Agape Blends would like to thank Jill Whalen for coming by and checking out the operation. We're all very excited about harvest and to see the fruits (or flowers) of our labor.
Schuylkill County hemp farmer harvests first legal grow
BY JILL WHALEN / PUBLISHED: SEPTEMBER 29, 2019
BARNESVILLE — Matthew Neifert worked his way among the rows of hemp, stopping every now and again to check leaves and buds.
“It’s great to walk in a hemp field every day, that’s for sure,” Neifert said one recent afternoon. “I don’t get tired of that.”
And over the next few days, he will continue to harvest the crop for cannabidiol, or CBD, which is marketed to ease aches and pains or lessen anxiety. It’s a proud moment for Neifert, whose group was granted one of the 320 Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture licenses to grow the crop this year. And it’s a big moment — historic, if you will — because hemp had been banned for more than 80 years after being classified as a controlled substance.
“Imagine. This is the first legal hemp grow in Pennsylvania since the 1930s,” Neifert said.
With more than 40 acres, his group has one of the largest operations in Pennsylvania. In all, he has over 80,000 hemp plants in the ground.
“Just to get a crop in the ground this year I think was a success, let alone this much,” he said.
While hemp can be used for its fiber or for food, Neifert plans to add a “PA-Grown” line of CBD products to his brand, Agape Blends.
“I’m here to help people attain medicine that is affordable. We live in Schuylkill County and people can’t afford a $115 bottle of tincture,” he said.
Neifert is new to farming but founded Agape Blends a few years ago to vend natural hemp products online. He since opened a store at 724 Claremont Ave., Tamaqua, where he sells products derived from hemp grown on a U.S. Food and Drug Administration-certified farm in Colorado. Each comes with a certificate of analysis, which is what he plans for the products he’ll make from the crop grown in Barnesville and other areas. The hemp grown in Pennsylvania is frequently tested by the state Department of Agriculture because it and marijuana are different varieties of the same species of plant. They might look the same, but are drastically different.
Marijuana is cultivated for the psychoactive chemical delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. It’s what gets a person “high.” Hemp doesn’t have that effect.
Still, the department monitors the crops to make sure they contain less than 0.3% THC. If, for some reason the THC is higher than that, the farm has to be retested and if it is “hot” again, the plants must be destroyed.
Neifert hasn’t had that problem.
“They’re all genetically bred. I deliberately picked strains that weren’t high in THC but were high with CBD,” he said. “I didn’t want to risk any of my crop.”
Agape Blends will also continue to test the harvested product.
“As far as what the total cannabinoids are, we know that. We know how much THC is in it, we know how much CBD is in it,” he explained. “Every field and every strain was tested.”
It’s reassurance for those who purchase the product. With CBD products readily available at gas stations and other stores, Neifert advised potential buyers to know the source, and to make sure it is what it promises to be.
“You better watch where it is coming from. Is it labeled properly?” he noted.
Back at the farm, different varieties of hemp are growing. Some are over 6 feet tall. Some are dwarf plants and knee-high. Some develop a purple color on their leaves. Some stay a vibrant green.
“This is Sangria,” he said of one of the varieties. “It and the Cherry Blossom are sourced from Colorado and our Cherry Wine is sourced from North Carolina.”
Plants that have been harvested are drying in temperature- and humidity-controlled warehouses, trucks, barns and other buildings. And once they’re ready, they will be processed and land on Agape Blends’ shelves as salves, tinctures, soaps or lotions.
“I have people who come into my shop and say, ‘Look at me. I’m dancing around! I couldn’t do this. I feel great. I’m not having trouble sleeping,’” he said. “They feel like they did 20 years ago.”
Neifert started using CBD as a substitute for pain medication after his second knee reconstruction over five years ago and found that it helped him sleep better. He also didn’t feel sluggish, like he did when he would take prescription medication.
Every so often, Agape Blends hosts medical cannabis certification events with a certified doctor and a reputable dispensary. While medical cannabis is different than CBD, Neifert said the events are a way to educate folks.
Anyone interested is invited to follow the Agape Blends Facebook page or visit www.agapeblends.com for updates or call Neifert at 570-778-2080.
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