Article from Caledonian Record 4/20/2019

Something big is growing at the base of Barton Mountain.

That’s where 1,500 hemp plants are sprouting under fluorescent lights in Cam Devereux’s basement.

Those seedlings are the foundation for Northeast Kingdom Hemp, a third-year company which aims to become a leading name in the emerging cannabidiol (CBD) oil industry.

“I took a terrible chance,” said Devereux, who walked away from a successful pipe welding career to launch NEK Hemp. “It’s been a roller coaster ride you can’t believe.”

Devereux made a bold bet on hemp. He invested nearly a half million dollars, in personal funds and private loans, to purchase high-priced equipment and make his company one of the region’s only seed-to-shelf CBD oil producers.

Now, it’s paying off.

Today, a newly enacted farm bill has ended federal prohibition of hemp production, and NEK Hemp is poised to take off, with a full line of CBD products available online and in over 80 retail outlets across New England and New York.

They have plans to grow, but not dramatically. Quality is their calling card.

“We want to be the Hill Farmstead of hemp,” said NEK Hemp chief marketing officer Jethro Hayman. “That’s a lofty goal, but that’s what we’re trying to do. We want to have a real high quality product.”

Devereux planted his first crop of 1,000 hemp plants on an acre of his property in early 2017, with little understanding of the CBD industry. He learned as he went, meeting with experts and visiting state-of-the-art production facilities in Oregon and elsewhere.

“I jumped in head over heels, just hoping,” Devereux said.

His first season ended in near-disaster, when a purchase agreement fell through (“Somebody told me they were going to buy it all … they didn’t buy any, not a pound”). That led him to make significant capital investments to consolidate the entire process under one roof.

By controlling all means of production, they can make adjustments at every step and maximize the quality of their CBD.

They personalize care for each plant, slow cure their hemp flowers, and use a carbon dioxide extraction process that produces “full-spectrum” CBD — which company officials claim is significantly more therapeutic than mass produced CBD used in low-cost products like “gas station gummies.”

“We take a small batch, craft approach,” said Hayman. “We’re not cutting corners. If we have to take the long route to get to the promise land, we’re going to take the long route.”

NEK Hemp began selling products in 2018, when they introduced “maple sticks,” straws filled with CBD and locally produced maple syrup, which were first sold at the Willoughby Lake Store in Westmore.

Maple sticks have proven popular, with more than 20,000 sold. Today NEK Hemp offers a full product line featuring tinctures, sprays, lotions, balms, and maple syrup, and the company continues to innovate new products.

NEK Hemp sells through more than 80 retail locations, with plans to expand their sales territory across the eastern United States, targeting major cities in the Mid Atlantic, Midwest and Southeast.

In order to meet increased demand, they will need more high quality hemp, and will be looking to partner with local growers, who would be paid on a per plant basis. They strive to bring revenue and jobs to the local community.

“We’re talking 200 to 300 plants per person on 1,000 square feet of land,” said Devereux, noting his processing capacity is rughly 20 to 30 pounds per day. “We’ll give them the seeds, test their plants, and harvest them green.”

Along the way NEK Hemp has had to convince skeptics, offering free samples, which have generated positive reactions, according to company officials.

“We went to Ethan Allen [in Orleans], and those are hard working folks, they put their bodies through a lot of aches and pains,” Devereux said. “We let them try some of our balm and they were so blown away, they said they wanted to get as much of it as they can.”

The team at NEK Hemp are believers in CBD, a non-psychoactive derived from cannabis, which has been shown to help with various ailments including arthritis, anxiety, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and PTSD without getting people high.

While some have expressed concern over a lack of scientific evidence supporting such claims, NEK Hemp points to international research and a wealth of anecdotal evidence as proof. Many customers have praised the products’ effectiveness, they said, including the parent of an epileptic child. Devereux said it eased his arthritis and anxiety.

They caution it’s not a cure all, but an effective treatment for multiple health issues.

With the market opening up over the last couple of years, bringing with it a flood of dubious, low quality CBD items, NEK Hemp has moved aggressively to build public trust, exhaustively testing, verifying and publishing chemical properties of their products. They continue to make investments to improve the consistency and potency of their CBD.

“The cream of the crop will rise, and that’s where NEK Hemp is looking to be,” Hayman said. “There are other good CBD companies, we’re not the only one. But Hill Farmstead is not the only good beer, either.”

“We want to be a brand where people think ‘They make great CBD products, they will always be excellent, they have great ingredients, and if CBD works for you, you’ll find NEK Hemp a great go-to brand.’”