Growing hope: Alabama man builds new life as medicinal hemp farmer
As a child, Prattville native Jeffrey Lee remembers playing in cotton fields. These days, his own son and daughter run in a much different crop.
“I’ve sat out there and watched my kids playing in all this hemp growing 10 or 11 foot high,” Lee said.
Life as a full-time medicinal hemp farmer in Autauga County’s Booth community isn’t something Lee would had envisioned for his family a couple of years ago.
Until fairly recently, he was the branch manager for a company that builds storm water retention ponds. Before that, the Prattville High School graduate worked 10 years at a funeral home.
Lee’s mom is a 15-year breast cancer survivor. “The chemo and the radiation pretty much almost killed her,” Lee said.
When the cancer came back a couple of years ago, Lee said he knew he had to make quality CBD (cannabidiol) and CBG (cannabigerol) products for her.
“I just couldn’t fathom her not being able to take medicine like this,” Lee said.
The 2018 Farm Bill allowing hemp farming made it seem like the perfect time and crop, though he’d only grown vegetables before. His research included trips to California and Colorado to see other growing operations.
He’s gone from seeds to shelf with a new line of CBD and CBG products from Alabama Hemp Crafters, the company he runs with childhood friend and licensed pharmacist Neal Jones.
“I probably wouldn’t have done it with anybody else,” Lee said. “I’ve known Neal since we were about 10 or 11.”
FROM TRIAL AND ERROR TO HEMP OILS
“My son and daughter both helped me plant,” Lee said. “My whole family helped me.”
What they planted was an acre of CBG Matterhorn seeds from Switzerland. With his first crop, Lee said there was a lot of trial and error, plus insects (he doesn’t use pesticides) and weather issues. Still, he said the crop flourished.
Lee leaned on his storm water background to create a watering system, since his hemp was planted on an upward slope.
“I’ve got a pond that’s artesian water,” Lee said. “I just pumped it up to my crop to a big reservoir. I’d go up there to check on it. I even put some fish in it. It gave my plants all the nutrition they needed.”
Lee’s hemp was used to make bottles of 3000 mg full-spectrum CBG tincture (concentrated extracts).
Lee and Jones also have CBD products from a hemp crop grown in Bullock County by another childhood friend, Tad Wildman. “We’re his distributor,” Lee said.
They use a USDA certified organic processing plant in Colorado for their hemp because it offers CO2 extraction. That means their hemp oil doesn’t have residual solvents.
“Some people are making it using butane and ethanol, and that’s going to end up in your end-product that people are taking and ingesting,” Jones said.
Alabama Hemp Crafters also produces chewable tablets, gummies, gel capsules, and a pain cream compound. Those are all made by Jones using pure outsourced CBD isolates.
Alabama Hemp Crafters products are available across the River Region, including the House of Hemp in Prattville and Prattville Country Club, Tobacco Plus in Millbrook, CaliBama In Montgomery, and all Jones Drugs locations.
These kinds of products are currently unregulated by the FDA. Lee said he’d welcome regulation.
“It’s kind of like the Wild West,” Lee said. “You’ve got a lot of people trying to do this.”
WHAT ARE CBD AND CBG?
CBD and CBG are two of more than 120 known naturally occurring cannabinoids found in hemp. “Only a handful have been extracted,” Lee said.
Jones said CBD and CBG act on an enzyme that prevents the metabolism of the body’s natural endocannabinoids — molecules naturally created by the body that are similar to cannabinoids.
“It causes relaxation, better learning and memory,” Jones said. They’re also an appetite stimulant and anti-inflammatory.
While CBD is commonly sold these days, CBG is an emerging product.
“(CBG) is the mother of the whole plant,” Lee said. “It’s really the best cannabinoid that there is.”
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HEMP, MARIJUANA
While hemp and marijuana are both cannabis plants, the major thing that separates them is hemp’s extremely low THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). THC is the compound that gives marijuana its psychoactive effects.
“Hemp has to be less than 0.3 percent THC,” Jones said.
Lee said his hemp tested at less than 0.1 percent, and their products that use CBD isolates have no THC at all.