By: Pamela Macek
New Jersey, long known as “the Garden State” to its residents, is recognized for the vast acreage of lush green landscape and plentiful vegetation that grows within its borders. Even before New Jersey was officially recognized as a state, farmers have been tilling this land, producing and relying upon a wide variety of grains, fruits and vegetables for sustenance, trade and financial prosperity.
Recently, the township of Mount Olive began considering ways to utilize its land and farming industry through the production of industrial hemp in order to increase its own economic growth and development. The Mount Olive Township Economic Development Committee (MOEDC), located in Budd Lake, has a website which posts pertinent information for its residents, including their mission, which states, “…(MOEDC) is to encourage economic development by communicating with existing and prospective business/industry developments and local, county and state agencies.”
The committee is comprised of members who are, according to the MOEDC website, “…appointed by the Mayor with the advice of Township Council.” Their purpose is to “focus on current and future recommendations based on collective experience and current events to improve the existing and future community.”
John Cavanaugh, a MOEDC member, is a long-term resident of Mount Olive, and has been on the zoning board for many years. He explained how the zoning board was combined to the planning board, which gave him the opportunity to continue his interest in what he called, “the master plan” of the township.
Cavanaugh is a businessman who runs a consulting company. His years of experience and expertise in addition to being on the zoning board made way for a recommendation as well as an invitation to join the Economic Development Committee, which he accepted. Cavanaugh went on to explain, “What we look to do is kind of be like a liaison. We meet with either new business prospects to realtors, or people coming in, or we work with the committees such as the Mount Olive Chamber of Commerce or Morris County Chamber of Commerce. We look to communicate with them as to what’s the pluses and minuses of Mount Olive are for any particular industry coming in. We’ve got a mix in our township now of manufacturing. We’ve even got some global manufacturers here, some producers of food, a few distribution facilities and we’ve got a number of retail establishments. So we’re looking always, as the markets are changing around retail malls, and ask ourselves to examine what the new concepts are coming in.” Since MOEDC makes these considerations, Cavanaugh began to research the resurgence of industrial hemp and include this new possibility of introducing farming industrial hemp as a viable option before the committee.
Hemp, or industrial hemp, is a strain of the Cannabis plant, which is commonly known to most people as marijuana. While growing cannabis in New Jersey is illegal, growing hemp is not. The main difference between hemp and marijuana lies in the chemical property known as tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is a crystalline compound that is the main active ingredient of cannabis and found in both marijuana and hemp.
THC can induce psychotropic or euphoric effects on a user. It is this level of THC that determines if someone can get high from smoking the leaves of the cannabis plant. In 2010, New Jersey legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes, covering only a select list of reasons for its administration, and only when prescribed by a doctor licensed to do so.
Over the years, additional bills regarding the legalization of marijuana have been introduced into the New Jersey State Legislature and signed into law, albeit with much controversy. The reasons for medical marijuana usage have also expanded to include diagnosis beyond certain terminal physical illnesses, including diagnosis such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
Hemp, on the other hand, is not only legal to grow, but has an extremely low level of THC. It can also be used for a wide variety of reasons that go far beyond medical usage. Some ways that industrial hemp can be farmed and manufactured create infinite benefits that do not even include the medical or health industry. In the textile industry for example, hemp can be made into clothing, diapers, denim, shoes, fine fabrics and handbags. Building materials would include oil paints, varnishes, printing inks, fuel, solvents, acrylics, coatings, fiberboard, insulation and fiberglass substitute. Body care production can produce items such as soaps shampoos, lotions, balms and cosmetics. While the paper and food industries may not boast as long a list as the others, the products made are just as, if not more important for human use and consumption. Printing, newsprint, cardboard and packing, as well as hemp seed hearts, help seed oil, hemp protein powder and EFA Food Supplements are all items that in today’s market, would be considered in demand for the consumer’s daily use.
Cavanaugh went on to explain why MOEDC began to consider farming industrial hemp as a possibility for Mount Olive. “We’re the most western town in Morris County. Between the Chamber of Commerce here and the Morris County Chamber of Commerce, we’ve continually got various dialogues occurring. One of the things that we have in our town is land and one of the challenges we discuss is how we are going to get more economic activity in town. So I said, ‘Well maybe there’s something we can look at from both organic farming and also a project I’ve been working on, which is industrial hemp.’ Then another individual who is a member of the board and who is more of a farm liaison, knows a lot of the farmers and their histories and such. So I talked to her and she mentioned that there is an organic farm in Mount Olive as well as a few young people collectively now that are trying to get into farming here.”
This was the impetus for Cavanaugh to begin his research into the resurgence of industrial hemp and its viability in the farming community right here in Mount Olive Township. He went on to explain, “In the current landscape we’ve got quite a bit of open or green acre land. So some are still dedicated for farming. In the 2018 farm bill, the definition of cannabis, which is the industrial hemp version, not the marijuana version, has now been approved as a commodity. So one of the things that I’m working on within my company involves a group out of New York that’s looking to develop solutions for industrial hemp.”
To those that are familiar with hemp, it is common knowledge that having been around for the past 10,000 years, it is not only one of the fastest growing plants but was also one of the first to be spun into usable fiber. Cavanaugh went on to explain how things then began to change for the hemp growing industry. “Up until 80 years ago, it was a common crop to farm around the United States. That is until industrial hemp became labeled with the marijuana relative in the cannabis family. Then it became a banned substance. So for 80 years now we’ve lost the seeds that were native to North America and we lost the message of defining or producing from the hemp plant various products.”
It is here that Cavanaugh hopes to utilize his business savvy along with the input and combined efforts of the MOEDC to reintroduce this valuable crop to the New Jersey area. “One of the things we’re looking to do is introduce some of that technology and be able to develop it once again within the group I’m working with.” He went back to the Committee and said, “You know, this might be an interest for current farmers that have the traditional mix of corn and soy beans. There’s a number of approved crops that the USDA both promotes and subsidizes.”
Cavanaugh did not stop there. He went on to reach out to the County Extension Office, which is an information and resource center for every county in New Jersey, that provides residents assistance regarding 4-H, agriculture, family and community health sciences, marine science, and natural resources and the environment. “The state of New Jersey is just beginning to develop guidelines around industrial hemp. So we’re a little bit behind New York State and New York State is a little behind Kentucky and Colorado, that started in the cannabis marijuana side a number of years ago. But literally across the country industrial hemp is just beginning. That is one of the things we have a focus on.”
There is a big difference in growing marijuana and hemp, and whether the flowers, seeds or fiber is being harvested. It gets even more specific if the marijuana is being grown for medical use, as the concern lies in cross contamination between different strains of cannabis. All of this results in varying degrees of cost for production and distribution. The interest for Cavanaugh lies in growing only hemp and not marijuana, utilizing the plant for CBD and fiber.
There are many other countries that grow hemp for the fiber. These plants can grow 15 to 20 feet high. Cavanaugh explained, “Those plants are grown and harvested for the stems as the flowers and seeds can’t really be harvested easily.” He went on to give examples of how the hemp fiber is used. “The weight of the fiber is used in thousands of products. Some of the things that I learned is how in Europe for example, hemp is used in the automotive industry. They are replacing and strengthening plastic bumpers with hemp fibers mixed in with the plastic to give it strength. In China, they’re deep into clothing, right? So Levi’s just came out now with a replacement of cotton in some of their jeans with hemp fiber. It’s stronger and more durable.”
If that isn’t fascinating enough, Cavanaugh explained what is happening right now in New York. “We’re working with different research organizations out of New York State. They’re using it in bio composites. They’re making hemp blocks that will be both structural and have a number of different initiatives which build value. They are taking the hemp fiber mixing it in with clay and lime, and now have a block that gets stronger as it dries. As the hemp plant grew, it sequesters a lot of carbon, and now that it is contained in a block that can last for many, many years, it becomes a commodity worth producing. There are a number of things like that, which are under research right now.”
There are other factors that play into the consideration of farming in Mount Olive, some of which has to do with seeds, soil, climate and altitude. Cavanaugh went on to explain how Cornell has received state grants out in New York to look at what the right seeds and seed qualities for industrial hemp are and the best micro climates to grow them in are. Additional areas of deliberation will deal with capital investment, as well as labor, production and distribution costs.
We can expect that a great deal of education will be coming forth as the research continues. Cavanaugh is determined to keep his ear to the ground on all the cutting-edge information being disseminated. “You can understand the excitement I have. What I am suggesting to my committee is, we should begin to advocate for Mount Olive, that because we have this combination of farm land and we have manufacturing and industrial spaces, it makes us very unique than some of the other towns in Morris County, which are more populated and denser.” This is the message that MOEDC carries.
It is apparent why the excitement and push to bring industrial hemp farming to New Jersey. With the speed of technological advancements that take place every day in our society, the uses of hemp can be unending, going far beyond the most common understanding of using hemp-derived products like CBD oil, to initiatives creating breakthroughs in the automotive and construction industries, science and the world of robotics. Industrial hemp may truly be the new green gold for New Jersey.