About a year ago, Morrie McCormmach and Rebecca Heger pondered what to plant in one of their fields.
A friend suggested hemp, a crop that was up and coming. Heger and McCormmach took to their computers to research the plant. The couple learned that this cousin of marijuana differs radically from weed, which has a high percentage of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and is psychoactive. Hemp has cannabidiol (CBD), known for its medicinal effects and not pot’s mind-altering highs.
Heger, an Alaskan with a holistic approach to health, is a former glacier guide who loves the outdoors. She was intrigued with the therapeutic possibilities of CBDs. Her intrigue slowly evolved into resolve. A month ago, Heger launched Pendleton CBD, an online business that offers CBDs for horses and humans.
“It’s an incredible medicine,” she said. “There’s no high. It’s no different than eating an orange for vitamin C.”
She says the substance has anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety properties. Other possible uses include treating pain, nausea, arthritis, addiction, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress and seizures.
Heger liked the idea of producing hemp oil — but first they had to grow the hemp.
Their first summer as hemp farmers proved an edifying experience.
“This was a trial run with only 10 acres,” Heger said. “We didn’t want to get in over our heads.”
McCormmach, a sixth-generation farmer, said they considered the risks carefully. Crop insurance was unavailable. Additionally, the harvest would have to be tested at the end of the season for THC content. By law, hemp must have less than 0.3 percent THC to be used for CBDs.
“When we got a permit from the state, it came with that requirement,” McCormmach said. “An independent third-party laboratory tests to make sure.”
They decided to forge ahead, planting on land that McCormmach’s family previously had farmed organic alfalfa. McCormmach and Heger decided to stay organic, using no pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers. They braced for an agricultural adventure.
“By going organic, you deal with whatever challenges the field presents,” Heger said. “You’re hands-on.”
The entire clan, which includes Heger’s four children (ranging in age from 8 to 15) got involved.
“It’s a family farm,” Heger said. “Our kids were out in the field.”
They laid down plastic to keep the weeds at bay, but later had to remove it when plants started going missing.
“The plastic was a natural tunnel for the gophers,” McCormmach said. “They were running up and down the rows having a heyday.”
Without the plastic, the weeds came on. To beat the heat, the family arose at around 4:30 a.m. and got out the door by 5 or 6. They hoed and weeded and fixed leaks in the water lines. Jack, who is 8 years old, ferried drinks from the house to the field on his Honda 50 motorbike. Heger said the hemp farming experience brought satisfaction.
“There’s something about being out in a field watching things grow,” Heger said.
More fulfillment came after harvest. They shipped their entire crop to a processor who used an expelling process to extract the CBD oil.
Heger started her business slowly, first selling oil to a handful of people who had horses with health issues.
“One of the ladies had trouble with her horse not eating,” Heger said. “Within one day (of taking CBD oil), the horse ate and performed better.”
A woman whose horse had inflammation also noticed marked improvement after using the oil. When she failed to give the oil for a few days, swelling returned. Heger gives CBDs to her own family members and animals, including their quarter horse, Apple, that has cancer.
The pendletoncbd.com website offers 1-ounce and 2-ounce bottles of equine CBD. The website will soon feature oil for people, too.
With CBD being touted as a magical cure-all for a variety of conditions, one might wonder if it’s just the latest form of snake oil. Heger said the more she learns about CBDs, the more she thinks it’s the real deal, an elixir for everything from anxiety to arthritis.
“There’s a reason it’s good for so many things,” Heger said. “Your body has an endocannabinoid system with receptors literally from head to toe.”
The web of nerves runs from the brain all the way through the body, she said. It’s connected to all vital organs and generally controls the state of homeostasis in your body.
The legislative climate is finally going the way of the hemp farmers like McCormmach and Heger.
Last month, as part of the $867 billion farm bill, Congress removed hemp from the list of federally controlled substances, which made hemp like any other agricultural crop. Oregon legalized hemp in 2015, but now growers can deal across state lines. Hemp farmers can get credit lines, write off business expenses and buy crop insurance. More Oregon farmers are jumping in, according to Oregon Department of Agriculture licensing numbers.
“We had 13 (registered hemp growers) in 2015. We had 584 last year,” said ODA Cannabis Policy Coordinator Sunny Summers. “I consider that exponential growth.”
The market keeps expanding. There are CBD-infused smoothies, coffee, beer and even lip balm. Coca-Cola is considering offering a CBD drink.
Summers expects another large jump in hemp grower registrations in Oregon this year.
Part of the reason, Summers said, is a saturated marijuana market compared with the sky’s-the-limit CBD market. Also, there are fewer barriers to entry.
Plus, “you don’t have to have security cameras,” she said, “and you can grow pretty much anywhere as long as it’s zoned for agriculture.”
Heger and McCormmach might argue about the security cameras. They dealt with thefts from both the field and from a barn where hemp hung drying. The thefts came despite signs on the fence line informing that hemp grew in the field, not marijuana. The experience made them guarded about sharing their farm’s exact location.
On balance, though, the couple considers their hemp growing experience a success. They’ll plant again this spring. This time, McCormmach said, instead of 10 acres, they will plant 20.
Contact Kathy Aney at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0810.