Hemp: the burgeoning industry of southern Oregon

MEDFORD, Ore.– For eight generations, the Vanderwey family have farmed the land. But as the latest generation of the family sees it, times are changing.

“Soon as I knew this hemp was going crazy and I knew it was going to go somewhere I decided to get out of where I was, which was a recycling business and get into hemp,” said Nicolaas Vanderwey

Vanderwey, a first-generation immigrant from Holland, says he’s making the switch to hemp because of its potential.

“If you’re a good farmer, you know, it will pay quite a bit,” he said. “It’s hard to say how much but it will be a lot better than strawberries or any other commodity at this time.”

So what is hemp though? Essentially, it’s a cannabis plant but without THC, the chemical in the plant that gets people high.

As more farmers in the valley turn to this product, large companies like Hemp Inc. are also stepping in.

“Things have just blossomed from there with the concept of a local processing center which we opened up in about 90 days,” said Bruce Perlowin, CEO of Hemp Inc. “Employed 205 people and it’s up and running now.”

Hemp Inc. is one of the largest companies in the hemp industry. While producing a variety of products, the recent plant set up in Medford focuses on turning biomass, the ground up product of hemp, into pharmaceuticals and cosmetic products.

“What’s interesting to us is that one of the cannabinoids and CBD – is just one of the many cannabinoids – CBD has been shown to reduce anxiety significantly,” said Barry Epling, a consultant for the company. “And it also has shown to reduce pain in people.”

Epling says Hemp Inc. has plans to expand the facility, hire more people and continue working with local farmers across the state.

“We’ll be able to run these greenhouses all year and then use them for the drying and curing when it comes time for that,” said Epling. “As well as the fact that we’ll be buying products from other areas to process.”

Back on the farm, Vanderwey says the farm bill will allow hemp to be distributed across the country legally and facilities like Hemp Inc. will help to boost the local economy.

“We employed over 200, just a little over 200 people, just for our crop to take it off and dry it,” said Vanderwey. “And next year we see explosive growth where we might be having 500 average people working for us.”

It’s a new age for farming in the Rogue Valley and one that has farmers like Vanderwey excited to see what happens next.

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