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Madison County farmers want industrial hemp legalized

Ellen Abbott
Some lawmakers want the federal government to remove hemp from the Controlled Substances list so Madison County businesses like JD Farms can make food products like baby greens.

Some industrial hemp farmers in Madison County are rooting for a bill that would take the plant off the federal government's Schedule 1 list of Controlled Substances and into the homes of New Yorkers as food products, like a baby green or protein bar.

JD Farms in Eaton last year grew the first legalized crop of industrial hemp in New York State in 80 years. While it has been able to cultivate the plant through state programs that encourage hemp research and recognize it as an agricultural commodity in New York, a huge roadblock remains. Hemp is in the cannabis plant family, so people associate it with marijuana even though the plant doesn’t have any of the psychotropic effects.

Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO News
WRVO News (file photo)
Madison County's JD Farms is the first to cultivate hemp in 80 years in New York state. Its part-owner Dan Dolgin says federal lawmakers should give every American farmer a chance to participate in this worldwide, multi-billion dollar industry.

JD Farms part-owner Dan Dolgin said if this federal designation was lifted, and hemp is seen as an agricultural commodity, it will open a multi-billion dollar industry.

"All the dominoes will fall," Dolgin said. "You’ll be able to get crop insurance, you’ll be able to get it across the border, you’ll be able to establish a domestic seed program."

JD has begun distributing the tiny hemp leaves that are eaten as a baby greens in some restaurants in New York City. And because hemp is a high protein green, his farm will soon be rolling out products that use the seeds.

Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO News
Industrial hemp can be used to make a variety of items, including food products.

"You can use it for high-value snacks like toasted seed snacks and clusters and high protein bars and all sorts of baking mixes," Dolgin said. "You can think of it like chia and pea protein and other sources of plant-based proteins. It’s part of a healthy diet, and the more people learn about that, the more the demand will increase."

Farmers like Mark Justh of Madison County says making it an agriculture commodity would allow farmers to better compete with producers in other parts of the world, who routinely sell hemp products in this country. And he says the high protein nature of the green makes it ideal for anyone interested in plant based products.

"It could be as ubiquitous as soybean in our American landscape, because it was taken away in 1937," Justh said. 

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is pushing the Industrial Hemp Farming Act that would change federal laws and ultimately clear the way for things like crop insurance protection.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.