Leading the Hemp Revolution: Q&A With First Crop Co-Founder Michael Bowman
Photos courtesy of First Crop

Leading the Hemp Revolution: Q&A With First Crop Co-Founder Michael Bowman

The public benefit company is set to launch its Seed the Revolution campaign June 25 to spread education and rally support for industrial hemp cultivation.

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June 20, 2019

First Crop, a public benefit company dedicated to improving the health and wellness of people—and the planet—through hemp, is launching a consumer-focused “Seed the Revolution” campaign June 25 to jumpstart the industrial hemp industry.

First Crop, co-founded by Michael Bowman, supports farmers with more than 150 acres of hemp under cultivation in Colorado and New Mexico, working with the farming partners and community leaders to revitalize local economies. First Crop subsidizes hemp farming inputs to lower farmers’ upfront costs, shares 5 percent of profits with its farming partners and donates 10 percent of profits to First Crop Foundation, which will make charitable grants to local community organizations to support social and environmental programs.

First Crop’s Seed the Revolution campaign seeks to educate the public about the benefits of hemp, and people will be able to join the campaign (hosted on Indiegogo) for a $25 contribution, beginning on the campaign’s June 25 launch date.

Here, Bowman discusses First Crop, the Seed the Revolution campaign and broader industry trends as the hemp industry continues to evolve from the pilot programs authorized under the 2014 Farm Bill to today.

Cannabis Business Times: What is First Crop? Can you describe its overall work in the hemp space?

Bowman

Michael Bowman: We want to talk about the plant’s unique ability to rebuild the soil. I come from a farming background, and soil carbon and soil health has been an issue of mine for over 30 years. In fact, I was working on a set of soil health projects in Zimbabwe when I became exposed to the hemp plant back then. It’s been a great journey for me.

We’re promoting the cultivation of hemp by small- and mid-sized farms, giving them products and services that they’re going to need to be successful farmers. We will then purchase their hemp from their crop in the fall when it’s ready, process it, and use it to make a variety of health and wellness products including CBD oil, capsules, lotions and healing salves. Our fist products will be made from the first crop of organically grown hemp, cultivated in Colorado and New Mexico, which [has been] planted. We’re really excited about this, and we think we’re at the tip of a revolution, really, in how consumer demand in the country is forcing a lot of changes in the marketplace the supply chains. [We’re seeing] an enlightened consumer, consumers who want to know what’s in their products and where it came from and what it’s doing for the community or the earth, whether it’s local or global.

CBT: Can you elaborate on how the hemp industry and its consumers have evolved from the launch of the 2014 Hemp Pilot Programs to today with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill?

MB: Six years ago, we were literally just a few words on a piece of paper in front of a Rules Committee in the United States Congress, and over the last six years, [the U.S. has] gone from zero to being the third largest hemp producer in the world under our research pilot program. It just shows the ability of Americans and entrepreneurs to understand and grasp new big ideas. I think industrial hemp is the next big new idea, whether it’s just for CBD oil—and that’s going to be a large part of our product offerings—but [also] all of the other things that it’s going to offer: fiber, food, hemp proteins, animal feed, animal bedding, bioplastics, the ability to regenerate soil and the ability to draw carbon out of the atmosphere at rates that can exceed general mature forests. This plant has a little bit of something for everybody, and its return couldn’t be more timely, given the challenges we have both from the climate perspective and the rule development perspective and the supply chain perspective for better products.

CBT: Can you elaborate on how hemp can benefit farmers? How can farmers decide whether to grow hemp now that it’s federally legal?

MB: I’m going to look at it first through the perspective of a typical, traditional corn/soybean farmer that has been in a government program for years, whose die is somewhat set on what he’s growing. Then, we now layer in the trade war with China and the challenges that both the corn and particularly the soybean market is faced with in these low prices and loss of a major market. Will we get that market back?

It’s going to give these traditional farmers an opportunity to look at hemp as a legitimate third crop. It’s a crop that can be used in their rotations and may well displace soybean acres. If you think of the hemp crop as a protein and oil crop, then it basically is the same thing as the soybean, with the added bonus of the absorption of CO2 during its growing cycle. Then, the other lane is really what we’ve seen over the past four years—the value of high-production CBD oil, which can be grown on smaller acreage.

I can speak to our community where we see younger people come back and re-engage themselves in small rural communities in agriculture because of this plant. There is nothing else that would’ve drawn them back to these rural communities other than this turn of events. So, I see this as a chance to reinvigorate agriculture. The average age of the American farmer is inching upwards every year. We’re up into the low 60s now. We’ve got a real succession challenge in a lot of these areas, and the fact that we’ve got something that stimulates the thought process of young people who would have never thought to come back may be the most exciting thing for me. My hometown is 1,400 people, and the kids that leave don’t come back. We’re just like thousands and thousands of other small communities, whether in Colorado or rural Ohio, with the same challenges.

CBT: What does First Crop’s Seed the Revolution campaign entail, and what do you hope it will achieve?

MB: It entails reaching out with our strong message that will encourage people to engage in the program, which will help us, in turn, fund more of these [regionalized hubs] and replicate what we’ve done in Colorado [and New Mexico] this year with the farmers. We’re already in conversations with veterans communities and, in particular, black farmer communities. We’ve had a drastic reduction in the number of black farmers in the country. In fact, they account for only about 1.3 percent of all farmers in the U.S. They’re all typically smaller plot farmers, many of them multi-generational. This is the land that their families received after emancipation. Many of them are cotton or tobacco growers, and this is a special opportunity for them to engage in CBD oil production, as an example.

I just spent some time last week in Alabama with a group of black farmers who want to work together and bring new opportunities for their families, as well. From a social justice perspective, it’s about bringing about these opportunities for the disadvantaged and those who haven’t had a voice or are losing their voice in agriculture, and how they can contribute to creating the kind of products that we all want.

I think that will be the outcome of the campaign. We’re very excited about this and we’re going to have a harvest festival this fall in Colorado to celebrate what we’ve accomplished this year, and I expect that to be the springboard to recreating and multiplying these opportunities across the board.

First Crop's Seed the Revolution campaign launches June 25 to encourage people to engage in the hemp industry.

CBT: Why is the climate right to launch a campaign like Seed the Revolution?

MB: The dynamics of this country right now—I think we all feel that there are a lot of things that have gone awry, whether it’s how we make our living, how we grow our food [or] what’s happening to the climate. How do we reach out and be inclusive, particularly in agriculture, around building these products? This timing just feels right because we’ve all been woke, I believe, with these challenges, and I think we will rise to these challenges and create new opportunities. We have to get engaged and we have to start caring. For me, that’s what the campaign means.

CBT: Where do you see the hemp industry headed? What are your predictions for overall market trends?

MB: This is a plant that has staying power and has the opportunity to be the legitimate third crop in the United States—the third crop behind corn and soybeans. We’re seeing these opinions change and move in a way that people are open to it. I think this really is just the spark to a new kind of agricultural revolution. I think hemp will be the star of that show.

We’ve had a real tug of war with the financial institutions and the banks. Even though what all farmers have been doing since 2014 under this program is legal, the financial industry has still viewed it as a Schedule I drug, so there have been a lot of challenges with these farmers, particularly the small ones who are coming in with few resources, or someone who is starting brand new that didn’t have that insurance to rely on if you were going to go borrow from a bank. So, we try to close that gap and help get that started so that we could build an industry which would have otherwise still been waiting.

Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for style, length and clarity.