CLEVELAND — Kim Rassi had a dream to turn her Northeast Ohio farm, that's been part of her family's legacy for three generations, into a successful hemp growing operation, but explained it hasn't been easy making that dream a reality.
Rassi said she was one of the first hemp growers in the state to bring a wide variety of CBD pain relief products to market, through her company Holistic Harvest Farms.
Rassi said she hoped to start the 1,000 plant operation with an initial investment of $10,000 when Ohio started to allow hemp growing in 2020, but said hidden costs and difficult state and federal regulations have her continuing to add time and money.
“You just can’t sign-up to grow hemp, you have to pay the fees, you have to get the license, then you have to find the processor," Rassi said.
“There are a lot of costs like packaging and processing and just marketing. You know all of these expenses are now adding up.”
"Processing fees are going up and we can’t process our own material, we can harvest it, but we can’t actually change its form and process it," she said. "Also we’re not allowed to be in the dispensaries, and that’s kind of confusing because it’s all legal and it’s all gone through the commercial kitchen.”
Rassi said advertising restrictions on social media platforms like Facebook and Google are also a big issue for hemp growers.
“When we started this I thought my main advertising would be on the social media sites, that I would do ads on Facebook, ads on Google," Rassi said. “As it turns out they shut you down for saying CBD, and I don’t understand why because it’s 100% legal, federally legal in every state. They just say it’s against our community standards, you can’t advertise CBD on our platforms, so that’s been a huge road block.”
Despite all the hurdles, Holistic Harvest Farms lead grower Andrew Czarniecki told News 5 the operation is producing a high-quality CBD pain relief product, using natural fertilizer from 100 Alpacas on the farm and a specific plant manicuring technique.
“It’s not like growing corn or soy bean, there is a lot more to it," Czarniecki said. "We want good air flow through the bottom canopy, it will prevent a lot of molds and fungus. We like to do it by hand, we like to work with the plants. I don’t ever think that you could replace a grower with a robot.”
The Ohio Department of Agriculture responded to our story and said many of the state hemp growing guidelines are in place to protect consumers. It issued the following statement:
Ohio’s rules are in line with USDA’s program. USDA recently published updated final rules for its domestic hemp program and ODA is working on amending its rules to reflect these changes. As a general matter, the hemp industry nationwide is struggling with a dramatic overproduction of hemp crops. The demand for products is not equivalent to the amount of hemp crops that are being produced. Hemp is similar to crops such as barley, hops, and food-grade soybeans. These crops have niche markets with niche buyers. ODA continuously educates current and prospective hemp farmers that it is imperative that they secure a contract for their crops. Otherwise, they risk growing a crop to have it sit in their barn post-harvest.
Hemp and hemp products that are being sold to end consumers must go through a licensed processor. This ensures that the hemp product being sold to Ohio's citizens is safe to eat, free of microbials and other contaminants, and made in sanitary conditions.
There are currently 176 cultivator, university, and non-university growers this year. Cultivators (does not include university and non-university research) have registered a total of 1471 acres and 531,697 sq feet of indoor growing area.
ODA has daily conversations with Ohio’s hemp farmers to help educate them of the requirements. Additionally, there are numerous resources on ODA’s website to assist hemp farmers with understanding the rules and regulations of the program. ODA has worked with universities such as Ohio State University and Central State to conduct hemp research available to farmers. ODA does not have any financial assistance available to hemp farmers. USDA may be able to provide financial assistance in the form of grants and loans through one of its various programs. These programs are not hemp specific.
Still, Rassi and Czarniecki hope both federal and state guidelines will be amended and relaxed in the coming years to give more Ohio hemp growers the opportunity to better expand CBD supply and demand.
“I’m hoping that there’s lots of farms and that this product is out there at a lower cost," Czarniecki said. "Because CBD products really do help people."