Food & Farming

Organic Hemp Farm in Hopkinton First of its Kind in Rhode Island Cannabis Industry

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Lovewell Farms in Hopkinton is the only certified-organic hemp farm in Rhode Island. (Colleen Cronin/ecoRI News)

HOPKINTON, R.I. — Among the horse barns and turf fields of South County lies an agricultural endeavor looking to provide high-quality cannabis crops that won’t get you high.

Lovewell Farms, Rhode Island’s only certified-organic hemp farm, produces a wide range of cannabidoil (CBD) products under a model of education, sustainability, and advocacy.

Since the company started in founder and co-owner Mike Simpson’s Providence kitchen about four years ago, Lovewell has invested a lot of time sharing information about the benefits of and debunking the myths about CBD.

Traveling to farmers markets around the state is part of the company’s marketing and sales strategy, and Simpson said he’s seen the look of bewilderment in people’s faces when they start to approach Lovewell’s booth and realize he’s selling a cannabis product.

“I say it all day long to people… ‘It’s not pot. It’s cannabis, but it’s not THC,’” said Colette Chisholm, Lovewell’s regional wholesale manager.

CBD is only one of about 100 cannabinoids produced by the cannabis plant. Unlike THC, CBD is a non-psychoactive drug. After the passage of the federal 2018 Farm Bill Act, hemp became legal to cultivate and sell in all 50 states.

Even though they look exactly alike and even smell similar during harvest season, THC plants and hemp plants have different chemical compositions. Hemp has higher levels of CBD concentration and less than 0.3 percent THC, so the products they produce likely won’t get a user high.

But they can still help someone feel good. CBD can reduce users’ physical and mental pain, according to the workers at Lovewell and a growing body of scientific research.

“It’s a drug just as much as, like, coffee,” chief operating officer and co-owner Emily Cotter said of CBD. Cotter said that through conversations with their consumers, they’ve been able to provide them with information about the safety and benefits of CBD and build trust in Lovewell’s products.

Lovewell sells CBD in several different forms, including balms, salves, oils, tinctures, and dried flowers which can be cut up and smoked. All the products are all manufactured in-house.

Although CBD products are becoming more popular and hemp growing skyrocketed after 2018, Lovewell is unique in the way it grows its product.

Cotter and third co-owner Ryan Plante both studied horticulture at the University of Rhode Island and promote sustainable farming practices on the less than two acres of land Lovewell rents in Hopkinton. Lovewell is the only hemp producer of five in Rhode Island with a United States Department of Agriculture organic certification.

A hemp plant at Lovewell Farms in Hopkinton. Even though they look exactly alike and even smell similar during harvest season, THC plants and hemp plants have different chemical compositions. (Colleen Cronin/ecoRI News)

Plante, who is also Lovewell’s director of horticulture at the farm, doesn’t use harsh chemicals on the plants to keep away pests, which can feel like a gamble when he only has about 1,000 plants under his care.

Because they are such a small operation, “if we have a crop failure, that’s going to affect us for years to come,” Cotter said.

That means when the harvest comes at the end of September, Plante treats the hemp plants like they’re his “newborn baby” and makes sure cultivated plants are drying under the right temperature and humidity.

After the plants are first placed in a temperature-controlled room, which sits in an old garage on the property, the humidity can hike up to 99 percent. But over the course of six to eight hours the humidity starts to lower to 50 or 60 percent. Anything higher than 60 percent humidity can start to grow mold spores, while drying too quickly can burn up the cannabinnoids in the flowers.

Though the former poultry farm that Lovewell rents has a deep well that got them through the summer’s drought, the buildings on the property don’t have the best electrical capacity, so the power sometimes goes out, something Plante has to deal with even in the middle of the night.

“I might just camp outside this year,” he said.

To help make the harvesting process easier this month, Plante decided to plant Purple Emperor and Painted Lady strains of hemp, which are harvested a few weeks apart, so that the team won’t be cultivating all 1,000 plants at once.

“The issue that we face as New England growers is that the genetics that are created don’t suit the climate,” Plante said, because the cannabis industry is so focused on the western part of the United States. But the new seeds he’s been working with this year have done much better because they’ve come from a company that works with farms around the country.

While growing outside comes with the challenges of fickle mother nature, the folks at Lovewell said that they prefer it to indoor growing because of environmental and financial benefits.

“The electricity bill alone, having to pay that…” Simpson said. “We use the big light in the sky, the sun. We use the rain, when it comes, if it does.”

That electricity bill and the cost of using a climate-controlled environment for the whole growing process also increase indoor growers’ carbon emission, according to a 2021 Colorado State University study, which estimated that shifting growing outside lowers emissions by 80 percent.

The ecological and fiscal need to keep growing outside is also one of the barriers Simpson said will prevent Lovewell and many other small growers from getting into the THC business. After Rhode Island’s new recreational cannabis law goes into effect, THC cultivators who are able to receive a license will only be able to plant inside for security purposes.

Outdoor growing is the “twin flame” of being both environmentally friendly and more equitable, Simpson said, and is something he will continue to advocate for in future cannabis legislation. Both Simpson and Cotter have been heavily involved in the movement to legalize recreational THC in Rhode Island and were happy to see it pass this year.

For now, Lovewell has moved into the THC market by selling their CBD products to THC makers who can mix the two compounds together for what some consider a more pleasurable high.

Cotter hopes they’ll keep growing their customer base and that Lovewell will become a name that is associated with quality.

“When ideally we can move into the THC market,” Simpson said, “they’re already familiar with the brand.”

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