WHITEFIELD — Christine Cuneo and Trudi Johnson poked through a field of hemp plants Thursday, looking for just the right plants to cut.

They had driven two hours from the Ellsworth area in search of plants in good health with densely packed flower spikes and buds. The farm offers four strains — which are all certified organic. Their plan is to process those plants for cannabidiol or CBD to make their own products to treat pain.

“The buds are the money maker,” Cuneo said, laughing.

They were two of the people who turned out to harvest their own at Maine’s only pick-your-own hemp operation at Sheepscot General Farm during the five-day season that started Wednesday and ends Sunday.

“These are our people, the best people,” said Taryn Marcus, who owns Sheepscot General Farm with her husband Ben. “The DIY-ers.”

This is the third year that u-pick hemp has been available in Whitefield; it’s apparently the only such hemp operation in Maine.

The enterprise was made possible with the passage of the 2018 federal Farm Bill when hemp was legalized after a longstanding ban on the crop. While hemp is a member of the cannabis family, it doesn’t contain THC, the intoxicating substance that marijuana is known for. In fact, the state’s Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry tests the crop to ensure its tetrahydrocannabinol level is appropriately low.

“You’d literally have to smoke a barn full of this stuff to get high,” Marcus said.

Hemp is grown and harvested for a variety of products, including hemp seed and hemp fibers.

As of August, Maine has 49 licensed hemp growers, including the Marcuses.

Jim Britt, DACF communications director, said about 40 of the growers will have crops this year.

The state of Maine makes no distinction from a regulatory standpoint whether hemp is grown for food, fiber or CBD.

The Marcuses are growing hemp for cannabidiol, or CBD, and for cannabigerol or CBG.

Marcus said the first person to show up on Wednesday was a man who has a headache disorder and spent $80 on four plants that’s expected to help him for a year. While a lot of people find that CBD helps them, it can be expensive to buy.

“He freezes the plants and makes a tincture and uses that,” she said. He uses the tincture in place of drugs that leave him unable to drive, among other side effects, Marcus said.

Christine Cuneo traveled from the Ellsworth area Thursday to Whitefield to harvest hemp plants to make salves with CBD both for herself and for her acupuncture patients during Sheepscot General Farm’s five-day pick-your-own harvest period that ends Sunday. Jessica Lowell/Kennebec Journal

For Cuneo and Johnson, the four-hour round trip on a perfect late-summer day was worth the time spent, as will the time they spend drying and processing the plants.

“I’m supersensitive to everything,” Cuneo said, as is Johnson.

Cuneo said she belongs to an herbal group whose members she said, like her, don’t do well with pharmaceuticals.

“This is what we have to do. We make (products) ourselves so we know what’s in them,” Cuneo said. “I only use shea butter and vitamin E oil. There’s no preservatives other than vitamin E.”

Cuneo, an acupuncturist, said she makes salves for pain relief for herself and for her clients.

“I don’t do tinctures so much with this, but I know other people who do,” she said.

“I’ve done tinctures before,” Johnson said, taking a break from using loppers to harvest the plants they picked. “The people that have used them have all good results. It’s a big help for knee and back.”

As they made their selections, several other people fanned out across the patch to make their own selections. Marcus said that’s how the season generally goes, with a slow and steady stream of people showing up.

For the Marcuses, the decision to grow hemp was an easy one.

“We’re just farmers,” she said. “It’s legal, it fits into our thing, and we’re just going to grow it.”

But it was not a smooth path for the Marcuses, who were among the first to secure a license to grow hemp. Because of a lag in federal rulemaking following legalization, the Marcuses were notified in 2019 by their bank and insurance companies that their accounts were canceled.

Marcus said while the banking was figured out almost overnight, straightening out their insurance was an exhausting process that took about a year.

At first the Marcuses thought of offering hemp on a pick-your-own basis, like they do with their strawberry crop, as a joke.

“And then we were like, ‘Why not? It’s good exposure for the plant,'” she said, “and it’s not like we’re stoner hippies. I come from a military family, so this was pretty outrageous on my side.”

Marcus said she sees the harvest as an educational experience, where she and her husband will stand out in the field and answer questions.

“We probably won’t sell it all,” she said. “We would love the u-pick thing to prompt more people to take advantage of it.”

Cuneo was debating how much she would bring home, two plants or more.

“It’s just once a year that you can harvest it,” she said. “It’s so hard to find it; I just have to go and get it.”

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