LANCASTER — With an estimated 100 acres of hemp planted on the city’s east side, SoCal Farms LLC is the first industrial hemp farm to have approval from the Los Angeles County Agriculture Commissioner to cultivate the crop.
“This has been a long time coming,” Zac Cullen, vice president of Sales and Marketing for SoCal Farms, said during a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday morning organized by the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce.
Cullen and other SoCal Farms executives, as well as other state and local leaders gathered on Avenue F near 80th Street East for the ceremony.
“Over to my left we have 650,000 hemp plants up and out of the ground, and over here to my right we have very large-scale agriculture equipment,” Cullen said. “I know all of our partners and founders in this have been wanting to hear me say this for a long period of time — hemp, meet large-scale ag, large-scale ag, meet hemp.”
SoCal Farms, a company formed by a coalition of industry leaders, is dedicated to the research and cultivation of high-quality hemp. The company partnered with Antelope Valley College to conduct a research project on the crop. The company’s ultimate goal is to be the West Coast’s largest provider of full-spectrum hemp oil, and do it with consistency, quality, aroma, and taste. Company officials also want to be the largest supplier to large brands nationally, as well as on the West Coast.
“We look forward to being able to figure out what hemp can do on economics and sustainability here. It’s really important that we do protect the environment and the asset of the water, air, and soil here,” SoCal Farms President Donald Collins said, adding the goal is sustainability and bringing jobs back to the Antelope Valley.
AV College President Ed Knudson said it is a pleasure to support SoCal Farms’ effort.
“It’s really exciting to be involved with SoCal Farms and what they’re going to be developing here: the creation of industrial hemp. To able to support through research and development, and provide them with the data they need to be successful and grow the industry, that’s why we partnered up,” Knudson said.
AV College students, supervised and supported by faculty, will be involved with the research.
SoCal Farms could not do what it is doing without the assistance of state Sen. Scott Wilk, who wrote Senate Bill 1409, which streamlined industrial hemp production rules to become compliant with federal law.
“This is really unbelievably exciting,” Wilk said. “This is America’s back to the future.”
The sails of the Pinta, the Nina and the Santa Maria were made from hemp. So was the caulking used on the bottom of the boats. Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence, and Betsy Ross weaved the first flag out of hemp. In 1937 industrial hemp was miscategorized as a Schedule 1, along with cannabis. That was changed via the federal Farm Act and SB 1409, Wilk said.
“I’m thrilled to be here today with SoCal Farms LLC to witness the launch of a new venture that I believe is going to revolutionize California agriculture,” Wilk said.
Agriculture consumes 41% of the state’s water, yet produces 2% of gross domestic product.
“I’m not advocating getting rid of agriculture, but we need to be smart in the crops that we grow that will do best,” Wilk said.
Alfalfa, the No. 1 crop in the Antelope Valley, consumes about seven-acre feet of water. Industrial hemp consumes about one-third of that, and will allow farmers to stay in business and build a sustainable community in the Antelope Valley, not only with the environment, but also with mortgage-paying jobs.
Industrial hemp is used in 25,000 products including cars and buildings, replacing concrete.
Jared Blumenfeld, the California Secretary for Environmental Protection, met in Sacramento with Wilk, who told him about the crop’s many benefits.
“I was stunned to learn with modern technological developments you actually can turn it into nearly anything,” Blumenfeld said. “So if you think about it, not only is the crop helping the environment by using less water, if you want to end our addiction to foreign oil, if you want to end our addiction to fossil fuels, you make stuff out of hemp and you’ll make the planet a better place.”
Chris Wilson, vice president of Business Development for Ojai Energetics, one of SoCal Farms’ partners, conducted the ceremonial prayer to bless the crop.
“Today is an historic day. We have gathered here to welcome in a new era of agriculture in this great state and in this Valley,” Wilson said. “And this day was made possible by forward-thinking individuals who used their platforms to break down stigmas and educate others on the undeniable benefits of this miraculous plant.”