Hemp in the Heart of Hunt Country
Written by Kaitlin Hill
With the legalization of industrial hemp production at the end of 2018, many of Virginia’s farmers shifted gears to capitalize on a new and exciting market. Nearby, from Lovettsville to Front Royal, hemp farms seem to sprout from the ground in abundance like the easily identifiable kelly green leaves they cultivate. Though business is booming, local growers and business owners, Jeff Boogaard of Cannabreeze, and Heather and Christoph Quasney of Old Dominion Cannabis, explain that industrial hemp in Hunt Country is much more about wellness than wealth. In fact, over the course of a conversation, they share that their businesses are built around family and community support, focus on environmentalism, and a desire to educate the CBD-conflicted.
First, it is important to understand what hemp is, and why it is different from recreational marijuana. Boogaard’s path towards understanding started with the letters CBD. “I didn’t know anything other than those three letters,” he explains. Three other letters, THC, might ring a bell too. Both CBD, the abbreviation of cannabidiol, and THC, short for delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, are chemical compounds in the cannabis plant. While both are present, their properties are different. THC is a psychoactive cannabinoid that can become intoxicating and cause “a high,” whereas CBD, which is not psychotropic, is touted for its ability to address a diverse set of health issues. In fact, in 2018 the FDA approved its first CBD-derived drug, Epidiolex, which is used to treat specific severe forms of epilepsy.
The level of THC in the cannabis plant designates whether it is hemp or marijuana. To qualify as hemp, from which CBD is sourced, the plant being processed must have lower than 0.3% THC. Christoph Quasney sums it up nicely saying, “There is a clear difference here. It’s the same plant, but the difference is the selective genetics that bred a plant that has very low THC which is the federally prohibited cannabinoid. We want to target those cannabinoids that are legal, but also have demonstrated some sort of afforded health benefits.”
Those selective genetics result in seeds, which – unsurprisingly – are where the growing process begins. And, Christoph Quasney shares, there is the capacity to be even more selective there, supporting small seed companies. “We wanted to go with [seeds] we knew would be compliant, but we also wanted to reach out to local genetics companies, and we found some doing new crosses and new cultivars,” he says.
The path from seed to CBD happens from roughly May to October in Virginia, and for both Cannabreeze and Old Dominion Cannabis, begins with indoor germination. “We germinate indoors for the first three or so weeks, and then they are transplanted outside. They’ll propagate outdoors from sometime in June towards the end of September,” Boogaard explains. The remainder of the growth cycle, when the plant begins to flower, is driven by light. Christoph Quasney says, “The new growth stage occurs when you are getting 14 hours or more of sunlight a day. Once you drop down to 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark, the plant starts flowering.” While the process might seem as straightforward as night and day, growing in Virginia presents unique challenges. “The growth cycles are reflective of Virginia’s unique growing situation. We have really high humidity, which is a challenge from a fungus standpoint,” Christoph Quasney says. Pests pose a threat too, but Boogaard fights them off naturally. “You can battle bugs with some good organics, or live predators. We use ladybugs and praying mantises.”
Old Dominion Cannabis works with – versus against – nature too. “Being environmental is a core part of our business model. From an energy standpoint, we use LED lighting, with regards to watering we use direct drip irrigation, so we use very little water. And we utilize organically derived fertilizer,” Christoph Quasney says.
Once the flowers are mature, the hard work of harvesting starts in the fall. Boogaard laughs, “We always say, the work begins when the stock is chopped.” After the plants are harvested, they are dried, and then “we’ll buck it” Christoph Quasney shares with enthusiasm. Bucking is the process of removing individual flowers from the stem. “Once it is bucked, we put it through a trimmer…that gently rolls the flower around,” Quasney explains. “What you are left with is a nice trimmed, aesthetically pleasing flower.”
The penultimate part of the process is curing. Of their process, Christoph Quasney shares, “We transfer it to glass jars and start that four-week curing process…with bi-daily venting.”
The final step – extraction – is perhaps the most challenging, or at least the most expensive. Extraction can happen in one of three ways: CO2 extraction, ethanol extraction, or infusion. Boogaard says, “That component is the most expensive yet the most crucial part of the process.” With that in mind, Boogaard is building an extraction facility and will welcome other farmers to use it. He adds, “Our goal is to support all the farmers in the region.” His production facility has faced delays due to the pandemic, but Boogaard would rather do it right than do it quickly. “All of our equipment in our facility, in our labs, is American made,” he says proudly. His ovens come from Oregon and the extraction system is from Pittsburgh. They also have a nano emulsification system from Miami.
Extraction is so crucial because it is when the flower transitions from dried plant to usable biomass that can be administered in three ways through a variety of products. “There are basically three modes of delivery,” Christoph Quasney explains. “Inhalation, topical, and ingestion. And we wanted to make sure we offered a variety of all three.”
While inhalation is self-explanatory, the products designed around topical and ingestion are somewhat surprising. For topical, Old Dominion Cannabis offers a sore muscle salve and massage oil, and Cannabreeze has body oil and bath bombs. Each company has interesting edible offerings from tinctures and gummies to Old Dominion Cannabis’ CBD infused honey. Heather Quasney recommends adding a little of their Hemp + Honey to a cup of green tea.
According to the National Library of Medicine, there are at least 837 CBD studies and clinical trials happening around the world. In Charlottesville, the University of Virginia is currently studying the effects of topical CBD in osteoarthritis of the hand, while The Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston is researching CBD as a treatment for anxiety in advanced breast cancer patients, signs of the hypothesis that CBD might have both physical and mental benefits for a wide-ranging set of symptoms.
For now, CBD success stories are largely anecdotal, but both the Quasney family and Jeff Boogaard have their own reasons for believing in the bud. Heather Quasney shares, “I used it after I gave birth to my daughter for postpartum depression. And, Christoph has been using it for his chronic back pain for years.” They even use it for their dogs. “We have an older arthritic dog and an older dog who has always had anxiety and the products have just been wonderful for us. We found it beneficial for our family,” Heather Quasney says.
Boogaard’s turn to CBD is family-oriented too after his daughter received a rare cancer diagnosis. He remembers, “We made the decision right then and there to go all in. And we felt that it was almost this divine providence that we had this opportunity to create something we think could be so beneficial for so many people.”
Each sees cultivating CBD as a way to support their communities. Boogaard says, “What we want to bring to our community is a balanced approach to health and wellness.” And Heather Quasney adds, “We decided to farm here because this is our community. We love Front Royal.”
Part of that community support is educating those who are still unsure or even buy into the stigma surrounding CBD. When asked how to advise a CBD newbie Christoph Quasney says, “What I always say is try it out, experiment, have fun with it. And don’t be afraid to reach out to your local farmers or CBD people like ourselves. We are always happy to answer questions. We actually look forward to it.” Heather Quasney adds, “We love to talk. We love to get to know the members of our community. And we just love being able to share what we are doing with everyone.”
“If you’re willing to take the dive, you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised with what CBD can do for you,” Christoph Quasney finishes. ML
This article first appeared in the January 2022 Issue.