Farmer Jane Harrod recently began experimenting with hemp on Prewitt farms in Franklin County.
The venture was not completely unfamiliar to Harrod, whose passion for farming goes back to her roots. As a child, she remembers her grandparents growing the crop on their family farm.
"I grew up on a farm where we were allowed to legally grow hemp," she said. "My grandparents grew it when the best products were made from industrial hemp."
But in the 1970s, hemp production was federally banned when the plant, a cousin to marijuana, was listed as a Schedule I controlled substance. Hemp is a strain of the cannabis-sativa plant and cannot have a THC content of higher than 0.3 percent under the 2018 Farm Bill, which removed hemp from the federal controlled substance list.
Although hemp does contain traces of THC, or the psychoactive chemical responsible for the effects of marijuana, the amount is not enough to produce a "high." Instead, growers of hemp can extract a chemical known as CBD from hemp plants. According to Harvard Health, CBD has shown no abuse or dependency potentials and has been proven to effectively help a variety of issues from anxiety to physical aches and pains.
In 2013, Kentucky passed Senate Bill 50, which allowed for the licensed growth of hemp in Kentucky should it be federally legalized. A year later, President Barack Obama signed the 2014 Farm Bill, which allowed for the production of hemp for research purposes. Independent farmers could legally grow hemp in Kentucky as long as they submitted a research report at the end of the year.
"When the idea of industrial hemp growth came around," Harrod added, "my friends started talking about how CBD had helped them with PTSD, injuries, sleeping problems, and I listened."
Like other farmers, Harrod began studying the hemp plant and its many uses. Hemp fibers can be used to make a variety of textiles and has even been used in foods. After studying hemp production by other farmers, she concluded that CBD oil extraction was the most lucrative use of the plant. She received a license to grow the plant on her farm in 2015 and began purchasing multipurpose hemp seeds to experiment with.
"Our seeds came from the Kentucky Hemp Program and had a pretty low CBD content," Harrod said. "The first couple of years were failures and nobody in my group of friends made any money. We were getting to know the plant because there's not much written about how to propagate it; you just have to learn for yourself."
The tides turned, however, with her third crop, which derived from better seed with a higher CBD content. That summer, Harrod produced 40 pounds of blooms. She took the blooms to a processor in Louisville that was able to extract the CBD oil.
"I was able to try some for myself and gave bottles to friends and family," Harrod said. "I found out for myself what this stuff can do for people. It helps with arthritic pain, inflammation, stiffness, anxiety and PTSD — it's really endless."
She began her own CBD label — Early Bird CBD — last year, when she produced her first "nice little crop" of 150 pounds of dry blooms. She sells to several shops in Frankfort and collaborates with other local farms.
The name Early Bird has several meanings to Harrod.
"On top of Early being a nod to my grandparents, whose last name was Early," she said, "I also didn't want anyone to think it's something that makes you feel woozy or out of it."
Harrod will be showcasing Early Bird products, which are currently limited to oils, at the Kentucky Heartwood Music Festival on Saturday, July 27, at the Millville Community Center. The event will feature local music, food, art, vendors, children's activities and more.
"I'm so thankful to Chris Schimmoeller and the Heartwood folks for giving me the opportunity to talk to folks about CBD products, the research behind them, and what it can do for people," Harrod added. "CBD is a revolutionary addition to being able to take care of our own needs without having to get a prescription."