As a community-owned cooperative, our Ends Policies act as a guiding light for our values, purpose and mission. Ends Policy #6 states that “The BFC exists to meet its shareholders collective needs for: relevant information about food and related products, the environment, and the Cooperative Values and Principles.” In this edition of Food for Thought we’ll be sharing what we’ve learned about the hemp industry in Vermont from historical research, Vermont law, interviews with staff, Vermont-based CBD producers, and particularly our January Producer of the Month, Bravo Botanicals.
A Brief History
Hemp is one of the fastest-growing plants and was first spun into fiber over 8,000 years ago. It was revered by the Chinese 5,000 years ago, the British in the 1500’s, and by Thomas Jefferson as an important crop—our own Constitution was drafted on hemp paper. With wide-ranging uses from rope to health support, hemp has been a very important part of history and is re-emerging now as a major wellness enhancer and superfood. Here in Vermont we have recently witnessed a massive shift in laws around hemp. This is mainly because hemp oil, hemp seeds, and CBD oil have been proven to be safe to consume, as well as medically beneficial. Now CBD (the common name for cannabidiol) can be found in gummies, oils, capsules, lotions, and many other food and supplement products.
The Vermont Law of Cultivation
In the state of Vermont hemp is 100% legal to grow and process into oils, supplements, and other products. As the state of Vermont Hemp Registration Program states: “Industrial hemp or hemp is the Cannabis sativa L. plant including all parts of the plant, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol [THC] concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis. In Vermont, industrial hemp is considered an ‘agricultural product’ when grown by an individual that is registered with Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets (the ‘Agency’) as part of its pilot program. Cannabis sativa L. with a THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) concentration greater than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis is not industrial hemp and is not an agricultural product.”
What does this mean? The state of Vermont has identified that the hemp plant can be supportive in many ways, particularly the hemp seeds and buds that contain medicinal compounds. They have been clear in these guidelines that hemp grown in Vermont must meet their standards and contain insignificant amounts of THC. THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) is the known psychoactive constituent in marijuana that is responsible for the “high”. Instead, hemp grown in Vermont and in our country that is used for oils, supplements and other food products contains higher levels of CBD and the other 111 medicinal constituents. CBD provides a wide spectrum of beneficial qualities without the psychoactive “high” that comes with marijuana. Think of CBD as a new herb that you see in the wellness department as a supplement, at farmers markets for purchase in bulk, and as a healthy addition to food products such as iced tea, cookies and smoothies.
Local CBD: Bravo Botanicals
Our Producer of the Month, Bravo Botanicals, is a local grower of hemp and purveyor of CBD products located in Guilford, VT. They grow their hemp plants at Tapalou Guilds Flower Farm along with a variety of cut flowers and other fruits and vegetables, and on another property nearby they dry them so the “buds” (the parts of the plant which are used medicinally) can be transformed into CBD oil. Andy Loughney and Ben James share a love of farming, hemp, and music, and they see Bravo Botanicals as a long-term endeavor that will allow them to bring the many multi-faceted benefits of CBD to the people of Windham County and beyond. Their mission is to provide top-quality CBD products that are accessible and affordable for all.
A few years back Andy and Ben met while playing music at 118 Elliot St. Andy grew up in Pennsylvania and worked as an educator at a non-profit dairy farm until 2010 when he moved to Southern Vermont. He worked for Windham Farm & Food for quite a few years until he and his partner, Hanna, started Tapalou Guilds, producing fruits, veggies, flowers, and perennials for their farm stand, CSA, and markets. Andy oversees the hemp cultivation on his farm and is the main farmer for Bravo Botanicals. Ben grew up in Guilford and after college moved to San Francisco and started Interworld Music, which was eventually acquired by Warner Bros. It fulfilled his dream of working in music, and he learned quite a bit about running his own business, but Vermont was calling, and when his wife had a chance to attend Dartmouth they moved back east. Wanting a career shift, he went back to school to become a physical education teacher. However, entrepreneurship was hard to put aside. With an eye on the “Green Rush” and after three hemp harvests-worth of experience, he quit his teaching job and turned his attention to Bravo Botanicals, where he handles much of the marketing and sales side of the business.
Bravo uses regenerative organic farming practices to ensure the improving health of their farm land, soil, people, plants, animals and ecosystem. They grew approximately 800 plants in 2018, which is relatively small compared to other plots in Vermont. What does organic mean to them? It all starts with thoughtfully selected, high-quality seeds. They choose not to spray the plants, utilizing hand-trimming and weeding instead. Responsible water management is also key, and of course they use organic inputs for their soil. Companion planting with flowers and other plants allows them to create a diverse and enriching farm. They also maintain 5-foot spacing between plants, which leaves plenty of space to grow effectively.
The hemp season starts in late spring/early summer and continues through fall. Once the light of the sun starts shifting in September and October, it is time to harvest. They are careful to harvest at just the right moment to ensure that the plants are at the state’s required levels of THC. They then hang them to dry in a 1930’s-era barn. Drying time can vary depending on the humidity levels and other factors. Once dried, they pull all the buds off the plants and transport them to Kria Botanicals, the processor in Vermont where they transform the gorgeous plants into a CBD-rich oil.
Bravo currently offers three products: CBD Drops, CBD Coconut Oil, and CBD Shea Cream with Lemongrass, all made with their full spectrum, whole plant, high-CBD hemp extract. Whole plant extracts allow a fuller breadth of beneficial compounds to remain intact, so the resulting oil contains not just CBD, but many of the 113 cannabinoids found in hemp, which in many instances makes for a generally more effective product. The hemp buds are processed at Kria Botanicals using CO2 extraction, which is a gentler way to release the cannabinoids from the plants, which are then combined with a carrier oil—Bravo chooses to deliver their CBD in an organic coconut MCT oil which is odorless, colorless and, importantly, tasteless. Using the carrier oil allows them to dilute it to exactly 40mg of CBD per mL. Kria Botanicals always tests for CBD levels and for any compounds that may not be appropriate for consumption, assuring that all Bravo Botanicals products that reach the Co-op are safe, tested, and meet Vermont standards. Lab results for each extraction are posted on Bravo’s website for full transparency.
Quality and affordability are of the highest importance to Andy and Ben. This summer they were able to offer their products at the Tuesday market in downtown Brattleboro, and folks could purchase them with EBT; here at our Co-op they are equally accessible. They want anyone who needs access to CBD to be able to have it. Their reasonable prices are made possible by handling all aspects of the business themselves, thus keeping their overhead costs as low as they can. From watering and harvesting to website management and fulfilling orders, it is all predominantly done by Andy and Ben. They also handle all the deliveries, driving their products directly to stores across New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Vermont.
When asked about the future of Bravo Botanicals, Ben and Andy both talked about quality of life, saying that while financial success is a goal, it is more important for them to have the right mix of family, music and business. With strong sales and steady growth, they’re looking forward to moving into their new office/kitchen/production space, which is located on the back side of that 1930’s barn where they dry their plants. They will soon need to hire employees, to whom they plan to pay living wages. This winter they will undertake some exploration of potential new product offerings, and they’re also experimenting with a way to utilize those parts of the hemp plant currently sent to the compost. Could the stalks be used for fuel, paper, or other products? Andy has been experimenting with producing “biochar” with the stalks, which returns carbon to the soil and creates a carbon negative loop. Only time will tell where the CBD industry heads, but the outlook for Bravo Botanicals looks bright.
Join us on Thursday, January 17th from 4-6 pm to meet Andy and Ben here at the Co-op and learn more about their story.
By Jon Megas-Russell