It was a proud day for Anderson and Sarah Blanton of Whippoorwill Herb Company on Thursday as they made their first donation of $5,000 to Caswell Parish in Yanceyville. One of the foundational missions of their business is called the Hemp Half for Rural Health, a funding strategy to support rural health initiatives in Caswell County. This inaugural donation will be used for fresh fruit and vegetable purchases for the parish’s food pantry, where volunteers work hard on Tuesday and Thursday each week preparing boxes of free food to give out to clients in Caswell County. The parish also operates Two Hearts Thrift Store that raises more money for its projects. In addition to food purchased with cash donations, the parish works closely with Second Harvest, Food Lion, churches, and individual donations of food.
So how did the young couple choose the parish for this substantial donation? Anderson explains, “After exploring rural health strategies for our county, we realized that there is an urgent need around food insecurity. One of the most impactful ways to address health in our region is to facilitate access to healthy food, and we are confident in the parish’s capacity to deliver nutritious ingredients directly to the communities they serve.”
It is the couple’s intention that this donation will be the first of many for the Hemp Half for Rural Health initiative. Whippoorwill Herb Company is committed to the health and wellbeing of land, laborer and local community, and half of its profits support rural health initiatives in the Piedmont. As Anderson puts it, “We believe that cannabis is the substance of rural health transformation.”
Instead of using the typical term “industrial hemp,” Sarah and Anderson refer to their crop as “cannabis flower” in an embrace of more traditional terminology, and in anticipation of the legalization of all forms of cannabis, both high-CBD hemp and high-THC marijuana in the state of North Carolina. They believe that the combination of recent developments in Virginia, pressure from farming lobbyists, and increasing awareness around social justice will contribute to the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana in the Old North State. Hemp production has been legalized in North Carolina, but only as part of the state’s pilot program as allowed under federal law. The NC General Assembly passed Senate Bill 313 in 2015, allowing the Industrial Hemp Commission to develop the rules and licensing structure necessary to stay within federal laws.
The couple cultivates organic cannabis flower in the sunbathed fields of their Caswell County farm. They then harvest, hand-trim, and slow-cure the plants, and sell flower, teas, smokes, and tinctures both online and at farmers markets. They are thrilled that they can return a portion of their earnings back to the community.
Anderson and Sarah grew up in farming communities in North Carolina and have always aspired to own a farm in the Piedmont. Educating the public about the therapeutic and social benefits of cannabis is important to the couple, and on any given weekend you’ll find them engaged in lively conversation at farmers markets in Hillsborough and Greensboro.
Sarah adds, “The people I engage with at the market and online cultivate my sense of curiosity about these powerful plants, and I am always enriched by our conversations. I learn so much from our customers— about the ways that cannabis can be an ally to ease anxiety, manage pain, facilitate sleep, or simply for relaxation and the cultivation of a sense of “focused tranquility. It inspires me to continue offering cannabis flower of the highest quality, and it’s meaningful for me to consider the ways that a plant we grew from seed can positively impact someone’s life.”
Hemp was legalized in the United States in 2018 through the Farm Bill, which lifted the provisions on hemp that were previously classified as a drug on par with heroin. In the Agricultural Act of 2018, the definition was further changed to describe the non-intoxicating forms of cannabis that are used specifically for their industrial uses. Hemp can produce essential resources such as everyday and industrial textiles, building materials, as well as health and body care. Because the plant is composed of usable fibers coupled with medicinal properties, there is evidence of its uses throughout history up to 10,000 years ago. Early evidence shows hemp in rope and other industrial materials. Hemp is closely regulated to make sure its THC levels don’t rise past established standards. That’s when it becomes classified as “marijuana.” Anderson points out that their entire crop would be destroyed if the levels go too high.
Sarah explains that while marijuana affects the mind, CBD (cannabidiol), the active ingredient in “industrial hemp,” leaves the mind unclouded as the body relaxes.
The Blantons are involved from start to finish with raising the plants; that includes a lot of labor-intensive work such as watering and weeding, hand trimming, harvesting, and slow curing to produce the premium high quality flower. In addition to the fieldwork, they also process all of their product offerings and have designed their logo and packaging with the help of Jorge Maturino, a talented artist and designer from Greensboro.
“Our sun grown hemp is among the finest in the state, and we have third-party laboratory tests to support this claim. This year, our premium flower yielded 19% CBD, which is about 7 percentage points higher than the state average for field-cultivated hemp,” Sarah says.
At one time, there were many farmers in the state growing hemp instead of tobacco. The same sandy loam soil that is so good for growing tobacco plants is likewise good for growing hemp. Anderson says, “The same remarkable soil of Caswell County that ignited a revolution in the global tobacco industry also has the potential to support field-grown cannabis of the highest quality. Over the last two years, the market has become saturated with hemp grown for biomass, which is used in the production of CBD distillate which can be put into all kinds of products from edibles to cosmetics. This glut in the market has led to the withdrawal of over 75% of local farmers from the cultivation of industrial hemp. We have demonstrated that there is a viable business model in direct-to-market artisanal production of premium cannabis flower.”
The couple is fascinated by herbalist traditions and they aspire to develop other organic, medicinal offerings in the future.
The social and legal landscape of cannabis is quickly evolving, and Senate Bill 711 (NC Compassionate Care Act) that would legalize medical marijuana has recently been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. However, the bill must still move through at least three more panels before it potentially heads to a vote in the House of Representatives.
Learn more about their company, mission, and products at whippoorwillherbco.com.