hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News & Issues July 2020


From hemp, cures for body and soil

Hudson Valley operation stresses mission of regenerative farming



Hemp seedlings are ready for transplanting at Old Mud Creek Farm in Columbia County. The farm rasies hemp to meet the demand for CBD oil, but the health of the soil is a big part of its mission. Scott Langley photo


Contributing writer


On a scorching June afternoon at Old Mud Creek Farm, the unrelenting sun is exactly the fuel needed for five acres of newly planted hemp seedlings to get a growth spurt.

By late August, they’ll have morphed from a their current height of a few inches to a towering 7 feet and will resemble verdant, if rather shaggy, Christmas trees.

But a Christmas tree farm this is not. By the end of August, the plants will be harvested, dried and transferred to an extraction facility where the farm distills the hemp flower’s sought-after oils for medicinal use.

Hudson Hemp was incorporated in 2017, turned out its first products the next year and is now preparing to launch a rebranding of its CBD-rich hemp oils in varying potencies later this summer.

Last year, the company created Treaty, a second line of hemp-based oils, blended with plant essences native to the region. Bottles of the deep green oils are also sold at food co-ops, spas, and other wellness emporiums across the Northeast, and already are developing a global following. Its fans say cannabidiol, or CBD, offers a wide range of health benefits.

Brand director Freya Dobson said the company’s mission is purity.
“Our oil is 75 to 85 percent CBD,” Dobson explained. “We work to improve full-plant potential for qualities such as cannabinoid and terpene development as well as stable seed production.”

As she walked toward the drying facility, Dobson stopped to observe several hundred new hemp plants, still in their plastic containers, waiting to be transplanted in a nearby field.

Innovation in plant medicine is only part of the mission. Hudson Hemp’s motto – “sustainability is good, regeneration is forever” – sums up the company’s commitment to nourishing the land on which its hemp grows. A large composting patch, at the back of one of the fields, is made up of everything from hemp stalks to manure, cornhusks and biochar.

“Nothing goes to waste,” Dobson said.
The compost will be used for this season’s hemp crop as well as the nearby meadow of cover crop, a mixture of native grasses and wildflowers that will grow this summer instead of hemp.


Carbon-capturing benefits
About three years ago, Hudson Hemp became one of the first farms licensed by New York to grow industrial hemp, the non-intoxicating cousin of marijuana, under a pilot program. Changes in federal law have since allowed farmers across the nation to begin growing hemp legally for the first time in eight decades.

Most of the plants Hudson Hemp uses for its products are grown at the 390-acre Old Mud Creek Farm, but the growing operation there is allied with and supported by work at the neighboring Stone House Farm.

“The collective acreage of both farms is 2,700 acres, and whenever we’re not growing a staple crop, we plant a cover crop,” Dobson said.

Rotating hemp with cover crops helps to keep the soil fertile and healthy, she explained, and avoids the pitfalls of industrial farming’s “monocultures.”

“Each crop demands something different of the soil,” Dobson said. “In monoculture, where the same crop is planted year after year, the soil becomes depleted, which is why petrochemicals and herbicides are used.”

She pointed to the native grasses and thatches of red clover as examples of the cover crops Hudson Hemp uses.

“Clover is a big nitrogen-fixer for the soil,” she explained.

Ever since the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, agricultural and conservation groups have been preaching the value of cover crops as a way to maintain healthy soil. But in recent years supporters have begun to tout another benefit to the wider world: Cover crops soak up carbon from the air and integrate it into the soil, thereby curbing the effects of climate change.
New this year at Old Mud Creek Farm is the installation of a dome-shaped pollinator facility. The walk-in structure houses non-honey-producing bees that spend the summer pollinating the cover crop.

Hudson Hemp’s commitment to regeneration comes from the top. Owner Abigail “Abby” Rockefeller, eldest daughter of the late David Rockefeller, bought Old Mud Creek Farm in 2012. She also owns Stone House Grain, a grain-forage and livestock operation on the property just north of Old Mud Creek Farm.

Stone House Grain produces certified organic grains and hay for livestock, helping to support organic dairy farms as well as some food and beverage producers across the region.

Together the two farms represent Rockefeller’s realization of a dream to show how farming practices can be used to restore ecosystems, Dobson said.


Restoring stressed soil
The Rockefellers have long had ties to the Hudson Valley, with the late David Rockefeller, Abby’s father, maintaining his primary residence in Westchester County at Pocantico Hills as well as his Four Winds Farm in Columbia County.

Old Mud Creek Farm had been left dormant for a decade when its former owner, the petrochemical company Syngenta, left the region in 2003. When Abby Rockefeller took ownership of the property, she immediately began the process of restoring the land, which Syngenta had used for pesticide trials, using organic and regenerative farming methods.

Rockefeller hired Dobson’s brother, Ben Banks-Dobson, to manage both farms. Beyond her goal of soil restoration, Rockefeller also wanted to use the project as an experiment to gauge the timing and progress of how a conventional farm transitions to a regenerative one.
“She wanted the progress tracked and data of the transition recorded so other large, conventional farms can do the same thing,” Freya Dobson explained. “Abby wants to show that you can farm using these systems. It doesn’t cost more and will produce good yields.”
Besides managing Stone House Grain and the hemp crop at Old Mud Creek Farm, Banks-Dobson also oversees a nonprofit soil laboratory called Hudson Carbon, which studies how organic, regenerative farming can maximize carbon capture and restore ecosystems.
“The way we farm, we bring more carbon into the land than we let out,” Banks-Dobson said. “The lab monitors the carbon, nitrogen and water cycles in order to understand how regenerative management affects these cycles.”



Plants to products
The idea of growing hemp commercially at the Rockefeller properties was sparked by New York’s pilot program, which the state created after Congress moved in 2014 to allow limited production of the long-prohibited crop.

Banks-Dobson had long been passionate about the medicinal benefits of hemp and cannabis as well as the hemp plant’s natural soil-cleaning ability.

“Hemp is a great soil remediator,” Freya Dobson said. “There are studies of it removing heavy metals in Chernobyl.”

Also adding to its appeal as a crop for upstate New York was hemp’s relatively short, 110-day growth cycle.

Hudson Hemp’s first growing season in 2018 involved planting and raising 10 acres of hemp. Though it was a successful yield, there was no concrete plan to market it.

That’s when Dobson and her sister Melany came on board to research and develop a product line.

“I was living in California and working in the cannabis industry,” Freya Dobson explained. “Cannabis is a new and emerging industry in New York, and I wanted to be a part of shaping the narrative. It’s a great opportunity in the Northeast to revolutionize the growing of hemp as an agricultural crop that can provide fuel, food, fiber and medicine while mitigating the effects of climate change.”

Banks-Dobson said Hudson Hemp oils are in the midst of rebranding and will relaunch this summer.

“We want to bring our story and an improved local organic product to a mainstream audience,” he said. “The oils have improved taste, and the beading tells the story of the product origin in a way that emulates coffee or wine.”


Blending botanicals
The new products, sold under the brand name Treaty, are already making a splash. Set at a higher price point with minimal-waste packaging, Treaty went through two years of research and development before launching last year and combines broad-spectrum hemp extract with other plant extracts.

The complimentary extracts from plants and flowers grown on the farm -- such as mullein, goldenrod, rose, basil, white pine and linden -- are intended to evoke the restorative environment of the Hudson Valley as well as to support CBD’s medicinal properties.

“We did a lot of research on the chemical synergy between hemp and botanicals,” Dobson said. “It’s a more elegant product line and very aesthetically pleasing. Our target customer is someone who cares about health and wellness and wants a luxury product. We feel the oils are representative of the farm and our values.”

Treaty oils retail for $79 to $129 for one-ounce bottles. The four signature blends target issues ranging from pain and inflammation to mental clarity and anxiety. Depending on the variety, the bottles contain broad-spectrum CBD oil ranging from 600 to 1,500 milligrams per bottle, or about 14-28 milligrams per dose.

“Each variety represents a particular landscape on the property, and they have myriad benefits,” Dobson said. “Focus is our forest formula, with its white pine and ginseng, while Recover evokes the riparian buffer in between the waterway and our farmlands with its yarrow, goldenrod and burdock.”

The plants used in Treaty products are all grown and extracted on the farm, then blended with small amounts of essential oils for terpene synergy, which in turn creates a particular aromatic compound.

“Depending on the terpene synergy, you’ll feel a different way after taking the oil,” Dobson said.
Once the hemp crop has matured, it is harvested in late August, and the extraction process begins.

“From seed to bottle, the whole process takes place on the farm,” Dobson said.
After the hemp is dried, the flowers undergo an ethanol extraction process, which yields a medicinal hemp oil comparable to THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

“CBD is the main extraction from the flower,” Dobson explained. “The hemp flower is the resinous part where all oils and cannabinoids are found, CBD being the most prominent.”

This year, 30 acres on Old Mud Creek Farm are dedicated to growing hemp, which will yield more than 100,000 pounds of plants.

“It’s a lot of upkeep, and we don’t want to produce more than can handle,” Dobson said. “Because the process is more laborious, we would rather focus on high-quality flowers. Hemp has myriad benefits, and medicinal is just one aspect of it.

“There are thousands of uses, and it’s a shame we don’t have a system set up to grow hemp on a large scale, which could change the United States economy,” she said.
But change is afoot, if incoming orders are any indication.

“We’re in the midst of filling a large order of Treaty oils for Joyce, the Neiman Marcus of Hong Kong,” she explained. “We’re about so much more than producing a trendy product. It’s about that binding connection between agriculture and culture. Agriculture connects us all.”

Visit www.HudsonHemp.com, www.OurTreaty.com and www.HudsonCarbon.com for more information about Hudson Hemp, its products, and farming practices at Old Mud Creek Farm.