Easton might soon be growing its own premium, commercial hemp. Easton residents Jeff Becker and Dwight Senior and two professional partners have proposed a small-plot farming venture on an acre of town-owned property at 22 South Park Avenue. 

The enterprise, Easton Grows LLC, would pilot an educational hemp farming project in cooperation with the Town of Easton through a lease of a small upland portion of the South Park Avenue land.

A view of the upland portion of the South Park Avenue site. — Dwight Senior Photo

Becker and Senior are partnering with Griff Conti, a cannabis and hemp industry professional who owns Franny’s Farmacy ot Westport, and Christopher Verni, owner and operator of Northwest Cultivation, a state-licensed organic hemp nursery and farm in Sharon.

Gov. Ned Lamont signed a bill last fall that aligns the state’s hemp businesses with the U.S. Department of Agriculture standards. As of this week, the state has approved 90 current hemp cultivation licenses, an increase of over 100% from last year when only 40 growers had licenses, Conti said. “The trend is in our favor and the time is now,” he said.

The Easton group originally presented the proposal to the South Park Avenue Advisory Committee (SPAC), the Easton Agricultural Commission and the Board of Selectmen in the late winter. Following ongoing discussion, the selectmen asked the applicants to rewrite the proposal and resubmit it to the Agricultural Commission. 

The proposed hemp farm pilot is expected to be on the agenda for the July 1 Board of Selectmen meeting at Town Hall at 7:30 p.m. The agenda will be posted here when it becomes available.

The Board of Selectmen will soon receive the final report from the SPAC, which they will study to determine a plan of action, according to First Selectman Dave Bindelglass. Becker and Senior are among the members of the SPAC, which has been working for for over 15 months to develop land preservation and revenue generation ideas for the town.

Becker said the Easton Grows lawyers are currently drawing up a lease agreement with the town. “Pending negotiation of a lease, there will be a small area where the town will allow the planting of hemp on a single season basis to assess its viability,” Bindelglass wrote  in his weekly message to residents on June 25. 

Genetically certified, premium hemp plant. — Jeff Becker Photo

The pilot project would include up to 500 genetically certified, premium hemp plants containing non-psychoactive CBD, which is legal through the 2018 federal Farm Bill. It would employ organic growing practices with minor land prepartation and transplanting, according to Becker, an experienced organic gardener.

Security measures will include real-time video monitoring, motion detection, lighting and fencing to protect the crops. Temporary hoop houses will be considered to limit potential weather damage, visibility and odor concerns. 

Depending on the terms and conditions, the project could begin as soon as this summer or next spring. Harvesting would be done in September and October with post-harvest processing, trimming and curing to be completed off-site at Northwest Cultivation in Sharon. Franny’s Farmacy would purchase the hemp flowers produced from the 2021 growing season for commercial sale at Franny’s of Westport. It would be marketed under a Special Batch Reserve — Easton Grown Hemp.

If successful, Easton Grows would request a larger plot for an expanded hemp farming educational center with possible sublets for Easton farmers who want to learn how to properly cultivate hemp, Becker said.

The project would not interfere with the current lease by Gina and Dan Blaze of the house on the site or their business, the New England Prayer Center, Becker said. It also would not affect the Aspetuck Land Trust’s pending management of 19 acres of the site near the Mill River, a deal that is expected to be finalized before the end of the year. The state awarded the land trust a grant in the amount of $188,000.

“Hemp has substantial benefits for people and our planet and this sustainable crop has no side effects,” he said. “There is no better crop compared to hemp in today’s modern farming community.” 

The project would be 100% funded by Easton Grows LLC with land use through a formal Lease with the Town of Easton. An assessment of the success of the project would be made in November 2021 and would determine the next steps for a longer-term project, Becker said. 

“The sky is the limit, literally.,” Becker said. “Minor land preparation is needed, with equipment and labor provided by Easton Grows.”

Benefit to the Town 

Short term revenue would be generated for the town through the monthly lease and proposed net profit sharing.

“There is a tremendous opportunity for the Town of Easton to encourage and support hemp cultivation in the State of Connecticut and beyond through this proposed educational hemp cultivation project,” Conti said.

Conti supplied the following facts and information about hemp:

  • Hemp is the only crop that can provide food, shelter and medicine. 
  • On an annual basis an acre of hemp will produce as much fiber as two to three acres of cotton and as much paper material as two to four acres of trees.
  • Hemp can grow in all 50 states, and is ready for harvesting in as little as 90-120 days.
  • Hemp can be used to create fiber boards that are both lighter and stronger than wood.
  • Industrial hemp contains little or no THC, the psychoactive chemical known for the high created by marijuana.
  • Hemp contains Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA), which is incredibly healthy and is found naturally in breast milk.
  • At one point in our country, before it was made illegal in 1937, hemp was considered legal tender and could be used to pay taxes.
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By Nancy Doniger

Nancy Doniger worked as a journalist for three decades and was a founding editor of the nonprofit Easton Courier in partnership with the School of Communications, Media & the Arts at Sacred Heart University (SHU). She served two years as executive member and is now a contributing editing of the Easton Courier. She was a former managing editor of Hometown Publications and Hersam Acorn Newspapers covering Connecticut's Fairfield and New Haven counties. She was a correspondent for the Connecticut section of The New York Times from 1995 until the section was discontinued in 2006. Over the years she edited The Easton Courier, The Monroe Courier, The Bridgeport News and other community newspapers. She taught news editing as an adjunct professor at SHU and served as coordinator and member of the Community Assets Network for the Easton, Redding and Region 9 schools. She was a member of the Newtown Community Center Commission, member of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), board member of the New England Newspaper and Press Association (NENPA), and past president and board member of the Barnard Club of Connecticut. She has won awards for her writing from SPJ and NENPA.