CRESCENT VALLEY — Carrot juice alone doesn’t disguise the hoppy, piney and skunky flavor of hemp.
Jane Killion discovers this as she sips a bright orange concoction out of a shot glass at Home Now Hemp Garden in Crescent Valley late this summer.
“Wow, it’s got a little different flavor,” she says. “A zing.”
Fellow taster Robert Rugne describes it as an aftertaste.
“It doesn’t taste too bad,” Killion says.
Hemp grower and Home Now Hemp Garden president Lisa Wolf retrieves the glass and returns to her Champion Juicer. To the mixture of two hemp flowers and eight carrots, she adds the juice of eight apples.
“Right now, it’s like Jewish grandma style: a little of this, a little of that,” she says.
She swirls the juice in a large recycled mayonnaise jar before dispensing it over ice into three Mickey Mouse mugs for herself and her guests.
“I don’t taste anything with this one,” Killion says.
For Wolf, offering hemp for consumption is about more than the right flavor combinations. It’s a business aimed at sustainability and healing.
“I just feel it in my body,” Wolf says, savoring the liquid. “It’s just like my body says, ‘Yes ....’”
Wolf created Home Now Hemp Garden this year to grow industrial hemp under the supervision of the Nevada Department of Agriculture. The farm is licensed under White Buffalo Nation, a Nevada nonprofit “dedicated to mending the sacred hoop of life,” Wolf says.
“What I love is I’m learning,” she says. “It’s so exciting to be able to do something. There is nothing bad about it.”
The industry is in its third season in this state, and Wolf — along with approximately 109 other Nevada hemp growers — is looking to learn from and cash in on the burgeoning business.
As an agricultural commodity, hemp can be used in production of foods, beverages, cosmetics, supplements, fabrics, textiles, construction materials and more. U.S hemp production sales total about $700 million a year, according to a Congressional Research Service report released in June.
To start, Wolf is focusing on production of hemp for the medical benefits of cannabidiols, or CBDs, that so far have been anecdotal. She is also interested in creating products such as building materials and fibers from her plants so she can make her farm a demonstration property.
“Every part of the plant is useable,” Wolf says, explaining the uses of the flowers, leaves, stalk and core.
Jane and Gerald Killion, the owners of 5J Music in Elko, sell CBD products at their store and invested in Wolf’s operation. They plan to offer more from Home Now Hemp Garden after the harvest this fall. Their customers say they experience relaxation, better sleep and pain relief when using CBD products.
“We’ll have our own locally grown,” Killion says.
In addition to juicing, Wolf has been experimenting making tinctures to sell in cobalt blue dropper bottles for administering under the tongue. She also makes tea blends, such as hemp, black tea and goji.
Hemp has a harried history in this country, starting out as a viable crop, diminishing then reemerging through legislation over the past few years.
Post World War II production of hemp in the United States declined because of competition from synthetic fibers, taxation and opposition to drugs, the congressional report states.
Hemp is from the same species of plant, Cannibis sativa L., as marijuana. Under U.S. drug policy, all cannabis varieties are considered a schedule I controlled substance.
“People think it’s marijuana. It’s not,” says Nevada Assemblyman John Ellison, R-District 33, who represents the Elko area. “It’s stupid that they thought it was a drug.”
However, the 2014 Farm Bill plowed the way for production of hemp nationwide, while state Senate bills 305 and 396 in 2015 and 2016 further prepared the way in Nevada.
“Industrial hemp has its interesting points, but at the end of the day, it’s another row crop that we are trying to invest in to see if it has potential in the state of Nevada,” says Russell Wilhelm, industrial hemp program manager for the NDA. “Ultimately, we want to see this program succeed.”
The federal legislation allows for hemp growth under the supervision of state departments of agriculture or research institutions, and defines industrial hemp as having a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 percent, according to the congressional report.
“I thought, ‘That is amazing if they can get it out there and get the studies done,” says Ellison, whose son died from cancer and was given medical marijuana to control nausea. “I watched my son suffer like you wouldn’t believe …. So when I heard about the hemp — medical uses could be massive.”
THC is the dominant psychotropic ingredient in Cannabis sativa, so hemp lacks the main ingredient that provides a “high.”
“Industrial hemp is not going to be funneled into recreational use,” says Nevada Sen. Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, who opposes recreational marijuana use but supports medical uses. “Why would you try to get high on industrial hemp when recreational marijuana is legal?”
Jumping on the hemp craze, Wolf tends about 620 plants on a plot off the main drag in the tiny Eureka County community beyond Beowawe. The Christmas-tree shaped plants stand out against the tawny desert soil, and the distinctive shape attracts the attention of passersby who slow down on Crescent Avenue to rubberneck.
“A little green place wouldn’t hurt there,” says Goicoechea, whose district includes Crescent Valley and other counties with industrial hemp farms.
On the day of Killion’s visit, dust devils dance on the horizon as she walks among Wolf’s rows of hemp. The smallest stands just a foot or two high, while the larger ones reach up to about 5 feet.
“This is my first time touching this,” Killion says as she rakes her fingers over the leaves, then sniffs. “Mmmm.”
The Home Now Hemp Garden operation is small, but not the smallest in the state. One grower has fewer than 100 plants; the largest operation is 300 contiguous acres, according to the NDA. Thirteen growers participated in the first year of the state’s industrial hemp program, cultivating 250 acres in 2016. About 2,000 acres total are in production in Nevada this year. More than 25,500 acres were in production nationwide in 2017, according to the congressional report.
“We’ve seen progressive growth,” Wilhelm says.
In Elko County, there is one registered industrial hemp grower for the 2018 season, according to a list obtained through the NDA through a public records request. The grower is testing the crop on a small plot this year and asked to remain anonymous.
All growers must be licensed by filing an application for the year of production, and the state regulates the industry.
“It’s not recreational marijuana,” Goicoechea says. “It can be an economic benefit. By the time they actually go through the Department of Agriculture and make sure their fields are segregated enough and get licensed, there is a quite a bit of oversight.”
That oversight begins early on in the process. For a grower to import international seeds, the NDA must obtain an import permit from the Drug Enforcement Administration and have the order go through customs and inspections. The stash then goes to the state Department of Agriculture where it is weighed and released to the grower.
Another option is to import seeds from another state with an active industrial hemp research program. Although there is no federal procedure for this method, the seeds still go through the NDA, where it is processed then shipped to growers.
Lastly, a grower can obtain seeds from a domestic licensed seed grower of choice to have it delivered directly. Although this is the most straightforward method, the grower runs the risk of getting plants that don’t meet the required THC minimum.
Home Now Hemp Garden obtained seeds from an outfit in Oregon for $1 each. Wolf had a scare when she thought some of the plants, which are female, “were going male.” To be safe, Wolf yanked out 82 plants and sent samples to an independent lab in Reno for testing. Results showed that they were still within the legal parameters. As compensation, the seed provider offered her a discount on the next order.
Varieties could go rogue if they are not tested for several generations, Wilhelm says: “There is a little bit of risk in it now.”
Not all was lost from the plants Wolf removed, however. She saved the flowers for possible sale or processing and showed them to Killion during her visit.
Wolf pulls a glass jar from below a foldout bed in the back of the 27-foot motorhome where she has been living while starting up the business. The camper rocks in the wind, swaying the rows of hanging beads, chimes and trinkets inside. When she removes the lid, a cloud of marijuana fragrance fills the intimate space.
“Isn’t that crazy? This is totally legal,” Wolf says, shaking the jar.
State oversight also includes department visits to grow sites for inspections. Fifteen days after planting, an NDA representative checks out the operations. Another inspection is done 15 days before harvest when the state runs tests for THC. If the THC level falls below the required threshold, the grower gets a certificate to sell; if not, the state issues a letter of destruction.
“And the crop must be destroyed at that point in time,” Wilhelm says.
Wilhelm inspected Wolf’s plants in late September, and now Wolf begins the task of harvesting the “girls.” They will be hung to dry indoors then trimmed of the leaves and flowers. The stalks can be saved for their fibers and core materials, although Wolf does not have a buyer lined up for those materials.
Wolf does most of the work herself —procuring seeds, planting starts indoors and digging holes by hand — with occasional help from friends.
“It was a whole month of planting,” Wolf says. “I can’t imagine the people who are growing acres and acres …. We haven’t even mastered getting it off the stalks yet.”
Killion says it is all an experiment at this point.
Rugne, whom she calls “Plumber Bob,” installed the six-zone irrigation system, and others have lent tractor services or expertise for ongoing efforts to build out and repair the 1950s-vintage building on-site. She anticipates employing several helpers to assist with the trimming.
Wolf also gains support through the Killions’ financial backing and from members of the Lakota tribe from South Dakota who sit on the board of directors of White Buffalo Nation.
“I’m happy that she is doing that because I have land here [in South Dakota], and I would like to do that too — grow hemp,” says Dorothy Rowland Sun Bear, a Lakota member and White Buffalo Nation board member. “That’s the plant that is going to save the earth.”
In the future, Wolf envisions opening a juice bar and coffee shop alongside her hemp field in Crescent Valley. She also hopes to host what she will call the “Hell Hole Hemp Fest” featuring hemp products and music, perhaps after Burning Man.
“I’ve always wanted this to be a healing center,” says Wolf, a self-proclaimed hippie, or “highly intelligent person pursuing infinite enlightenment … And I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t want to be one of those!”
Rugne and Killion are some of the first to partake of Wolf’s hemp products. As they sample the juice, they discuss the potential of the business and their hopes that CBDs will regenerate hearts after heart attacks, alleviate pain, cure cancer and sooth minds.
As a finishing touch to the carrot-apple-hemp juice they have been sipping, Runge gets a lemon wedge and offers Killion a squeeze. They agree the citrus gives the beverage a clean finish.
That was the impetus for Jane Killion to drink up all her juice. Holding her Mickey Mouse mug in one hand and fanning her face with the other, she observes how she feels:
“It makes my head feel warm.”
“Industrial hemp has its interesting points, but at the end of the day, it’s another row crop that we are trying to invest in to see if it has potential in the state of Nevada.” Russell Wilhelm Nevada Dept. of Agriculture