Bucks farmers: It’s high time hemp gets its due as ‘miracle’ plant is more than just pot – Bucks County Courier Times


Hemp has gotten a bad rap over the decades. Hundreds of farmers in Pennsylvania, including more than 20 in Bucks County, are out to change that perception.

For thousands of years, this plant in the cannabis family related to marijuana has been used to make ship sails, ropes and paper as well as providing medicinal cures for arthritis and other health conditions.

But in 1937, due to its psychotropic properties, cultivation of industrial hemp and marijuana, a cousin cannabis, were banned in the United States. 

From medicine to building material, hemp has multiple uses

Now that is changing and medicinal marijuana and related products are legally available for sale in Pennsylvania. And research into hemp’s multiple uses as a medical substance, a food and a “green” building material are growing rapidly. 

“A lot of people in construction are keenly interested in hemp … It’s great for the environment,” said Shannon Powers, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. 

General manager Stephenie Harris, left, and owner Alfred "Fred" Hagen, are the team behind Sugar Bottom Hemp Co., based out of a 108-acre farm in Buckingham Township.

Fred Hagen of Sugar Bottom Farm in Buckingham is one of them. He thinks it’s a “miracle” plant that can help to protect the planet from climate change.

A history buff, he wants to restore the plant’s honor.

“It was one of the earliest plants grown in the Americas,” he said. “They grew it in Jamestown. The seeds came over on the Mayflower. It was grown extensively by the Founding Fathers … Fifty-five tons of hemp went into the rigging on the USS Constitution.”

And it has a “perfect” combination of Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids for health benefits as well as anti-inflammatory properties, he said.

Stephenie Harris, general manager at Sugar Bottom Hemp Co., shows off a batch of dried hand-trimmed hemp flowers, which will be sold as CBD pre-rolls.

Hagen is the founder of Bensalem-based Hagen Construction that has worked on multi-million dollar commercial, hospital and government projects, including the Barnes Museum and the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia; he’s also an explorer who has searched the world for military planes that went down in battle and were never recovered. Through his efforts, the bodies of 18 formerly missing airmen have been buried at military cemeteries across the United States. 

Now Hagen is into growing this “miracle” plant at his Sugar Bottom Road horse farm. 

He’s co-owner of the project with Stephanie Harris, who lives on a neighboring farm owned by her parents. With her knowledge of both agriculture and the wine and spirit industry, she has agreed to run the hemp-farming operation.

They gave a tour of the farm recently, showing the 20-acre field where the hemp plants will be planted and grown again this year now that the chance for frost is ending. 

Hagen’s long-time friend and public relations consultant, George Polgar, joined them. 

“He is very mission based. He believes you can make a difference,”  Polgar said.

Hagen said the plant was grown 8,000 years ago in ancient Mesopotamia for its medicinal purposes. “It has a great history and I believe is fundamental to our future in that it’s a solution for climate change. It’s a renewable resource that is stronger by weight than steel,” he said.

It doesn’t require deforestation and is biodegradable.

Harris has consulted other local farmers and books to understand how to grow the hemp. A crop takes about 90 days, from planting to harvest.

This is the third year Sugar Bottom Farms has planted hemp. In the first year, it harvested about 900 pounds and last year, it collected 1,600 pounds.

Stephenie Harris, general manager of Sugar Bottom Hemp Co., opens a container of whole plant oil extract on Monday, April 19, 2021.

“There are many strains of hemp, like there are many types of wine grapes,” Harris said. Hemp varieties that are used for fiber and seeds as well as the oil from the hemp flowers, called cannabidiol or CBD for short, are labeled as industrial hemp. 

Industrial hemp grown for their CBD contain more of that than tetrahydrocannabinol, or TCE, a related compound found more abundantly in marijuana. Both can be used to ease pain and can have sedation qualities but CBD does not give a “high” that TCE can produce in most people. To be sold as CBD, a product cannot contain more than 0.3% of TCE.