. This virtual event is designed to prepare farmers for successful hemp production through practical, applicable advice from industry-leading experts and growers. Learn more here.

All You Need to Know About Cannabidiol (CBD)


Everyone is making or selling Cannabidiol (CBD) these days. This phytocannabinoid has become extremely popular worldwide due to its tremendous and wide-reaching health benefits.

CBD has been called the most important cannabinoid on the planet. And if Big Pharma’s actions or the politics behind CBD are any indicator, it’s also the most lucrative. To put things in perspective, the Brightfield Group, a leading predictive analytics and market research firm, estimates that the CBD market alone could skyrocket to over $20 billion in revenue by 2022.

“CBD is now the most researched cannabinoid on the market and rightly so, because the studies go back to the 1940s proving its effectiveness on the nervous and immune systems, with no toxicity, side effects nor psycho-activity,” explained Jared Berry, CEO of Isodiol, a company that produces hemp-extracted CBD for pharmaceutical, nutraceutical and cosmetic companies.

And after nearly 100 years of prohibition, hemp is finally legal thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill. With the passing of the bill this past December, the commercial cultivation of hemp and the domestic production of hemp products are now legal in the United States. Furthermore, hemp and hemp-derived CBD have been officially removed from the Controlled Substances Act. While the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) patented cannabinoids in 2001 as an antioxidant and neuroprotective, the government has still arguably made selling CBD quite difficult.


Cannabis has been stigmatized for decades, even though scientists and society cannot deny that the plant’s active ingredients, known as cannabinoids, provide a natural remedy to a host of health issues. The plant contains both CBD and THC. THC is the chemical that produces the “high” of marijuana. CBD extracted from industrialized hemp contains less than 0.3 percent THC, though, and will not lead to a high.

Meanwhile, cannabis is known to contain over 400 chemical entities, including more than 85 different cannabinoids, many of which have potential health benefits. While Big Pharma focuses on isolating single compounds, CBD works better when it’s integrated with the rest of its cannabinoid family, like a good symphony.

“Those of us in botanical medicine understand that the sum of its parts is greater than any one single ingredient,” said certified clinical nutritionist Carl Germano. “While CBD may be the most dominant phytocannabinoid in hemp, and the others are there in minor number, they do not play a minor role in the body, as they all participate in nourishing the endocannabinoid system.”

This synergistic relationship is known as the “entourage effect.” While this may sound like a techno-thriller, it’s serious business and can make the difference between CBD having a full impact and doing nothing at all.

In whole-plant (non-conventional) medicine, the entourage effect refers to hundreds of natural components within a plant interacting together with the human body to produce a stronger impact than any one compound on its own. Conventional medicines, on the other hand, focus on extracting single compounds from a plant, isolating or producing the active ingredient in a laboratory, and then selling it to you in the form of pills and powders.

CBD oil


One of the many amazing characteristics of cannabis is that the plant compounds interface with our body.

This is because cannabinoids synergize and help support humans’ built-in endocannabinoid system (ECS). CBD communicates with our body’s main command center to keep things running as they should. Pretty amazing.

“Cannabinoids promote homeostasis at every level of biological life, from the subcellular to the organism, and perhaps to the community and beyond,” writes NORML, a foundation that works to reform marijuana laws.

Scientists have known for a long time that the ECS plays a direct role in homeostasis — the regulation of metabolic processes in the body, including pain sensation, appetite, temperature regulation, stress reactivity, immune function and sleep. Even more interesting is that muscle and fat tissues also utilize these receptors to control their processes.

Cannabinoid receptors are located throughout the body. There are currently two known subtypes of cannabinoid receptors: CB1 and CB2. The CB1 receptor is expressed mainly in the brain, but also in the lungs, liver and kidneys. The CB2 receptor is expressed primarily in the immune system and in hematopoietic cells. Receptor pathways can eventually slow down or even stop altogether, thereby compromising the holistic function of receptors in the body. CBD can slowly help heal these receptors.

It’s estimated that 20 to 30 percent of the population has deficiencies in their ECS, a condition known as clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CECD), which can lead to a number of ailments such as irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, and migraines. Factors believed to bring on CECD include poor diet, insufficient sleep, lack of exercise and stress.

“I would also [add] environmental toxins, such as pesticides and phthalates,” says Stephen McCamman, co-founder of the Clinical Endocannabinoid System Consortium.

Fortunately, there are ways to boost deficient endocannabinoid systems. Not surprisingly, the cannabis plant is the cornerstone of these efforts.

Here are nine of the many conditions CBD can help treat

1. Epilepsy

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder caused by unusual nerve cell activity in the brain. It’s estimated that about 3.4 million Americans — more than 65 million people worldwide — suffer from epilepsy. Many turn to mind-numbing medications, brain surgeries and invasively implanted electrical stimulation devices, with little to no relief.

Yet 20 years of research has shown that CBD can help prevent seizures. It has been successfully used to treat drug-resistant epileptic children with no side effects.

2. Depression

These days, just thinking about the future of the health care system in this country and the assaults on our environment is enough to get a person down and out.   

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, in any given year, persistent depressive disorder (PDD) affects approximately 3.3 million American adults. In 2015, an estimated 16.1 million adults in the United States reported having at least one major depressive episode in the past year.

CBD has been shown in a variety of research studies to have antidepressant-like actions.

3. Anxiety

We live in a Xanax-addled society. Anxiety disorders affect approximately 40 million adults between the ages of 18 and 54 in the U.S.

One of CBD’s most promising implications is in the realm of anti-anxiety. Studies show that CBD can positively impact behavior and reduce psychological measures of stress and anxiety in conditions such as PTSD, social anxiety disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Research has also shown that CBD significantly reduces cognitive impairment and discomfort in speech performance and decreases angst surrounding public speaking. Pet owners have even reported that using CBD oil on their dogs has helped calm them down.

4. Oxidative Stress

Chronic disease is on the rise like never before, with oxidative stress playing a significant causative role. Oxidative stress occurs when the body has too many free radicals and can’t counteract the damage. People are vulnerable to oxidative stress when their diets lack sufficient nutrients or when they experience an onslaught of toxins their bodies can’t adequately get rid of, causing more symptoms.  

Oxidative stress is associated with a number of ailments, including neurodegenerative diseases, heart disease, gene mutations and cancer.

THC and CBD are powerful antioxidants — they are even more potent than vitamins C and E. In fact, the patent HHS filed in 2001 is specifically for the neuroprotectant and antioxidant properties of cannabinoids.

CBD is particularly beneficial in the treatment of oxidative stress-associated diseases of the central nervous system because of cannabinoids’ ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and exert antioxidant effects inside the brain.

5. Inflammation

Low-level inflammation is at the heart of chronic disease — the silent lurker that contributes to at least 7 of the 10 leading causes of mortality in the United States: heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and nephritis.

While anti-inflammatory unprocessed organic foods, stress management and lifestyle should be the base of any anti-inflammatory protocol, CBD has shown to significantly aid in suppressing chronic inflammatory and neuropathic pain without causing dependence or tolerance.

6. Chronic Pain

America is witnessing a serious and deadly opioid epidemic. We are now losing more people to opioids than to firearms or automobile accidents combined. CBD may provide part of the solution.

One of the many benefits of CBD is that it can reduce chronic pain and protect neuro-pathways. Cannabis can regulate immune functions and help counteract neuron damage, making it a safe and effective treatment for ALS, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and MS. CBD has also been shown to slow down cell damage in diabetes patients and to effectively block the progression of arthritis.

7. Weight and Obesity

As if CBD doesn’t have enough going for it, it also plays a positive role in our metabolism and bodyweight regulation.

In a study published in the journal Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry, CBD was found to

  • Stimulate genes and proteins that enhance the breakdown and oxidation of fat;
  • Increase the number and activity of mitochondria, which increases the body’s ability to burn calories;
  • Decrease the expression of proteins involved in lipogenesis (fat cell generation); and
  • Help induce brown fat, a type of fat that actually helps people lose weight.

8. Sleep Deprivation

Sleep deprivation creates a cascade of symptoms that include misery, memory issues and toxic build up in the brain. According to the American Sleep Association, 50 to 70 million U.S. adults suffer from sleep issues.

Here, too, CBD can help. Evidence suggests that hemp oil can normalize sleep cycles, improve quality of sleep and reduce anxiety. One study found that CBD blocked anxiety-induced REM sleep suppression, resulting in better-quality sleep. Another study determined that CBD oil reduced participants’ cortisol levels, which are linked to anxiety and stress in the body.

Dosing experiments have shown that small doses of CBD have an “active” effect, meaning that it helps people stay active and focused, while large dosages actually have the opposite effect. Everyone is different, and weight, age and metabolism are just a few of the factors to consider. For sleep, the Mayo Clinic suggests 40 to 160 milligrams of CBD orally.

9. Opiates and Addiction

Every day, more than 130 people in the United States die after overdosing on opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2011, 55 percent of drug overdose deaths were related to prescription medications; 75 percent of those deaths involved opiate painkillers.

Population studies have found that access to medical cannabis can reduce fatalities from opioid overdose, with the death rate dropping approximately 25 percent after two years and 33 percent after five years. CBD can also be an excellent ally in combating addiction.

CBD is thought to modulate various neuronal circuits involved in drug addiction. A limited number of preclinical studies suggest that CBD may have therapeutic properties for people coping with opioid, cocaine and psychostimulant addictions. CBD shows promise in helping with other addictions, too, like helping smokers quit nicotine.

CBD can even be effective for the treatment of cannabis withdrawal syndrome and has helped get many people off dangerous drugs. How ironic that we can use CBD as a remedy to stop the addiction of narcotics, considering the plant compound itself was (falsely) listed not too long ago as a schedule 1 drug. Given this information, CBD may be able to replace the array of synthetic drugs that have flooded the market.

About the Author

Maryam Henein is an investigative journalist, entrepreneur and the producer of the documentary Vanishing of the Bees. She can be contacted at

Connect Soil Health and Hemp

Join Acres USA for our 2nd annual Advancing Hemp event on May 20, 2021. This virtual event is designed to prepare farmers for successful hemp production through practical, applicable advice from industry-leading experts and growers. Learn more here.

2020 Advancing Industrial Hemp booklet

Download the 2020 Advancing Industrial Hemp booklet

This booklet was released in conjunction with the 2020 Advancing Industrial Hemp event. The aim of this booklet is to share the latest information about successfully growing hemp.

Table of Contents

  • Organic, No-Till Hemp – Learn how to succeed with Andrew Mefferd’s regenerative hemp practices.
  • A Guide to Hemp Seeds – All you need to know about hemp seeds – from picking the right variety to avoiding false advertising.
  • 4 Common Pitfalls – There are four big issues hemp growers can face, so we asked experts for advice.
  • Cannabis Converts – Tobacco farmers are well-positioned to make the switch to hemp. Is your farm?
  • Farmers Who Leap – Real-world stories from farmers who are transitioning their fields to hemp.

Complete the form above to download the full guide today for free, and to receive updates about the 2020 Advancing Industrial Hemp event.

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Acres USA hosted the 2nd annual Advancing Hemp event on May 20, 2021. Now, you can purchase the event replay and not miss a single piece of information! This virtual event was designed to prepare farmers for successful hemp production through practical, applicable advice from industry-leading experts and growers. Learn more about the replay and its content here.

Four Pitfalls to Avoid When Growing Hemp


New England farmers have just finished their first — or second — hemp season. Colorado and Oregon are on to their fifth. But what all these hemp farmers have in common is a better understanding of what it takes to successfully nurture this crop and take it from seed to market. They now know the pitfalls and obstacles that stand in the way of that success.

From the West Coast to the East Coast, hemp farmers all share the same difficulties negotiating challenges unique to farming this crop. A few of those challenges are finding stable seed genetics, locating trustworthy buyers and brokers who will sign enforceable contracts, understanding lab tests to ensure accurate results and avoiding outright fraud.

Colorado hemp grower Bert Groda sees a bright future in hemp but warns future hemp farmers not to invest more in the crop than they can afford to lose. 

hemp plant bud
A hemp plant bud.


According to Midwest hemp farmer Chris Adams, genetics are the single biggest concern at present. Seeds are expensive and there is no guarantee that even when being sold as certified feminized seeds, they will exclusively produce female plants and female flowers. Only the female flower contains high amounts of marketable CBD.

 “You can’t look at a seed and tell if it’s feminized, so people are unfortunately able to commit fraud,” Adams said.

Bob Pearce is a professor of agronomy with University of Kentucky Extension. Hemp production, Pearce explained, is subject to knowledge gaps — a major source of jeopardy for growers.

“If a grower is approached by somebody claiming to have all the answers, I see red flags. Right now, we’re relying on limited information backed by solid research, and it’s hard to prove or refute all the claims,” Pearce said. On average, between 1,500 and 2,000 of hemp seed are needed per acre, which, when they cost upwards of five dollars a seed, amounts to a huge investment early in the season.

So what can a farmer do to find reliable seed genetics? Pearce recommends that growers ask questions and do some basic research.

“Start with simple online searches. In Kentucky, for example, you can go to the Department of Agriculture online and look up approved and cautionary varieties. Ask a supplier to provide proof from a certified lab of a variety meeting the federal limit of THC to 0.3%.

This season several farmers in Vermont found, after investing time and energy to grow their hemp crop, it tested too high in THC and the crops had to be destroyed. With no regulation of hemp seeds or the people selling them, Pearce believes that this advice is at least a good start. Clearly, being connected to a network of hemp farmers with experience is also a good place to start gathering information about reliable seed sources.


But before you even plant those seeds, hemp farmers emphatically recommend finding a buyer and setting up a detailed contract with them to buy the harvested plant. Just as there are fraudulent seed sellers out there, there are just as many fraudulent brokers and dealers.

Hollis Glenn, the Colorado agriculture department’s director of Inspection and Consumer Services, said hemp dealers are supposed to be licensed with his office just as other commodity dealers are.

“One thing we want farmers to know is that they should make sure they sell their product to a licensed and bonded dealer,” Glenn said. In Colorado, if a dealer doesn’t pay, the agriculture department can investigate. State laws consider failure to pay a farmer for a product as a felony.

Before signing any contract, farmers recommend hiring a lawyer who knows cannabis laws where you live. It is also important to make sure that the buyer is legitimate. One way to do this is knowing a company’s physical address, mailing address and the full company name. Check and see if the company is registered with the Office of the State of Secretary.

When recently interviewed by Oregon’s Hemp Industry Daily, Jesse Mondry of the cannabis law firm Harris Bricken, told the reporter, “Growers need to draft their contracts very carefully to provide the adequate protections in terms of things like who is going to cover the cost of production and where and when CBD testing is going to be performed,” Mondry said.


Cannabis contains 80 compounds which are called cannabinoids. The two most sought after and marketable cannabinoids at this moment are CBD and THC. The most profitable cannabis seeds produce plants with a high CBD content, 15% and higher and a low THC content, at or under 0.3%.

To comply with federal THC limits and know about a strain’s full cannabinoid profile, farmers turn to cannabis analytical testing laboratories for answers. These labs can quantify potency levels of CBD and THC and perform full panel tests.

The full panel tests reveal the plants cannabinoids and terpenes, the aromatic chemicals responsible for the unique smell of hemp flowers. They also reveal contaminants like residual solvents, heavy metals, microbials, pesticides and mycotoxins. Unfortunately, test results are not always reliable even when the lab has an International Organization for Standardization, ISO, certification.  

In an effort to regulate testing, the USDA came out in 2019 with its interim federal rules for hemp production requiring that only laboratories registered with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will be qualified to conduct THC testing of hemp crops.

Involving the Drug Enforcement Agency in testing has some farmers worried. Frank Robison, a Colorado based attorney who specializes in hemp law, said “The regs that just came down, the No. 1 thing that they accomplished, if I was a farmer, was to scare me and to provide me with a doubt of whether I should be entering this market until there is additional clarity.”

Not all states are enforcing these regulations, in part because they do not have the resources and funding to do so.

Matt Leonetti, a Vermont hemp farmer and the state’s only Clean Green Compliance Inspector, explained that inaccurate testing results primarily from ignorance rather than fraud. Given that hemp testing is still in its infancy, best practices and trustworthy protocols are just now emerging and mistakes have been made.

For instance, Matt said that when farmers send in wet samples for testing, water content can dramatically dilute and lower CBD and THC results. Even if a lab offers to dry the hemp before testing, he recommends that farmers take care of it themselves. Plants should be 99% dry for testing. He also recommends getting a second opinion from a third-party lab to verify the results.

“The last thing that you want in your medicine is contaminants, so testing is a critical step in ensuring high quality CBD,” he said.

The upside to accurate testing from a certified lab is that hemp with a high CBD such as 16% content, and with 0.3% or less of THC, fetches a high price and will sell quickly. In lab tests, like everything else, you get what you pay for.


So, what can a farmer do if their crop’s THC tests over 0.3% and is considered by the federal and state governments as “hot?” Not much. The laws require the crop to be destroyed, a brutal outcome for any farmer.

However, growers can take measures to increase their chances of remaining legal. Dr. George Place, a North Carolina Cooperative Extension Director for Catawba County, encourages growers to be aware that plant stresses (drought, flooding, excessive nutrients, not enough nutrients, heat, cold, etc.) can result in THC spikes. Altitude or cooler weather at certain stages of plant development may also affect THC.

He said, “there is no multi-year, replicated research information for NC hemp, but a variety trial of hemp was conducted at the Piedmont Research Station (elevation 703 feet) near Salisbury and the Mills River Research Station (elevation 2,069 feet) near Asheville. The same varieties were planted at both locations. None of the varieties had high levels of THC in the Piedmont location while all of the varieties tested ‘hot’ in the mountains!”

Seed selection also plays an important role in determining THC content. While scientists are still gathering information for growers, many university agriculture departments offer the names of varieties that are of concern for THC spikes.

Adams is excited about starting his sixth season of growing hemp but insists that hemp growers approach the new crop with caution. He believes that this is a profitable new crop and says that the pieces will fall in place over time. His advice is to do the necessary homework and seek out experienced growers, trusted hemp communities and state and federal regulations. Colorado State Sen. Don Coram, a Montrose Republican who grew 25 acres of hemp in 2019, knows the risks involved with farming and with farming hemp.

“A lot of good farmers don’t know anything about cannabis. And a lot of cannabis growers don’t know anything about farming,” he said.

To be a successful hemp farmer in this quickly developing industry clearly requires research, experimentation and innovation.

Connect Soil Health and Hemp

Join Acres USA for our 2nd annual Advancing Hemp event on May 20, 2021. This virtual event is designed to prepare farmers for successful hemp production through practical, applicable advice from industry-leading experts and growers. Learn more here.

Grazing Glamour: Angora Goats Produce High-End Wool, Soil Health

By Tamara Scully

Glen Cauffman is no stranger to farming. A tenth generation Pennsylvania farmer, he’s been growing commodity corn and soybeans — along with alfalfa for hay — for decades, and continues to do so today. But he’s not your typical commodity grower.

Always interested in standing out from the crowd, he implemented 100-percent, continuous no-till practices on The Glen Cauffman Farm more than three decades ago.

“I’m very passionate about conservation and I have been for a long, long time,” Cauffman says. “It began in my youth. My grandfather and my father…were proud of the conservation practices that they had on the farm.”

He’s created wetlands on the farm, to provide wildlife habitat and take marginal land out of production. And cover crops, crop rotation, contour planting, contour strips and no-till practices have helped the farm to become one of four 2018 Leopold Conservation Award finalists. The farm again one of the finalists for the 2019 award. Twenty acres of erosion-prone land are planted in native prairie grass, and enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program.

And then there are the Angora goats.

Glen Cauffman
Glen Cauffman and his Angora goats.

Since 2005, Angora goats populate his 20 acres of pasture, which now sprout a diverse array of annual and perennial forages. Fields of unusual crops exist in harmony alongside the acres of corn and soybeans, and these are also grazed by the goats, or baled as stored forages. The goats assist in the improvement of the soils, and they provide a natural, renewable resource — their fiber — which Cauffman hopes can help to reinvigorate the dying textile industry in the United States.

Angora goats were selected not only for their fiber, but because of their interaction with the land, and they are helping Cauffman reach his goal of being recognized for not only the products he’s producing, but for how those products are grown and raised. His vision is to diversify the farm, grow products that aren’t commodities, and to do so with his overlying conservation and stewardship goals in mind.

After becoming frustrated with commodity production, where each farm’s crop is treated as “equal to everyone else’s,” Cauffman longed to develop a value-added and branded premium product that came from animals that were raised in a fashion that did the most environmental good for the farm and greater watershed. He’s chosen to make “sunlight and water into products for man,” he said, and is using the herd of 300 Angora goats to do so.

His farm brand, Pure American Naturals, uses the natural fiber and the remaining remnants of the American textile industry to craft high-quality mohair products. Naturopathic veterinarian and small farmer, Dr. Judith Shoemaker, is also a partner in the business. The culls from The Glen Cauffman Farm go to her first, for care and perhaps rehabilitation, before they are designated to go to slaughter at the end of their natural 13 -15 year lifespan.

Growing Soil, Forage and Hair

Cauffman’s overarching conservation goal is to protect the soil from erosion, prevent runoff, sequester carbon, enhance the soil microbiome, create fertility organically and prevent water pollution. Water from the farm runs clear and tests clean, which he credits to many common-sense practices that all to often aren’t a part of conventional farming today.

But it goes deeper than building the soil on his land. Cauffman wants to protect the greater watershed from damage, and promotes common sense ways of doing just that. One of Cauffman’s pet peeves involves roadway shoulders and ditches, which, he said, “are a significant contributor to nutrients and sediment in the Chesapeake Bay.”

He keeps a sod buffer around the perimeter of the farm, instead of planting his fields up to the roadside. He grows sod in roadside ditches, to capture sediment and filter water. He uses contour planting, and contour strips, along with the standard rotation of corn, soybeans and wheat. Center strips of alfalfa capture runoff from the row crops, and prevent erosion from the hills and slopes.

“It’s more than aesthetics,” he said of these practices, which also make the farm look nice and tended. By not planting crops up to the edge of the field — by replacing practices that might get the most yield but do so at the expense of the soil, and by adopting practices that have a positive impact throughout the farm — even conventional farmers can prevent erosion and reduce runoff.

The herd of 300 Angora goats is the central element around which many of Cauffman’s conservation goals pivot. The goats graze in paddocks contoured on the hillside. There are 19 paddocks on 20 pasture acres, all of which are grazed high. The goats are never allowed to graze below six inches, as that is where parasite larvae live. Plus, grazing close to the ground impedes forage regrowth.

“Angora goats don’t like to graze close,” Cauffman said, and are “constantly on the move,” which is another reason these animals fit so well into his conservation plans. The also enjoy a wide variety of forage crops.

Cauffman promotes forage diversity within each paddock, as well as diversity between paddocks, allowing for continual high-quality grazing. The nineteen or more forages regularly grown in the pastures and fields add biodiversity to the farm both above and below ground. The forages are selected based upon their fertility needs, growing season, nutrient content, digestibility and sometimes their medicinal properties.

“These animals need a lot of protein” in order to make hair, Cauffman explains. “I need that high protein and high digestibility because these animals are pumping out hair.”

A minimum of 20 percent of the diet needs to come from protein, and having more will enhance the amount of hair they can make. To get the protein needed, and to improve his soils, Cauffman uses as wide range of annuals both within his perennial pasture system and grown in fields by themselves.

The plants that have the qualities he needs include: silphium perfoliatum, a native plant also known as cup plant; sericea lespedeza; sunn hemp; Kura and other clovers: black medic: forage turnip; birdsfoot trefoil; along with typical Northeast pasture grasses such as timothy, orchardgrass, perennial ryegrass and reed canarygrass.

The biggest management challenge in diverse pastures is knowing when to remove the animals, and when to let them graze, to allow the best growth for all of the plants in the mix, Cauffman said. For example, when lespedeza is used in a pasture mix, he needs to graze the animals early, but remove them in time for the lespedeza — a late maturing crop — to grow unimpeded. While managing a diverse array of crop mixes can provide non-chemical ways to effectively terminate crops and allow others to grow in their place, Cauffman at times does terminate crops with chemical sprays.

Angora goats grazing
The forages are selected based upon their fertility needs, growing season, nutrient content, digestibility and sometimes their medicinal properties.

He feels certain tools, such as chemical sprays, need to be used judiciously for the greater good of the overall conservation plan. Some plants, such as lespedeza, which bring benefits to both the animals and the soil can be somewhat invasive, and using sprays to prevent their spread outside of the field is a way to allow their benefits while protecting against negative consequences.

Chemicals are never used on the lands grazed by the goats, and only used very selectively on crop fields. The corn and soybeans are grown with herbicides, but not with prophylactic applications.

“They are a tool that we have. Like all tools, we use them sparingly, because they cost and we don’t want to handle chemicals any more than we have to,” Cauffman said.

With each paddock having a different forage blend and each blend having different ingredients, pasture management is a multi-pronged challenge. He’s balancing the nutritional needs of the goats with the growing needs of the forages and the fertility needs of the soil. He does make hay with forages as needed, and alfalfa hay is also available as a stored feed.

It’s difficult to manage diversity, but doing so correctly can mean that fertility happens naturally, and organic matter continues to build.

“I’m always trying in that diverse sward of plants to have something in there that’s high protein. That tends to be legumes,” he said. And, as the legumes also fix the nitrogen for the grasses, they serve the dual purpose of keeping the protein content of the forage above 20 percent, and improving pasture health.

The goats typically switch paddocks every week, depending on paddock size, season and forage availability. Throughout the year, grazing groups can change. Young does and bucks graze separately, and in the summer does graze with their kids. Dry and unbred groups graze together. The groups can be combined, too, at some points during the year.

The goats are on pasture year-round, a requirement of Cauffman’s Animal Welfare Approved certification. Shelters are available in the pastures. Water is available with some above-ground pipes going to various fields, but most paddocks share a common waterer accessible in the aisle. In other paddocks, the stream serves as the watering hole.

While Cauffman does work with National Resources Conservation Service, and often goes beyond their requirement, he doesn’t always agree with their practices. For example, Angora goats don’t go into water, as do cattle. They don’t like their feet wet, and will avoid the stream running through the farm, except to stand alongside it and drink. Using the goats in the grass-covered and tree-lined riparian buffers won’t degrade the water, Cauffman said, but NRCS requires they be fenced out, which he believes is counter-productive and short sighted.

The goats now kid on pasture, since 2018, and he’s had excellent results. They kid seasonally in May, on very clean pastures free from parasite loads.

“We have really liked kidding on pasture. They actually bond better than they did in the bonding boxes,” Cauffman says.

Keeping the chaff out of the fleece is an issue when feeding hay, and Cauffman has designed a square bale feeder to reduce this concern. Cauffman is going to begin a bale-grazing program this winter, using round bales and moving them around the paddocks. Aside from chaff concerns, another challenge is the inevitable trampled forage. But that forage can feed the array of soil microbes, building organic matter.

“Angora goats don’t eat anything stepped on,” Cauffman said. “It’s always a challenge not to have waste.”

Grains are fed for a few weeks before breeding season, in a weight-gaining diet to enhance fertility and conception rates. Close to parturition, during the last four weeks of pregnancy, grains are fed again. The goats naturally stop milking at two or three months postpartum, and grains are fed up until that time.

The major health issue in the goats is internal parasites. Cauffman does use purchased feed with medication for coccidia. He deworms in chutes at two months of age. Some of the forage plants — birdsfoot trefoil, sericea lespedeza and cup plant — are regarded as having anti-parasitic properties as well. Guinea hens and peacocks roaming with the flock help, too, by eating the eggs. Genetics are involved as well. He is effectively decreasing parasite loads by selectively breeding goats less susceptible to parasitic disease.

“I’m developing families that have resistance and resilience to parasites,” he said.

Natural Hair Products

Cauffman is also breeding his herd for premium fiber. Mohair is a natural product that is strong and durable. Its quality is measured in its fineness and length, as well as other select parameters. Hair less than 23 microns is the finest grade.

Angora goats will produce the finest hair with a minimal protein content of 20 percent in their ration. Higher protein rations lead to finer hair production and yield. Their hair also gets coarser as they age. But when they are really old, it gets fine again. So keeping the herd healthy and focusing on longevity leads to more quality mohair production.

A herd of Angora goats
Cauffman’s goats are bred for premium fibers.

“We have some adults that are still grading less than 23 microns,” Cauffman said. “We have been breeding for this fineness. Out of 300 we breed only the best. Last year we bred seventy.”

Although he wants to keep the herd at its current size, young lambs are not culled. They produce the valuable finely textured hair. And, until they are three or four years old, the actual quality of their adult coat can’t be determined. So all young stock are potential breeding stock, too. About 25 or 30 of the four year-olds will be culled from the herd each season. Meat from the goats is sold, and the entire carcass, from head to hide, is returned to the farm and used without waste.

Cauffman is making his name known not only for excellence in conservation, but for the premium quality fiber products produced from his mohair, and sold under his Pure American Naturals brand. He sells some mohair to spinners, and some to the fashion industry.

Most of the yarn used by Pure American Naturals is spun in Pennsylvania, and most products they sell are made in mills in the Northeast region, from their mohair and from the Merino wool Cauffman purchases from select farms. Wool is used in combination with mohair to make a more versatile fiber blend. The farm he currently purchases from is in Texas, and meets both the wool quality and conservation parameters of Pure American Naturals.

“I would like to see some more producers producing this high-quality wool,” Cauffman states. “We need to revive interest in Mohair products.”

Pure American Naturals offers socks, yarn, hand warmers and hats, all of which are sold directly to the public. Educating consumers about the value of natural, ecologically produced fiber products is built in to the brand’s mission.

So is traceability. All of their products are trackable throughout the entire supply chain, and their story is attached to any product originating on the farm, for use by the mills that craft that their products, or anyone else along their blockchain, Cauffman explained. He believes that this transparency is necessary for his — or any — small farm to survive.

“We can’t compete on price,” so need to find consumers with their quality, and their story, Cauffman says. “Value-added requires marketing and distribution. I believe the future of agriculture is in the marketing beyond the farm gate. That is a skill for that the next generation of farmers is going to have to learn.”

The Glen Cauffman Farm and Pure American Naturals: 545 Centerville Rd, Millerstown, PA 17062 717-580-1416.

Seeds of Strength: Native American Seed Sanctuary Sings a Song of Gratitude

By Tracy Frisch

Mainstream agriculture would have us believe that seeds are just another input — a commodity that farmers have to purchase in order to produce their crops. But there are other ways to think about seeds. For many Native Americans, seeds are cherished relatives with whom one has a reciprocal relationship. As they see it, seeds take care of them and they take care of the seeds.

Among the Haudenosaunee (pronounced how duh-noh-soh-nee and meaning “people of the longhouse”), singing seed songs restores the human connection with sacred seed. These songs are powerful enough to stir seeds from their slumber. Rowen White, founder of the Indigenous Seed Keepers Network, celebrates the revival of native seeds and the culture they support. “This land is again hearing the songs infused with gratitude,” she proclaimed.

Cleaning seeds from Buffalo Creek Squash by hand.
Cleaning seeds from Buffalo Creek Squash by hand.

But many factors have caused such relationships to fade away across indigenous communities. “Native American communities all over Turtle Island are in the same situation. Within a couple generations of people not planting their culture’s seeds and not singing the seed songs, these seeds can disappear,” White said.

White first became fascinated with indigenous crops as an 18-year-old student at Hampshire College from Akwesasne, the Mohawk nation in northern New York State. In the University of Massachusetts library, she found the book, Iroquois Foods and Food Preparation (1912-1915) written by an unconventional ethnographer who sat with women and listened to their stories about food. The book prompted her quest to look for these seeds in indigenous communities, introducing her to what would become her life’s work.

This is a story about how one group of people is renewing that special relationship with their ancestral seeds. It concerns the Haudenosaunee, the confederation of six tribes — the Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora — that the French called the Iroquois. It reveals some of the things that indigenous people can teach those of us who have lost our instructions for relating to the natural world.

The Foundation of a Culture

The three sisters — corn, beans and squash — are central to the cultural and spiritual life of the Haudenosaunee, including their traditional song, dance and ceremony. Rowen White puts it succinctly. “Food and seed sovereignty are inextricable from the process of revitalizing our culture.”

“All the foods we eat and all the dances we do” revolve around corn and other treasured foods, declared Mary Arquette, a Haudenosaunee environmental activist, cultural educator and co-leader of the Native American Seed Sanctuary. As a long-time Akwesasne leader engaged in restoring traditional culture and food ways, she understands the importance of seed.

Arquette lives in Akwesasne (pronounced Ah-kwuh-sahs-nee), the Mohawk tribal territory in northern New York on the Canadian border. The place name, which means “land where the partridge drums,” refers to the region’s abundant wildlife.

Mary Arquette harvesting Six Nations Blue Corn in the sanctuary
Mary Arquette harvesting Six Nations Blue Corn in the sanctuary

Her emotional connection to native seeds goes back to her childhood. “I grew up in the garden, loving it,” she said. But beyond her individual experience, the seeds also underpin the collective identity of the Mohawk people.

“Keeping our language and our seeds alive is important, because without them we no longer exist as a people. Without them, we’re not able to communicate with the creator or with the other species on the planet. It’s the way we pick medicine. It’s the way we live,” she explained.

A Covenant With Corn

Arquette’s commitment to keep alive the seeds of her people is grounded in her culture. “We promised the corn that we would always take care of her babies if she would take care of ours.” But that promise was not always kept. “There were times when we forgot to be thankful,” she said.

Through their oral histories, the Haudenosaunee people are able to date their ancestors’ promise to the corn back to a precise historical moment more than two centuries ago, Arquette said.

In 1779, the Clinton-Sullivan campaign attacked the Seneca nation, one of the Mohawk’s sister tribes in the Haudenosaunee confederacy. The United States military expedition aimed to destroy the ability of the Six Nations to wage war on the new nation. Acting on orders of George Washington, General Sullivan burned one million bushels of native corn in western New York that the Seneca had put away until the next harvest. Sullivan’s troops also destroyed Seneca villages and hundreds of acres of their fruit orchards and cornfields. In attacking food supplies, agriculture and families’ homes, the military targeted women’s domain, Arquette said.

“With corn, we were supposed to be generous. Even when our cornfields burned, we rose up resiliently. We even learned to eat burnt corn,” Rowen White related.

Only 13 years before Sullivan devastated the Seneca, King George of England had issued the Proclamation of 1763, which prohibited colonists from establishing settlements west of a line drawn by England. That royal measure closed down westward expansion in order to mitigate conflict with the indigenous people of the continent. In one interpretation, this prohibition served as one of the motivations for the War of Independence. “George Washington was a big land speculator,” Arquette said.

She continued her narrative of that dark historic period. The winter that followed the Clinton-Sullivan campaign was unusually cold. With their villages decimated and their winter food stores wiped out, Seneca survivors sought refuge at Fort Niagara in Canada, where they were reduced to relying on rations for survival. Some people hid in caves. The profound dislocation of the Seneca prevented them from planting their crops again until 1799, and the tribe fell into despair.

As Arquette tells the story, the Seneca renewal began after one of their leaders, an older man named Handsome Lake, had a vision that led him to make a promise to the corn — that his people would always take care of her babies if she would care of theirs. The Haudenosaunee interpret this agreement to mean that they must plant corn every year.

Even while away at college as an undergraduate almost four decades ago, Arquette, a Cornell-educated veterinarian and toxicologist, said she managed to keep her ancestor’s promise by planting corn every year.

A Seed Sanctuary

For the past four years, the Native Seed Sanctuary has been multiplying the seed of endangered varieties of traditional Mohawk foods. The Seed Sanctuary is a collaboration between the Akwesasne Mohawk people, the nonprofit Seedshed and the Hudson Valley Farm Hub. The Seed Sanctuary grows crops on a 26-acre field at the Farm Hub, a nonprofit center for farmer training and research on 1,000 acres of good bottomland that was formerly a large sweet corn farm.

Growing out their seeds on ancestral Mohawk lands in New York’s Hudson Valley has agronomic benefits. That’s where the crops were selected, rather than in a colder, wetter climactic zone a five-hour drive to the north, where the tribe was relegated two centuries ago. The project has also been important for cultural renewal.

“When the land of the Haudenosaunee in the mid Hudson Valley was taken from the Mohawk people, they were forced to move much further north to their hunting grounds, which are on swampy land, where the St. Regis and St. Lawrence rivers come together along the U.S. border with Canada. The soil moisture and climate are different enough that their crops were not adapted to the conditions there,” explained Ken Greene, the visionary behind Seedshed and the Seed Sanctuary project.

A Powerful Vision

Greene is an organizational entrepreneur who finds inspiration in seeds. “Seeds are small and powerful, and every time we plant them involves a leap of faith,” he said.

Fifteen years ago, Greene founded the Hudson Valley Seed Library, which laid the groundwork for a similarly named heirloom seed company. More recently, he established Seedshed, a nonprofit that engages communities in seed stewardship practices that strengthen agricultural, cultural and biological diversity. Seedshed is unique in elevating culture at the same time as saving heritage seeds.

In Greene’s vision, seeds can serve as a vehicle for social change. He said he sees seeds “as time machines, part in the past and part in the present. With the act of planting, we are transforming the story in the future. We frame it as seed justice.”

Imagining possible directions for the organization, Greene came up with the concept of seed sanctuary. It would be a place where seeds can remain connected with their cultural roots.

“Some seeds are endangered and need a safe place to be cared for until they can return home,” he said. In other cases, he said the seeds are not coming from their home, so “we have to figure out where their home is.” Or maybe seeds from a particular culture or community are offered in a commercial seed catalogue and that culture or community would benefit from having more sovereignty over the fate of its seeds.

In another example, a single person may be hanging onto a variety that is important for a culture, whether for its ceremonial role or because it’s central for a food way. Circumstances like the aging of the seed keeper or the seed keeper being at risk of losing their land would jeopardize the variety’s future.

Seedshed does not swoop in and take control of a variety’s dwindling seed stock. Rather, it partners with the community or person in possession of the seed. They’re always the ones who get to make the decisions about how the seed is grown and what happens to it. The role of Seedshed would be to lend support and provide resources, such as skill sharing, access to land, and financial resources. “In each case, it may be different,” Greene said.

The Origins of the Seed Sanctuary

Greene was work-shopping his seed sanctuary idea when his friend Rowen White came for a visit. The Mohawk woman is a remarkable teacher and seed collector who besides founding the Indigenous Seed Keepers Network, also chairs the board of the Seed Savers Exchange and is the co-founder of a small seed company in northern California, where she lives.

Greene has called Rowen White his “seed fairy godmother.” Early in their acquaintanceship, he remembers telling her about Otto File corn from Italy, which is known for making amazing polenta. But from White, he learned that the Haudenosaunee had actually developed the origins of the variety.

During her visit with Greene, White entrusted her friend with some rare indigenous seeds that originated in the Hudson Valley. “These beans were jumping out of my bag,” she said. They were telling her that “they wanted to grow on this land,” Greene recalled. Before she handed over the seeds, the two friends made an agreement. “When I was producing more seeds, I would return them to the Indigenous Seed Keepers Network or we would work together to return them to their original community,” Greene related.

It was May when she left for the long drive across the country back to her home. “Corn was just sprouting in Kansas. I remember feeling exhilarated before my mind could kick in. They were probably GMOs doused with glyphosate, but they were still corn and they wanted to be sung to, too. My kids sang to them,” White said.

“The day that Rowen left, then director Bob Dandrew of the Hudson Valley Farm Hub called me,” Greene said. The director said that they recognized that the Farm Hub was on land that once belonged to indigenous people. He was asking what they could do to honor that history and shift the dynamics, Greene reported.

Ionawiienhaw and Karhatiron with Buffalo Creek squash
Ionawiienhaw and Karhatiron with Buffalo Creek squash

Contributing to the Farm Hub’s interest in incorporating Native Americans into the organization’s work was Bob’s discovery later in life that he had a Mohawk ancestor in his genealogy. “That was the call of seeds,” said White.

The phone call from the Farm Hub served as a perfect opening for Greene to present his seed sanctuary idea and mention that his friend Rowen White had just given him those indigenous seeds. The Farm Hub director replied, “What if we partnered with Seedshed?” With that overture, everything started coming together.

Greene phoned White, who was on the road, and they talked over their next steps. “Rowen said what would make it feel right is if we partnered with the nearest Mohawk community, Akwesasne,” which is also her home community, Greene recounted. “She told us the people she would like us to approach about it, to see if they were open.”

After Dandrew and Greene met with folks in Akwesasne, a group came forward that would become the core leadership for the Seed Sanctuary. By then it was really late in the spring of 2016. With all the partners contributing different skills, they managed to get their first Three Sisters garden planted. “We had to move super quickly,” he recalled.

Last year was their fourth season. “Every year we grow one indigenous corn variety. The first two years we grew Mohawk red bread corn. The third year it was he’gowa corn and in 2019 Six Nations Blue Corn.” In 2019 they grew 16 bean varieties of semi bush, runner beans and pole beans. Each year they also grow one sunflower variety, and different squash varieties of each species, or sometimes only one variety.

“Climatic challenges make some crops more successful than others,” Greene said. As far as squash goes, they mostly focus on large winter squash, such as Buffalo Creek squash, which ranges in size from 20 to 40 pounds each. “They’re very susceptible to pests and disease, especially when there is a lot of moisture,” Greene said. “We’ve also grown Canada Crookneck, which is similar to Butternut in flavor and texture. This winter squash has a bulb, which encloses the seed cavity, and a neck that can curve back on itself.”

Historic Trauma

In creating a sanctuary for endangered native seed varieties, Seedshed also works to create a safe space for cultural restoration and intercultural understanding. Along side reproducing seeds, the work has to involve cultivating trust.

At its inception, Akwesasne seed savers didn’t immediately embrace the Native Seed Sanctuary, according to Kenny Perkins, who leads the project in partnership with Seedshed and is now also a Seedshed employee. And he himself was “kind of suspicious,” he said. “We don’t allow non-natives into our ceremonies.” But over time, he said he got to know Greene and the others from Seedshed really well and he saw “that they got it — that understanding of the relationship between human beings and the earth.” And he was very impressed with the people from the Hudson Valley Farm Hub and how respectful they were.

Greene said that the Native Seed Sanctuary has experienced cultural tensions because there is “so much historical trauma around everything that happened.” Even in their cooperative seed work, where they have set as their intention to learn from each other and heal, issues sometimes arise. “Four years in, it doesn’t mean people won’t be triggered.”

Greene stresses the need for awareness. The seed partnership must grapple with questions like, “Where is the leadership centered and who is doing the support work? How can we deepen our relationships?” Working through these concerns has deepened the relationships in the seed collaboration and made it more special. “I wouldn’t feel like I’m doing the work if we shy away from those conflicts,” he added.

“This relationship with Akwesasne is ground-truthing our concept — that we are working in an ethical and culturally appropriate way,” Greene said. “The challenge we just talked about is also the big success — that we continue to build trust and deepen and expand the program. That trust has allowed this cultural restoration work as well as the revival of seed and food ways.”

In her work bringing endangered native seed varieties back from the brink, Rowen White has sometimes worked with unconventional partners, including the descendants of past adversaries. She hasn’t been afraid to forge unlikely relationships toward the goal of re-matriating lost seeds to their communities of origin.

The Annual Harvest

In early November, when the corn and beans have dried in the field, a small contingent of elders and young people make the five-hour drive from Akwesasne for the harvest. By then, the squash in their Three Sisters gardens has already been collected prior to the autumn frosts.

Beyond reproducing the seed of traditional native staple crops, the seed sanctuary also produces a significant amount of food for Akwesasne. “Our partners from Akwesasne lead the harvest ceremony and show how to harvest the crops and make selections. Some of corn is braided; some is loose. It all goes up to Akwesasne in a trailer in November,” said Greene.

Onondaga Sunflower with netting to protect seeds from the birds.
Onondaga Sunflower with netting to protect seeds from the birds.

One of the people who comes down to lead ceremonies is Kenny Perkins, who is involved in much of the ongoing cultural restoration work at Akwesasne. Like Mary Arquette, Perkins has fond early memories of hanging out in his family’s garden. As a boy, Perkins was also drawn to the longhouse and its ceremonial life. “At a very young age, I took to the songs. As a kid, I’d go the longhouse and only a dozen people would be there. In the 1970s and 1980s not many people went there. Today there’s been a revitalization of food and culture.”

The harvest ceremony is open to everyone who has helped in the growing cycle. It is trilingual — in English, Mohawk and Spanish. The Farm Hub has a language justice program to provide a safe space for all. The Akwesasne Mohawk translate their own words into English while a bilingual interpreter translates English and Spanish.

Raul Carreon is a farmworker at the Farm Hub, who was part of the crew tending 30 acres of mixed vegetables in 2015. He was invited into the Native Seed Sanctuary as an interpreter in 2017. At a panel discussion held about the project last January, Carreon described his involvement with the seed sanctuary as a life-changing experience. “When I first heard the language. I froze. It was the original language of this land,” he said.

As he waited for his first ceremony to begin, someone from Akwesasne offered some thoughts that penetrated deeply into Raul’s consciousness. They said that the seeds had chosen to be here and that everyone here was chosen to be here. And they spoke of the seed garden as a safe zone from anything negative. They said that one should only enter the garden with good intention and heart.

 The Wider Community

Each year after the harvest, Seedshed and the Hudson Valley Farm Hub hold an afternoon of harvest activities open to the public. In 2019, about 75 people gathered in and around a hoophouse to select and braid seed corn, thresh sunflowers, winnow beans, and enjoy samples of cooked Buffalo Creek squash and generous helpings of blue corn mush with maple, which was as close to ambrosia as many of us had ever tasted.

At the harvest event, youth from Akwesasne taught non-native participants how to select corn for seed. This year the Seed Sanctuary grew Six Nations Blue Corn. Only the long, non-brittle ears with straight rows and uniform kernels with no mold or insect damage made the cut. Braiding is used to conserve the best ears of corn for seed stock. Hung from rafters, it is protected from pesky rodents. In demonstrating the art of corn braiding, which requires that some of the cornhusks be retained, Mary Arquette made the craft look easy. Corn that wasn’t good enough to plant as seed would later be shelled and stored in secure metal garbage cans for food. The Mohawk use wood ash to process their corn for eating, as limestone is not common in their traditional territory. A very small fraction of the harvest was only fit for composting.

At another station, Kenny Perkins coordinated bean threshing and winnowing, with each variety being threshed and cleaned in turn. There were potato beans, skunk beans and many other distinctly colorful varieties. The black and white skunk beans resembled the starry sky.

First, people stomped on beans on a clean tarp to separate the beans from their pods. After the beans were shelled, everyone was able to try their hand at winnowing the beans. This entailed flipping them up in a specially designed winnowing basket to remove the chaff. The motion required was surprisingly difficult to master.

The gathering opened and closed with everyone standing in a large circle around a display of the harvest bounty. About eight Akwesasne Mohawk adults were present. They were leaders in traditional culture, who are the partners at the Seed Sanctuary, as well as young people who are learning to lead. They introduced themselves in their indigenous language and then translated their words into English.

In closing, we were asked to share one word that summed up our experience that day. The word ‘thankful’ captures the most commonly expressed sentiment.

Several of the Mohawk people made final comments. Kenny Perkins said he appreciated the camaraderie and laughter that comes from working together in community.

Levi Herne, a young man from Akwesasne, expressed gratitude to the Seed Sanctuary for “keeping the seeds strong.” He said, “It’s good to have a backup plan,” in case the crop in Akwesasne fails.

Ionawiienhawi Sargent is a young woman who completed the Rites of Passage program two years earlier. She said that, while fasting for her rite of passage, she had dreamt that the seeds were slipping away. Since then, she has been having more hopeful dreams of unity, love and trust — which are needed to sustain the food system.

Decolonizing the Diet 

“A good part of the seed and food that we receive goes back to the Akwesasne Freedom School,” where “students give thanks before they say hello,” Tina Square explained at a presentation about the Seed Sanctuary at a winter conference of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York. Square was formerly a cultural educator for the Native North American Travelling College.

Founded in 1979, the Akwesasne Freedom School has played a central role in Mohawk cultural resurgence, including the revitalization of the Mohawk language. Only the indigenous language is spoken at the school, and the curriculum follows the cycle of ceremonies. Students are taught mindfulness and reciprocity.

The school strives to provide traditional foods of the Mohawk culture to nourish the students. They are taught how to plant and grow traditional crops themselves. For fundraisers, parents make traditional foods such as squash pie.

Other initiatives in Akwesasne also promote indigenous culture. The Akwesasne Boys and Girls Club employs a traditional food garden for hands-on education. Elders make seed packets for the club’s children, who write about what seeds mean to them.

But Akwesasne is still far from self-sufficient in traditional foods, such as indigenous corns, beans and squash, and it has not been able to keep up with its residents’ growing demand for native foods. Without a grocery store on the reservation, almost all of the people’s food dollars get spent off the reservation, often at Walmart and other big box stores. On the other hand, there are a number of traditional food initiatives on this and other reservations, from growing native foods to cooking them.

Kenny Perkins, one of the indigenous co-leaders at the Native Seed Sanctuary, has the job of getting families back into gardening again at home at Akwesasne.

For many years the chemical contamination of the land at Akwesasne and waterways from industrial pollution discharged into the nearby St. Lawrence Seaway discouraged the Mohawk people in Akwesasne from growing their own food, and from hunting and fishing. It was so bad that turtles, a ceremonial food, met the criteria for hazardous waste due to high levels of PCBs.

For Perkins, the fact that the Native Seed Sanctuary is located on uncontaminated land in the Hudson Valley heightens its importance to the Mohawk nation. Fortunately, Akwesasne’s toxic load has been declining.

“Alcoa did their cleanup and in the last five or ten years, there has been a resurgence of families growing,” he explained. “My goal as a grower in the last 10 years has been showing people how we plant, how to save seed, when we plant, and about the moon cycle.”

Perkins was formerly the lead uncle for the “Under the husk” rite of passage program that’s offered to Akwesasne young people ages 14 to 18. They mentor the initiates and try to introduce the young people to traditional foods in place of highly processed foods and Dunkin Donuts.

There has been widespread confusion about what foods are indigenous. “Fry bread and lard are celebrated as native foods, but that was never part of our culture. It makes me mad when I see t-shirts with ‘Fry Bread Power’ written on them. We have broomcorn, calico corn, white corn,” Perkins said.

Canada Crookneck Squash.
Canada Crookneck Squash.

“Once a week we eat lunch together,” Perkins said. Every family brings some food, but with the amount of good that they’re able to grow at the Seed Sanctuary he said, “We are able to use the food as a teaching tool. We make corn mush, corn soup, and corn bread. We are able to incorporate it into our programming.”

“It’s so hard to change people’s palates away from processed food,” he said. They target people that are involved in sports, from runners to lacrosse players. They start eating corn and beans and squash and venison. Then they start to garden. They can tomatoes and freeze green beans and put aside corn, beans and squash.

Perkins has seen the impact of eating traditional foods on his people. “One of the kids told me that he started eating good food and noticed he felt stronger. Then he went away and stopped eating good food. He said his body started craving all that good fresh food.”

Sacred Seeds

Several of the people in this story spoke of corn and the other seeds in ways that would be alien to mainstream farmers. As Kenny Perkins said, “We’re having a relationship with those seeds. We talk to them and sing to them. That’s a good mind and an enduring body.”

Rowen White values red corn as her “treasured teacher.” She said that she has been growing her relationship with this corn since she was 17 years old. “Sometimes I’m thinking I am growing this corn, but the corn is growing me,” she declared.

Without any rites of passage to take her into adulthood, White said, “the corn and beans became my aunties and uncles, righting my path when I was in school and teaching me to be a generous mother.”

Scientists would agree with White when she asserts that, “all these heirloom seeds came into being because our ancestors were breeders,” and that “selecting corn from teosinte was a breeding achievement of our ancestors.”

But they would probably snicker at her statement that “the plants were asked permission” and again when she invokes the idea of “right relationship” as a prerequisite for success in plant breeding.

Akwesasne seed keepers acknowledge the wisdom and foresight of those who kept seeds alive in past generations, despite the harsh times they experienced. Perkins said that the heirloom seeds that he grows and saves derive some of their power and meaning from having been passed along through so many generations.

 A Temporary Measure

The Native Seed Sanctuary is intended as a temporary intervention for reproducing the Mohawk’s seedstock. “The goal isn’t for us at Seedshed to continue to grow seeds and foods to be sent up to Akwesasne,” Greene said. He believes that it’s important to talk about capacity in Akwesasne, in terms of skills and infrastructure.

At some point, he hopes that the seed sanctuary will be able to offer the same opportunity for another community in need.

Recently, Greene was invited to Japan to teach. “We went to visit the Hiroshima Seed Bank, which is being closed. It’s the last publicly accessible seed bank in Japan. We had discussions about how to get out as many varieties as possible.”

He is currently exploring whether it would make sense for the Seed Sanctuary to grow seed from Hiroshima. “We consider the U.S. impact on Hiroshima, which includes health, farming, and growing food. That has some synchronicity.”

The Power of Seed

Readers may be puzzled or confused by the cultural significance that the Haudenosaunee ascribe to the seed of their important food plants. But Rowen White believes that it would be a mistake to dismiss this seed work as only relevant to indigenous people.

She urges us to pay heed. “We all are living in diaspora, flung out to new places for countless reasons. Not one of us is untouched by that. As indigenous people who are closer to a sense of intactness, we can be a catalyst,” she said.

This article originally appeared in the January 2020 issue of Acres U.S.A. magazine

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Growing Organic, No-Till Hemp


Since the United States government legalized the cultivation and use of industrial hemp by way of the 2018 Farm Bill, farmers across the country have been scrambling to learn as much as possible about state and federal regulations, market and income potential, and detailed information on cultivation for this new and seemingly lucrative crop.

For organic, no-till hemp grower Andrew Mefferd, helping to introduce no-till cultivation methods to fellow eco-farmers is an important part of his mission to develop new varieties of hemp for cool, non-arid regions of the U.S.

While Mefferd is new to hemp (he grew his first crop just last year), he’s no stranger to no-till growing methods. Mefferd is the author of several books, including The Organic No-till Farming Revolution: High-Production Methods for Small-Scale Farmers (New Society Publishers 2019) and The Greenhouse and Hoophouse Grower’s Handbook (Chelsea Green Publishing 2017). In addition to editing and publishing Growing for Market, he also runs a three-acre organic farm in Maine with his wife, Ann.

Andrew Mefferd hemp
Andrew Mefferd and his hemp plants.

What Hemp Wants

When it comes to growing hemp — whether for fiber, flowers or seed — one of the first things that farmers want to know is, will it grow where they live?

“Hemp is a very hardy and adaptable plant,” Mefferd said. “But it doesn’t like its roots wet. In that respect, it’s more like a desert plant. Really wet or perennially waterlogged soils would be the only place you probably couldn’t grow it. But otherwise, hemp can be grown just about anywhere in North America.”

During his seven years as a senior trial technician with Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Mefferd did a lot of work with tomatoes.

“When I talked to hemp and cannabis growers, they repeatedly told me that they grew hemp like tomatoes,” he said. “The thing that stood out for me was how both have super resinous leaves and stems that coat your hands after working with them a while. So, if you’re familiar with growing tomatoes, approach the hemp crop like you’re growing a field of tomatoes and garlic and then get as nuanced as you want. It’s not that different and you don’t have to baby it.”

When it comes to soil fertility and hemp, Mefferd points to crop consultant Zach Menchini of Concentrates, Inc. Menchini recommends nitrogen at roughly 100 pounds per acre, potassium at 80 pounds per acre, and a surprisingly healthy dose of sulfur (sulfate) at 20 pounds per acre.

He also said that while hemp is a flowering plant, it didn’t necessarily need a lot of phosphorus, but rather potassium, which it removes at about 80 pounds per acre. To achieve many of these nutritional goals, begin by inoculating the potting soil for the hemp seedlings with endomycorrhizal fungi, which, when established, helps deliver nutrients and water directly to the roots of hemp plants. Mefferd also chose to fertilize plants in the field with concentrated fish emulsion and kelp extract once every week or two.

Insects & Disease

Mefferd said that aphids and botrytis were his two primary obstacles. “We had an enormous concentration of aphids followed by an explosion of ladybugs that took care of the problem for us,” he said. “It’s hard to say whether we over-fertilized and attracted them or not, but we’ve been organic for a decade and try to be kind to our beneficial insects — and they saved us.”

Mefferd said the most challenging issue they had was botrytis, also known as bud rot in hemp. This common fungal infection occurs in many vegetable and fruit crops and is spurred on by cool, wet weather in the fall as flowers and fruits are ripening.

“What’s happening here is a classic farming dilemma,” said Mefferd. “In hemp, the levels of CBD go up as the season gets later, but the susceptibility of the flowers also goes up as long as the plants are in the ground. We had a little bit of bud rot, but not a lot. We saw it right away and managed the harvest around it and dried it right away. If you let it sit in the field or dry it without good air circulation, the bud rot will just continue to flourish. But if you harvest the hemp and dry it out quickly, the fungus stops cold.” 

Mefferd stresses that a botrytis infection can turn into a disaster quickly if you are not paying attention. A little mold, caught early and dealt with appropriately, might have minimal impacts on overall harvest and income potential, and that certain CBD extraction processes can filter out small amounts of mold. However, he also says that if the infection is severe and prolonged, the entire crop may be useless. “This is one reason that growing hemp in rainy, humid northeastern and southern states can be a challenge.”

Market & Scale

Mefferd says that before growers even consider getting into growing hemp, they need to think about what their market is.

“Around me, it seems like everybody and their cousin grew hemp this year and we still don’t know what effect that had on the market price. It’s a brand new legal market and I think hemp is like the wild, wild West. We don’t have much of a track record for prices and other things like that,” he said. “So, before growers even think about how to grow it, they need to think about where they’re going to sell it.”

His first bit of advice in this regard is to get a contract or a written agreement from a buyer before a single penny is spent on seeds or supplies. This way, buyers know what to expect if they bring in a successful harvest.

“Here in Maine, we harvested around October and so did everyone else and the market was pretty weak. In this new wild West, a lot of money is going to change hands. Some are going to make a lot and some are going to lose a lot,” Mefferd said. “People get calculator happy and think they are going to get rich, but when the time comes, they lose more than they imagine. So, have an idea of where you are going to sell your crop first.”

Cover Crops & the Roller-Crimper

Mefferd said that small-scale organic techniques employed on a 1/4-acre worked well for him, but that growers looking at more than an acre should think about the roller-crimper method, also known as mulch grown in place. This method starts with a good cover crop that is terminated in place using a roller-crimper.

“The number one thing that many do wrong the first time around is to not grow a quality cover crop,” said Mefferd. “If they don’t fertilize and take really good care of it, or if the seed washes out after the cover crop is sown, they’re not going to get a good stand that will suppress weeds for the cash crop the following season.”

He said that rye and vetch are two good carbonaceous covers that produce thick biomass, but that any number of cover cocktails could be used. Of course, the purpose of a cover crop is to generate a thick layer of weed-suppressing mulch into which hemp seedlings are transplanted or seeds are sown. But before that can happen, the cover crop must be terminated and laid down. And depending on the type of cover crop, growers can use a mower or a roller. But for Mefferd, the roller-crimper does the best job.

“The metal fins lay down the cover crop and kink the stems at the same time, preventing the plant’s juices from flowing,” he said. “The best time to do this is when they are in flower when all the energy is in the upper part of the plant. First-time no-tillers sometimes try to roller-crimp their cover crops too early, before they flower and the crop survives and stands back up and keeps growing. But if they terminate after flowering has been going on for a while and the plants are setting seed, they are easy enough to terminate with the crimper but all you’ve really done is plant your own weeds.”

Mefferd hadn’t planned on growing hemp last year and wasn’t able to get a cover crop in before winter. Instead, he covered his 1/4-acre field with a combination of clear and opaque tarps to kill the weeds and grass and generate the first layer of mulch. Once the tarps were removed, he used a single deep-shank on the back of his tractor to rip transplanting furrows five feet apart on center.

You can use a transplanter or seeder, but they have to be set up or retrofitted for no-till. Mefferd followed each furrow with a 4-inch layer of compost on center and planted his hemp seedlings into that. Finally, hay bales were rolled out between the rows and around each plant deep enough to resist weeds.

Sowing & Spacing

Mefferd explained that spacing depends on whether you are growing hemp for fiber, oil, or seed and whether you need all-female plants or a combination of male and female. Other considerations should include the climate, disease and insect pressure, soil fertility, method of cultivation and the grower’s gut instincts.

Mefferd’s hemp was grown for CBD oil and seed that would be used as part of a breeding project.

“People who are growing hemp for CBD oil probably want all-female plants. In this case, using ‘feminized’ seed is the easiest way to go,” he said. “We were doing strategic pollination that didn’t include the entire field, so we started with ‘fertile’ seed, which means the seeds will produce a mix of male and female plants.”

Mefferd started his seedlings in the greenhouse and moved them to the field after all danger of frost. His initial 1/4-acre planting consisted of 600-700 seedlings with rows 5′ on center and 3′ between plants. In the end, 100 or more male plants in the field were cut out.

“I think if we were using feminized seed and didn’t need to cull males, we would have planted closer to 500 seedlings, which would be roughly 2,000 plants per acre. The way we did it made for a fairly tight canopy that reduced weed pressure.”

Mefferd has seen farmers whose spacing was extremely low-density, skipping every other row and every other plant in the row to increase air circulation to prevent disease. And while he sees the logic, he also notes that more open space increases areas that need weed management.

“That’s where you really need to have a plan in place early on,” he said. “Growing a great cover crop and rolling and crimping it down before planting is crucial in an organic no-till system.”

Mefferd doesn’t want anyone to think that what’s good spacing for him is right for everyone. The important thing is that farmers get out there and talk to their hemp-growing neighbors and local cooperative extension agents in their area to learn about what is or isn’t working for them and then decide.

Harvesting Hemp

When it comes to harvesting hemp, the scale of your operation can also be an important issue. With some help, Mefferd harvested his entire crop by hand and hung it to dry in greenhouses covered in shade cloth.

“It was a big job, but manageable. I’ve talked to growers with bigger fields that hand-harvested. You just have to have a method and handle it more quickly than we did. If you don’t dry it out fast enough, it gets moldy. But if you do it too fast, the plants lose some of their smell and oil content.”

Mefferd said that commercial-scale growers are using everyday chipper shredders, dairy choppers, and combines to grind entire fields of hemp into little pieces that are processed the same day at commercial extractors. Without being overly critical of the practice, Mefferd points out that large-scale harvest and extraction doesn’t distinguish between plant parts with high quality edible and medicinal oils and those that have little to none, like stems and fan leaves. He said that harvesting quality hemp by hand includes close observation of bud maturity to maximize the level of medicinal compounds without exceeding federal and state limitations of .03% delta-9 THC for dry plant matter. Anything over that and your crop is considered “hot.”

Mefferd said that the more mature the buds are, the more THC the plant is likely to produce. And, he said, if you grow hemp, you can count on inspectors coming to your farm and testing your crop. He insists that growers be ready to test their hemp regularly as it nears flowering. If THC levels are rising quickly, he believes that it might be better to play it safe and harvest the crop early, rather than be sorry and see the crop destroyed. Regardless of how you choose to handle it, understand the legalities of growing hemp and be prepared to test your crop and, if needed, to challenge official testing.

Mefferd said that he truly enjoyed growing hemp and plans to continue to do so in the future. This fall, he was able to plant a good cover crop for mulch and will be honing his no-till organic hemp growing methods next year, and for many more years to come.

Additional Online Resources

Andrew Mefferd, Growing for Market, Growing Hemp For The First Time? Here Are Some Guidelines On How To Fertilize, May 1, 2019, online interview with  Zach Menchini.

Rodale Institute online, Choosing the Best Cover Crops for Your Organic No-Till Vegetable System

Connect Soil Health and Hemp

Join Acres USA for our 2nd annual Advancing Hemp event on May 20, 2021. This virtual event is designed to prepare farmers for successful hemp production through practical, applicable advice from industry-leading experts and growers. Learn more here.