251: Pick-Your-Own Hemp in Stannard | 251 | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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251: Pick-Your-Own Hemp in Stannard


Warren Nott with some of Baramu Farm's hemp plants - ANNE WALLACE ALLEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Anne Wallace Allen ©️ Seven Days
  • Warren Nott with some of Baramu Farm's hemp plants
When Vermont’s hemp market crashed in 2019, growers Johanna Polsenberg and Warren Nott had two choices: get out of the business they had invested thousands of dollars in, or get creative.

The two stayed in. They reduced their cannabis acreage on their Stannard farm by about 90 percent and integrated their hemp business into a shared agritourism operation — called Baramu Farm, with Bartlett Family Farm — that includes sheep, pumpkins, hay and beef.

They’re now in their third year of a pick-your-own hemp business on their farm, which they purchased in 2017. Polsenberg said they’ve made about $3,500 each year marketing their hemp plants, which are the size of small Christmas trees, as sources of cannabinoids CBD and CBG.

The farm’s pick-your-own season started on September 29. On a recent cool and rainy weekday, there were no visitors, but Polsenberg said the picking season is often busy and social.

“It’s a lovely place, and [customers] are encouraged to hang around,” said Polsenberg. “We have all the trimming materials so they can get down to the buds on the branch.”

If the pick-your-own customers don’t want to stay, they can take a whole plant. Plants are $50 each, whether customers take it all or just harvest the buds.

"I have a friend who filled up a van with 12 trees and drove home," she said.

  • Anne Wallace Allen ©️ Seven Days
  • Johanna Polsenberg
Vermont’s hemp market is evolving quickly. After the 2018 federal Farm Bill made it legal to grow cannabis as long as plants stayed under set limits for the recreational ingredient THC,  a rush of newcomers and native Vermonters planted thousands of the prolific plants in 2019, saturating the market. Prices dropped, and many buyers backed out of their contracts, leaving several Vermont hemp growers with plant matter they couldn’t sell.

Many growers quit the hemp business at that point, but others are still in business, and some — like Polsenberg — are getting ready for next year, when it will be legal to plant recreational cannabis, which contains more of the psychoactive ingredient THC.

Polsenberg and Nott planted 12,000 hemp plants on 10 acres in 2019. They had a signed contract with a buyer who took 800 pounds of material the couple had spent hours drying and trimming, but he never paid, she said. She feels a strong kinship with those who lost money in 2019 and knows she is lucky she had the capital to keep on going.

“We went into the hemp in 2019 and got our asses handed to us,” she said.

It wasn't all bad. That year, they spent $35,000 to hire six Peruvian workers who helped with the harvest and bunked in the six-bedroom farmhouse.

“It was quite fun; we have a nice big house with plenty of room,” said Nott, who is Australian.
The next year, they downsized 90 percent, with 1,200 plants on one acre. They’re still selling dried flowers from that harvest.

This year, they’ve planted half an acre of three different strains; a University of Vermont graduate student has planted another half acre, said Polsenberg.  On the farm website, they advertise the strains Suver Haze, Lifter and White CBG — all grown from seeds purchased from Oregon CBD.

Soon after they bought the farm, neighbor Zach Bartlett of Bartlett Family Farm stopped by and asked Polsenberg whether she wanted him to mow her fields. At first, she thought he was talking about the front lawn.

“He had to explain the difference between haying, mowing your lawn, and brush-hogging,” said Polsenberg, who grew up in New Jersey but spent many childhood summers in Vermont. She and Nott enlisted Bartlett to help them learn the ways of their 40-acre farm. Later, he became a business partner. “He says he schooled us,” she said.

With so many competitors in the hemp field — including another pick-your-own operation in nearby Sutton — Polsenberg markets not only the farm's organic products but the experience of visiting. On the website, she describes Baramu and  Bartlett Family farms as multigenerational family farms, "focused on nurturing both animals and people and bringing healthy products to our communities."

Family groups are welcome at the pick-your-own operation, though at least one person must be at least 21. Dried and cured flowers from last year are also available for sale. Though no customers were in sight on that rainy weekday, the farm was a hub of activity — exactly how Polsenberg likes it. The couple’s two teenage sons were working in the barn with Nott. A father-and-son pair from Massachusetts whom Polsenberg met recently in the general store were also in residence, helping out with the hemp. They, too, live in the farmhouse.

While the hemp takes up a lot of room in the field and a huge drying space, it’s just a bit player. Critical to the whole undertaking is the money that the couple already had in hand to buy the farm and another 80 acres in Glover that Bartlett hays.

Nott has a small retirement income. In addition to working on the farm, Polsenberg, 52, who has a PhD in ecosystem ecology from Stanford University, works as a ski instructor at Stowe Mountain Resort and as an EMT. She's also offering farmhouse space to people who would like to learn about organic farming or just escape from urban life for a while. As for the hemp, “It’s a hobby that is barely paying for itself,” she said.
But she enjoys the social aspect of the growing and envisions a pick-your-own festival next year, with a band.

“It’s a fun nexus of people and being part of the community,” she said. “It’s a model of community sustainability.”