When I arrived at Lane Creek Hemp Co. off Old Stage Road in Central Point, the first thing I ran into was managing partner Lara Richardson butchering a pig that was raised on the farm. Lara’s meat saw followed along with a woman providing instructions on YouTube. I immediately thought, “Wow; these folks are real do-it-yourselvers!”
By the time I left the farm, however, I was dialed in to the fact that the operations at Lane Creek Hemp Co. are really a family, team and community effort.
After leaving Lara to the pig, I spent the next hour touring the 40-acre farm with her brother, Daniel Richardson, who serves as the hemp company’s director of operations. I learned why the farm, a dream-come-true place to retire for Lara and Daniel’s mom, Joan Sievert, is called Lane Creek Reserve. That’s because preserving the land and native wildlife for future generations is the primary goal of everyone who works on the farm, which also includes General Manager Zachary Comegys, and Lara’s partner, Joel Francois.
Since 2017 when the first hemp plant was set into the earth at Lane Creek Reserve, the folks there have been committed to farming practices that build biodiversity and rejuvenate the soil in fields that produced hay prior to 2015. Since then, an acre of land yields about 1,000 pounds of several strains of hemp each growing season, which is sold all over the country as flower and CBD-rich hemp extracts. Lane Creek Hemp Co. has its own sublingual tincture line and produces hemp for another tincture line.
This year, the company’s stewardship efforts were recognized when they won the Regenerative Cannabis Farm Award at the 2019 Cultivation Classic in Portland.
“It’s all about trying your best to implement regenerative practices on your land and help others do the same,” Daniel said about the regeneration farming movement that inspired the Cultivation Classic award, as well as an increasing number of cannabis growers. Daniel said he was inspired to grow hemp using regenerative methods from his cousin after moving to the Rogue Valley in 2015.
The award committee looked at energy usage on the farm and toured the facilities in April before making its decision. “That was a great day, when we were able to show our model and share our practices,” Daniel said.
Winning the Regenerative Cannabis Farm Award has allowed Daniel and his partners to showcase their growing style; however, Daniel said they’re not out to tell other people how to manage their farm, but to provide an example of how hemp can be grown in a way that is profitable and environmentally sustainable.
“Wildlife is super important to this valley. We’re trying to keep the deer coming back, keep the fish in healthy water, and also harvest a modest crop,” Daniel said.
What does it mean to grow hemp regeneratively? Here’s how the team at Lane Creek Hemp Co. do it.
Their hemp plants are started in a hoophouse, and then transplanted outdoors in the spring into raised beds, called hügelkultur berms. The berms are built on contour to slow down water drainage. The farmers prep the beds after harvesting by adding layers of wood chips and organically grown rye straw, both of which are purchased from local sources.
During rainy months, the wood chips and straw act like a sponge, retaining water and inviting fungi and other micro-organisms to move in and gradually decompose the material. The energy expended through this slow digestion process not only prevents the soil from freezing over the winter, it also provides moisture and nutrients to the hemp plants throughout the growing season. In fact, farmers at Lane Creek Reserve are able to stop watering their hemp crop in September during the flowering period, which enhances quality.
Daniel and his partners do not till the soil or add any fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides to their crops. Daniel said, “Layering carbon (through hügelkultur) feeds the soil and creates healthy soil habitat, so we can let the biodiversity of the soil do the work for us.”
Regenerative agriculture also focuses on supporting biodiversity above the soil line by growing more than one type of crop, or polyculture. The farmers at Lane Creek Reserve grow annual grasses and perennial plants to replenish soil fertility. Potatoes and garlic are planted in between the hemp plants to break up the soil and feed insects.
Comfrey, a perennial herb, is particularly effective as a bioaccumulator because its deep root system absorbs and stores moisture, making it available to the hemp plants during dry summer months. Comfrey also mines nutrients and minerals in the soil, so it’s “chopped and dropped” as a side dressing around the hemp plants.
Implementing polyculture also helps protect the hemp crop from insect pests by luring them away from the hemp plants and attracting beneficial insects that prey on the pests. “If you only have one green plant growing (hemp), then that’s what the insects are going to go for,” Daniel pointed out. “If everything is green, and all of the niches are filled, then there’s no room for insects to devastate your crop.”
Farmers at Lane Creek Reserve manage about 90 animals, including two donkeys named Sis and Jahn, a small herd of cattle, goats, sheep, pigs and chickens. The pigs and chickens eat kitchen scraps and provide food for the farmers, but the most important service all the animals provide is they produce lots of poop.
“Animals are an important part of a regenerative system,” Daniel said. “Their manure turns into an amazing conveyance of fertility.”
Manure accomplishes this work by inoculating the soil with a host of organic compounds that make plants strong and resistant to disease. These compounds include: carbohydrates, proteins, fats, nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium and trace elements such as copper, iron, zinc, manganese and boron. In addition, manure is full of bacteria and other microbes that stimulate the decomposition process.
Daniel and his partners harvest the animal manure with used straw bedding, mix it with wood chips, and apply the mixture to the hügelkultur beds once in the fall, spring and mid-summer. Overhead watering brings earthworms up from the bottom of the berm to further enrich the soil and benefit the hemp crop.
A regenerative mindset
For many new farmers, regenerative practices require a different set of farming skills and a different way of thinking. For seasoned farmers, regenerative practices are a return to traditional, time-tested methods.
“If we have the ability to pull ourselves away from just thinking about the dollar signs, then we can focus more on keeping this valley as beautiful as it’s always been,” Daniel said.
He’s grateful that he and his partners don’t have to base their decisions on investors demanding quick returns. As a small, independently owned company, they’re able to take the time needed to learn what works and what doesn’t on their particular piece of land. “It doesn’t happen overnight, but in three or four years, you’ve got a better understanding of your property and its position within the surrounding area,” Daniel said.
In the coming years, Lane Creek Hemp Co. will emphasize its line of full-spectrum cannabinoid oils for tinctures. Daniel said their growing methods will increasingly bring out the purest expression of the hemp plant because their plants don’t have to assimilate store-bought fertilizers or pesticides.
The company will focus on “keeping it lean, keeping it humble” by continuing to grow hemp with integrity and a commitment to regenerative farming practices. As Daniel said, “We’re only here for a short time, so let’s do something good.”
Rhonda Nowak is a Rogue Valley gardener, teacher and writer. Email her at Rnowak39@gmail.com. For more about gardening, visit her blog at http://blogs.esouthernoregon.com/theliterarygardener/.