High Falls Hemp - BlueStone Press
October 3, 2022

High Falls Hemp

A new farm industry in the Rondout Valley


Unlike many other parts of the country, the Rondout Valley is fortunate to have local agriculture that is alive and well. Farming changes with changing times, and that is one reason for its continued success. Old farms are being put to new and creative uses.

Case in point: High Falls Hemp, owned by Tricia Horst and her husband, Rick Weissman. Horst, a former top model, exhibited savvy far beyond her years by investing in land on Berme Road in High Falls at the very tender age of 17. Last year, she and Weissman put several of her acres there under cultivation for industrial hemp (growing hemp is a new agricultural endeavor in our region, made legal nationwide in 2018. There are two main types of hemp plant (and no, we are not talking about the marijuana plant, cannabis sativa, which is related). One is the kind that produces fiber that is made into rope, textiles, biodegradable plastics and many other useful things. The other variety – less fibrous – is used to extract cannabidiol, commonly known as CBD. This is the type that Horst and Weissman are growing, working with an agronomist. “He's the one who developed a lot of the seeds that we have. Now we have 11 cultivars [varieties],” Horst said.

CBD is a substance that is only beginning to be understood. The FDA takes a very conservative stance on the subject, although it is true that (according to the FDA website) CBD is the active ingredient in Epidiolex, an FDA-approved prescription drug product to treat rare, severe forms of epilepsy. Wikipedia offers the information that “In 2018, clinical research on cannabidiol included preliminary studies of anxiety, cognition, movement disorders, and pain.” Local doctors have been studying the effect of CBD on severe autism, Horst said, and Jared Buono of the Cornell Agricultural Extension has been conducting research “that we’re very excited about.” However, until the results of more lab testing are in, no claims can legally be made for the use of CBD other than for reducing inflammation. That said, demand for CBD products has been growing, in oil, salve or gel cap form, for pets as well as humans – all available from High Falls Hemp.

Although the growing of hemp for a new product like CBD may have a certain glamour, it is still hard work, as demanding as any other kind of farming. This year, in addition to their High Falls location, Horst and Weissman have leased acreage from Domino Farm in Accord, owned by the Dewitt family, land that was devoted to dairy until this year. (The rest of the farm is still being worked by the Dewitts.)

“There are five siblings that own the farm … they’re very happy that we're there, and we’re very happy to be here,” said Horst, adding that Meade Dewitt had helped in the cultivation of the 8 acres that they’ve planted this season. She also hired Kenny Oakley, a ninth-generation local farmer, to be the farmer-in-charge. Oakley’s family still has the original land deeded to them by King George III in 1746, off County Route 2 in Accord. “We’re still farming it … I have beef cows, chickens and ducks and pork,” Oakley said. His sons manage the homestead so he can devote himself to the day-to-day operations of High Falls Hemp.

It was a sunny, warm September day at the time of the BSP’s visit to the Accord site. Weissman, who handles the retail business, arrived with a vanload of prospective clients and journalists who drove up from the city for a tour of the farm. Workers could be seen among the rows of bushy, blossoming, aromatic hemp, doing the weeding, removing yellow leaves and doing other maintenance work.

“One thing we’re proud of is that we’ve been able to hire all local people,” commented Horst. She estimated there were nine people – of all ages – working in the fields either full- or part-time.

Oakley took questions about his methodology. “These are all raised beds with drip-line irrigation,” he explained. He mixes organic fertilizer solution into the water in a water wagon, “then I pump that through the drip lines.”

When asked about challenges of this particular operation, he named the usual suspects: "weeds, corn borers, June bugs." Another potential problem: The female plants (that produce the necessary oil) sometimes turn into males. However, Horst, who is out every day walking the farm with Oakley, was emphatic in saying that no pesticides are used. “We do organic farming practices … it’s constant maintenance.”

Their incessant vigilance appears to be successful. “Our plants are happy, they're really big,” Horst said, standing next to one that was especially impressive looking. “We're probably going to start harvesting within the week.”

After the drying process, the extracts and lotions are made, using only the flowers and leaves of the plant. “We are literally soil to product,” said Horst. She and Weissman are extremely careful about soil, testing for heavy metals and pesticides before putting seeds in the ground.

The pungent aroma coming from the fields – along with the visual similarity of hemp to marijuana – has drawn some attention from certain passersby, in spite of signs posted around the property specifying what is being grown there.

“Let me clarify: This is a cousin of the marijuana plant. We are growing hemp for CBD. We can only have 0.3% THC,” said Horst, a level that has no intoxicating effect whatever. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is, of course, the psychoactive chemical so abundant in marijuana plants. Because medical personnel, truck drivers and others are subject to periodic drug testing, any trace of THC must be removed before they are able to use CBD. In response to that rule, “we developed a product that has zero THC,” said Horst. “It’s on our website. It’s called CBD Full Spectrum.” For anyone who has testing concerns, “you don't have to worry, because there is zero percent THC in our lotion.”

Horst is the proud owner of a section of the old D&H Canal, the ghost of which still can be seen (sort of) along Berme Road. “I have heard from the D&H Canal Museum people that hemp was a very live plant along both sides of the canal,” she reported, “because they used to feed it to the workers – and also the oxen and horses that pulled the barges.” Eating the hemp, it was believed, “relieved their arthritis, muscle pain, it relieved the inflammation from working all day, and it gave them a lot more energy and clarity.” Horst said she’s also heard it used to be commonly found along the rail trail, which often follows the same route as the canal.

All of the hemp products made by High Falls Hemp are available online from highfallshempny.com. Local retail outlets that carry some or all of the HFH line include the High Falls Coop, the QuikMart on Route 209 in Accord, Happy Life and the Woodstock Apothecary in Woodstock, and Heady Teddy's and Smokes for Less in New Paltz.


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