LAKE COUNTY, Fla. — The signing of the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill opened the door for hemp farming nationwide, bringing back a crop that was once decades ago widely-farmed for a variety of uses across the country.
It took a couple of years to get the state program flushed out, but here in Florida, they've been issuing hemp farming licenses for about two years. In that time, the new plant helped usher in a whole new sector of the agriculture industry and in turn gave new hope to farmers.
"There's something really tangible about being able to put your hands in the dirt and actually work with a living plant,” says Jammie Treadwell, co-owner of Treadwell Farms in Umatilla.
Treadwell comes from a long line of Florida farmers. "Over 100 years of agriculture experience on both sides-everything from growing row crops like okra for the Campbell Soup Company to running the local grist mill up in the panhandle,” she explained.
After some intensive research, she and her dad Glen took a leap of faith to try and grow hemp, something, for all intents and purposes, brand new to the state.
“The more I learned about the plant and all its variety of uses, and how we could take our skills and experience and apply it into something that would help extend Florida's agriculture into the next phase with a new crop. It just became about learning as much as we can so that we could participate,” says Treadwell.
It’s at Treadwell Farms in Lake County, where relics of citrus farming past are now being repurposed to farm that new crop. In two years, they built a functional farm and processing facility, harvesting hemp several times a year and creating products like CBD lotions, tinctures and gummies all made in Florida.
Treadwell thinks they are just scratching the surface in what types of products could be manufactured using the plant. Since 2020 the state has issued more than 800 hemp cultivation permits, found in 65 of Florida's 67 counties. 30,000 acres of land has been approved for growing hemp.
“It's been a challenge, but it's been fun,” says Treadwell, who notes that usual struggles with an inherently hard trade like farming are still present, on top of a flooded supply of CBD products that have made things challenging, though she believes the tides are turning on the latter.
Treadwell also thinks this new crop is bringing new hope to the state's farmers, calling here experience of working with other upstart hemp farmers, “rewarding.”
“I'm a lifelong Floridian. I want to see us grow and develop our communities. But I don't want agriculture left out. I think all of us lose if everything is a housing development, and there aren't still local farms where we can get local food and products, including hemp,” says Treadwell.
The state of Florida requires a number of tests to ensure those hemp plants, CBD products and infused foods are safe and not intoxicating.
You can tell if the product you're looking to buy has been grown and tested here if it's sporting a "Fresh from Florida" sticker.