Migrant workers aren’t anything unusual in Southeastern Colorado, but the couple of dozen workers on the Loflin family farm outside of Springfield aren’t your usual migrant workers…but this isn’t your usual crop.
“We’ve got a bunch of volunteers from about five different states to come here and help us pick. These people are committed to this industry,” said Ryan Loflin who is harvesting the first crop of industrial hemp in around 60 years in the U.S.
From as far away as Boise, Idaho, and Los Angeles, California, and around Colorado volunteers camped out in tents and in a barn to spend the weekend picking through fox thistle and pig weed to find the historic first crop of industrial hemp.
“It’s all about freedom for me,” said Will Jenkins who drove from Dallas. “People say I can’t believe you’re doing that. I say I can’ believe you’re not.”
Planted on 60 acres, the hemp has sprouted sporadically through the field that is mostly weeds. Issues with the plants sex, not enough seed and uncertainty as to how different strains would grow in the arid climate led to what won’t be considered a productive harvest in the traditional sense.
“It’s a pretty big learning experience, we learned quite a bit,” Loflin said.
Loflin planted the first seeds back in May in response to the passage of Amendment 64 which legalized recreational marijuana for adults, and also allows for the commercial growing of hemp.
Hemp is known as marijuana’s sober cousin, as the plant contains little or no THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana associated with the "high" sensation. But the association with marijuana has made the cultivation controversial.
“Some see it as the same thing as this is a field of drugs, when in reality it’s a field of paper, insulation and bio diesel,” said Tim Klob who volunteered to help harvest.
The Colorado Department of Agriculture is still working on rules for registering hemp farmers and believes they will be in place by next spring. The department said that it technically isn’t legal to grow hemp until farmers are registered with the state, which Loflin won’t be able to do until the Department of Ag writes those rules. He went ahead anyway.
“We obviously didn’t end up in prison, so that is good,” Loflin said.
Loflin will process the seeds from his crop in an old storage barn on the farm. By next planting season he hopes to open a permanent processing facility in Springfield.
“It’s a dream come true,” Loflin said.
Loflin and the volunteers who were busy plucking each stalk by hand hope the seeds they gather will grow into a new sort of agricultural revolution.