Two entrepreneurs from New York are farming hemp, expecting a billion-dollar industry in the near future.
With cannabis legalization taking root across the U.S., many entrepreneurs have seen the industry as a moneymaker. However, the growing number of business opportunities aren’t just confined to marijuana companies aiming to provide consumers with a medicinal plant or enjoyable fix. As the social stigma and harsh laws surrounding cannabis crumble under the budding movement, some see hemp farming as a viable agricultural endeavor.
In New York, two businessmen with little experience in cannabis or agriculture recently launched the state’s first hemp farm in over 80 years. The company, JD Farms, was started by Mark Justh, a former managing director for JPMorgan Chase & Co., and Dan Dolgin, who worked for various counterterrorism agencies in Washington, D.C.
Back in March 2016, Dolgin used his experience as a bureaucrat to work with Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York senators and pass a series of bills to allow JD Farms to grow hemp. Although they were permitted to grow 100 acres worth of hemp under a state pilot program, the harvest was not legally allowed to be sold until another bill was passed later the August.
While hemp is a resilient plant that can be used for textiles and rope, it also makes for an extremely valuable source of food. Hemp flour products have an abundance of protein and around 20 different aminos. The plant also offers a number of health benefits, including improved immune function, weight loss, as well as lower blood pressure and cholesterol.
At the moment, most of JD Farms’ competitors are located in Canada, which as a country, exported $34 million in hemp seed and oil in 2015. However, what sets the New York hemp apart from the imported hemp is the fresh and earthy flavor. Before Canadian hemp is shipped across the border, it must undergo sterilization, taking away significantly from the flavor.
The farm is specializing in a wide range of quality food products, including baby greens salad mix, pasta, and other types of organic produce. The duo originally planned to use hemp as a way to protect their crops against weeds, but soon realized the untapped potential in this legally shunned plant.
Dolgin and Justh have already seen their crop used in a number of restaurants across New York City, and have teamed up with the Long Island vegetable supplier Satur Farms to create a baby greens mix of kale and hemp. This pungent salad will be made available in Whole Foods throughout the Northeast at the end of July. Eventually, JD Farms hopes to move into other common household foods.
“We believe the next iteration of the hemp market is to go into snack foods, to give it wider penetration into households. We’re looking at products like ice cream and beer. We already have a pretty broad product portfolio, and we want to get even more innovative,” Dolgin recently told Bloomberg.