This is just a part of the crop planted in 2019 that was harvested earlier this year.
Photo courtesy of Sierra Nevada Hemp

by Enrico Villamaino

It’s a new version of the Old West. But this time, the experimental and speculative enterprise isn’t a gold rush, it’s a green one.

The bulk growing of hemp is now a burgeoning business in the American West.

According to Mark O’Farrell, owner and managing partner of Sierra Nevada Hemp in Carson City, NV, “It’s an exciting crop with a lot of potential on the horizon.”

An Ohio Valley native, O’Farrell studied agriculture at North Carolina State University and earned his graduate degree in agricultural education at Virginia Polytechnic and State University. He furthered his education in the field while working for the University of Nevada-Reno. In 2003 he founded Hungry Mother Organics, which in addition to growing vegetables, was one of the very first growers to offer certified organic seedlings.

After 15 years of success with Hungry Mother, O’Farrell looked to downsize his operations. “I wanted to scale back and have a greater focus on something smaller,” he explained. It was 2018, and the Farm Bill enacted that year gave O’Farrell the opening he needed to start Sierra Nevada Hemp.

Operating on seven acres with two full-time employees and a handful of seasonal workers, Sierra Nevada Hemp is the first certified organic hemp grower in the Silver State. Sierra Nevada started small, cultivating an acre and a half. O’Farrell was careful not to grow too much. “A real problem we face is that there isn’t much processing yet,” he said. “You don’t want to be left with a pile of unprocessed hemp. But things are picking up, and we’ll grow more as they’re able to process more.”

But O’Farrell isn’t just focusing on quantity. “The quality really matters. Right now the market is saturated, flooded with cheaper, lesser product…imported stuff that’s not local,” he said. “Our product is steadily being recognized as a better crop. Sales have started slowly but are encouraging and improving.”

The two main offerings at Sierra Nevada are their high quality smokable flower and its Wholly Oil. “The smokable flowers are USDA compliant, having less than 0.3% THC content. They’re very popular with people looking to take advantage of the benefits of CBD,” O’Farrell said. The Wholly Oil is made from a process that involves using ultrasound technology to infuse 100% certified organic coconut oil with CBD oil. The results can be administered topically as a joint ointment (or “jointment”) or ingested orally. “Our customers say the Wholly Oil really helps them sleep,” O’Farrell noted. Sierra Nevada is able to ship its products to all 50 states.

As for the future, O’Farrell is looking to get the most out of his crop. “We’re looking to use the leftover pulp from the hemp after processing to manufacture hemp pellets that can be used as fuel in pellet stoves,” he said. “Hemp has a lot of great uses.”

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