A North Fork Farm Is Bringing Hemp To Market

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Miguel Oratorio Tino and Jose Culajay harvest hemp at Greybeard Growers in Aquebogue. Dana Shaw photo

As the last days of summer beckoned crisp Autumn, Ken Jurow immersed himself in his Aquebogue fields, his hands gingerly picking mature hemp flowers, his eyes toward the skies.

One bad hurricane could destroy it all — 12 acres of his first-ever cannabis crop, the future product line to come from it, the realization of a longtime dream.

It was a race against time. But the master grower had science, and family, on his side.

Together with his son, Kyle, and their business partners, they have spearheaded Greybeard Growers, which will ultimately produce a range of USDA-certified organic CBD hemp products culled from the North Fork grow. With limited cannabis production on Long Island, the Jurows have positioned themselves at the edge of a new and buzzing industry — and they are approaching it with both expertise and curiosity themselves.

“It’s very early, we’re just starting to harvest,” Mr. Jurow, who has decades of experience with cannabis, said on a recent Tuesday evening after a full day in the fields. “It’s based on the weather and how the plants decide to mature. We’re starting, but it’s slow in the beginning.”

The popularity of cannabidiol products, or CBD — a chemical compound, or cannabinoid, found in hemp extract — was once a slow burn, too. But with the widespread legalization of medical use, the stigmatized cannabis plant has exploded into a $1-billion industry, one that has allowed licensed growers to produce industrial hemp, a sativa strain of the infamous crop, following the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill.

There is a critical caveat, though. Once the plant reaches the legal limit of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC — the psychotropic component of cannabis — which is 0.3% by dry weight volume, it must be harvested to prevent further development. This low level prevents any CBD user from getting “high,” due to the near absence of THC.

“I think the hemp and cannabis plant is really something to be worshipped,” Kyle Jurow said. “It’s been used for thousands of years by civilizations all over the world for all types of purposes. I think it’s a great option compared to all the gnarly pharmaceuticals, which are handed out like popcorn, when we have something really accessible and really safe at our fingertips.”

Ken Jurow, Top, checks his plants at Greybeard Growers.

While CBD is not federally regulated, it is far from snake oil. The compound is widely thought to be a miracle cure-all — said to ease anxiety and depression, soothe inflammation and arthritis, temper insomnia, menstrual cramps, and even help fight cancer. Commonly available as a tincture, CBD products can also include capsules, tonics, creams and rubs, vape pens and edibles.

But not all products are made equal, Kyle Jurow pointed out, and for those who have tried one and remain skeptical, he urges them to give it another go.

“You can find CBD products at every gas station all over the state, and it’s like these candies with almost no actual CBD in it,” he said. “I think a lot of people have tried the product, but haven’t tried the real deal in a high enough dosage, or from a proper grower that really knows what they’re doing and is maximizing the potency of the plant. So I think a lot of people who have tried it haven’t necessarily taken it in the form that’s necessary to really do it’s job.”

When deciding which sativa strains to plant on the North Fork, the Jurows most critically considered the genetics, as they needed a plant that would flower before hurricane season in September, rather than taking the chance in October.

“The breeder is Oregon CBD. They are the oldest and the premier breeder in the country,” Ken Jurow said. “They’re only on a large scale — their minimum order is $5,000 — so it’s not for the hobbyist. They have a dozen THC geneticists on staff and they’ve been doing this for six years. They have the best genetics, as far as I can tell. They grow six strains and we grow them all.”

After seeding the fields in May — which are also home to Ken Jurow’s annuals and perennials business, Long Season Farms — it is simply a waiting game as the plants mature, he explained, coupled with rigorous testing of the THC levels to make sure they are compliant.

As far as the time to harvest, “anybody with experience with cannabis pretty much knows,” he said. Over approximately eight days, the team will pick and process only the prime flowers, his son explained, which have the highest concentration of CBD.

“Hemp is incredible as a bio-accumulator of any residues, or pesticides, or anything bad that’s in the soil,” he said. “Hemp can actually accumulate them in their leaves and stems. It was planted around Chernobyl to remove toxins from the soil over there because it’s one of the most amazing plants for scrubbing the soil.

“So by extracting just from the flower, that will give us a cleaner product and a product with a lot more of the good stuff,” he continued. “It’s gonna be a lot more labor intensive, but it’ll lower some of our costs in other ways and, we think, make a product that will be overall better for the consumer.”

Once the flowers are harvested, dried and sent to a processor in Tennessee, Greybeard Growers will release a full line of retail products come November, including lotions and topicals, gummies, gel caps, and tinctures that are both broad spectrum — meaning no THC — and full spectrum, which allows the 0.3% THC, as well as many of the minor cannabinoids, terpenes and other parts of the flower that collaborate with the CBD to create a more complete effect.

“We just want to make CBD really accessible to our local community and not rip people off, and just do the right thing,” Kyle Jurow said. “Even though we’re in the Hamptons and people have a lot of money, there’s also a lot of people that would like to use it, can’t afford it, and that’s, to us, a tragedy.”

When one of Kyle Jurow’s friends returned from fighting the war in Afghanistan, his doctor prescribed him a range of medications, including opiates, to help with his PTSD. After wrestling with the side effects, he finally turned to homeopathic medications.

“He was like, ‘Kyle, the only thing that makes me feel better is CBD,’” he said. “And it comes with pretty much no side effects. It’s a really unrefined, natural product.”

The most direct, efficient form of CBD that Greybeard Growers currently provides is smokable flower. “Your body absorbs it a lot quicker,” Kyle Jurow explained. “Of course, it’s not for everyone, not everyone wants to smoke, but for people who are interested in the plant au naturel, I think it’s a great option.”

In the coming weeks, Kyle Jurow will iron out price points for the product line — though he can confidently say, “It will be cheaper than the competition.”

“CBD doesn’t cost a fortune to grow and I think a lot of people are price-gauging out there and charging an arm and a leg for a product that’s medicine,” he said. “We want to make it accessible to a lot of people and insurance doesn’t cover it. I’ve heard so many stories of it really helping people and then not being able to use it.

“So we are not trying to price-gauge people and we’re going to offer what we think is a better organic product at a cost that’s definitely below market value,” he continued. “Of course, we want to have a viable business here, but we’re definitely in the business of helping people.”

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