Colorado’s claim to fame may be a booming cannabis industry. Yet, another booming business in the state is taking place with the production of hemp.
“I’ve always grown cannabis since it was legalized, and I figured hemp isn't much different,” explained Gunnison native Matt Ozyp.
Ozyp recently turned to growing hemp on property he owns south of Gunnison called Iola Valley Farms, making his operation the first licensed crop in the county. This past summer, Ozyp produced approximately one acre of hemp — comprising a total of 2,000 plants.
Under Colorado law, cannabis with a percentage of tetrahydrocannabinol — or THC, the primary pscycho-active ingredient in cannabis — above 0.3 percent is considered to be marijuana. The Colorado Department of Agriculture's Industrial Hemp Program, however, regulates the cultivation of industrial hemp, which does not have the intoxicating effects of marijuana. The department also administers a certified seed program.
According to CannabisReports.org, hemp’s fibers can be used to manufacture a wide range of textiles as well as paper. Its seeds are able to be consumed. And oil extracted from the plant can be utilized for products ranging from paint to lotion and biodegradable plastic.
Ozyp’s foray into the industry is possible thanks to the passage of the federal Farm Bill in December of last year. According to the bill, hemp is now legally acknowledged as a farm commodity like corn, wheat and soybeans. That means hemp growers are newly eligible for farm loans and crop insurance just like other farmers. They also can market hemp across state lines.
Colorado was well poised to take advantage of hemp’s new status. Compared to 2018, the number of farmers licensed to grow the crop have doubled this year. According to the state Department of Agriculture, there were 31,670 acres of hemp planted in the state — up from 1,811 acres cultivated in 2014, when hemp first was produced in Colorado under the newly established licensing program.
Ozyp and his business partner, Jesse Resnick, purchased plants from the Front Range — sourcing from Denver Greenhouse Grow Systems, which provided a heartier plant for the colder climate in the Gunnison Valley.
“They had cold, hardy varieties. They were very cold-hardy but I don’t think they meant Gunnison cold-hardy,” laughed Ozyp.
Iola Valley Farms is nestled on 132 acres four miles south of Blue Mesa Reservoir at an elevation of 8,250 feet. The mission of the farm is to produce food using all-natural methods.
Ozyp was born and raised in the Gunnison Valley. After graduating from Gunnison High School, he attended the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs and eventually found his way back home (having missed some of the best skiing in the state), where he earned a degree in accounting and business from Western Colorado University. In the winter months, Ozyp works for an accounting firm where he focuses on taxes.
All of the hemp grown on Iola Valley Farms is sent to the Front Range, where parts of the plant are then turned to oil containing cannabidiol, or CBD. While not psycho-active, CBD is known to impart a feeling of relaxation and can be used as an alternative to painkillers and for other ailments.
“It helps with chronic pain and seizures,” said Ozyp, who also noted federal funding that’s been earmarked for greater research of the overall health benefits of the plant.
Since the legalization of marijuana and the change in hemp’s federal status, the prevalence of CBD in the state has skyrocketed with CBD infused in everything from food, drinks and lotions to a variety of other products.
On top of its hemp crop, Iola Valley Farms also supplies fresh produce to the Firebrand, Burnell’s, the Sunflower and Mountain Roots’ communitysupported agriculture program.
Several restaurants in Crested Butte also have expressed interest in putting Ozyp’s produce on the menu.
All of the produce from Iola Valley Farms is non-certified organic, and with the help of friends and family, Ozyp is expanding his operation one step at a time.
“It’s been fun, and the plants are huge,” smiled Ozyp.
(Kate Gienapp can be reached at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)