A popular York County wedding and entertainment venue will be joining forces with Albright College to research the thousands of potential uses for industrial hemp.
Wyndridge Farm, a family-owned company led by Steve Groff, a former orthopedic surgeon, will operate as the exclusive grower and processor of industrial hemp for the Reading-based college, which was recently awarded a permit to research and grow the product from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.
Groff, who grew up in a farming family and pursued medicine as a profession, said that these twin interests fueled his interest in hemp and its medicinal uses years ago. Over the years, his interest in the plant has only grown as he’s learned about its unrealized potential.
“It’s a fascinating plant with thousands of uses that’s poorly understood,” he said.
Land to spare
After opening the York Township-based Wyndridge Farm in 2014 and expanding to it to include a craft brewery, cider distillery, restaurant and entertainment venue, he realized that he was left with 30 to 40 acres of tillable land that could be put to use after industrial hemp cultivation was allowed through the 2018 farm bill, following an 80-year ban. The bill was signed into law last year by President Donald Trump.
However, Groff not only wanted to grow the plant, but he wanted to research it in an effort to educate the public. As an Albright alumnus, Groff instinctively sought out his alma mater to discuss a joint venture that could lead to new findings about the plant, as well as educate the public about what is already known.
Hemp can be used in products ranging from textiles and nutritional supplements to car parts and even for concrete-like building products for construction.
Groff said that the public is currently awash in misinformation about the plant, and with the help of the college, he would like to hold educational seminars at Wyndridge.
“We want to be looked at as the voice of reason,” he said.
Groff said that Albright representatives were enthusiastic about the project, and they secured a research permit a few weeks after submitting the application. Farming and research is expected to begin this spring, Groff said.
“There are a lot of unknowns about the health and wellness benefits of cannabinoids, so we need to show integrity in expressing what we do and don’t know, in order to raise the bar on research and education in this rapidly evolving area,” he said in a news release.
Although Wyndridge Farm possesses enough land to accommodate the growth and harvesting of the product, more land is needed for processing facilities. Therefore, Groff is reaching out to other permit-holding farmers in York and Lancaster counties to lease space for processing facilities. When that is done, students and faculty at Albright College will be able to participate in the entire process of hemp production, from beginning to end, he said. They will also be able to research all aspects and uses of the plant, he said.
“Students will have real-time exposure to an industry that’s unfolding as we speak,” he said.
Albright President Jacquelyn S. Fetrow added in a news release: “We expect the endeavor to provide internship and employment opportunities in a revolutionary industry. Albright students will gain real time experience of an industry roll out.”
According to Albright College spokesperson Carey Manzolillo, the project will be headed by Provost Karen Campbell. The research project will explore strategies to minimize the constraints facing family and small farmers in the emerging industrial hemp industry, she said. Students and faculty will explore various solutions, such as developing harvesting methods and equipment that are specifically adapted to more efficient cultivation. They will also work hands-on in developing industrial hemp products, which are derived from hemp fiber, seed and extracts, to be used in conjunction with studying the state’s potential retail market’s acceptance of the products. Overall, the research would help farmers find a firm footing in the new in the new agribusiness, Manzolillo said.
In 2018, 33 permit holders planted and grew approximately 580 acres of industrial hemp in the state, according to the PDA’s website.
A maximum of 60 permits will be handed out for the 2019 growing season.
Preliminary clinical research on CBD, one of 113 cannabinoids extracted from hemp, show potential applications in the treatment of chronic pain, anxiety and sleep disorders, Manzolillo said.
To date, industrial hemp may only be grown or cultivated in Pennsylvania for research conducted under and agricultural pilot program established by PDA.
Although the project is only in its infancy, Groff has grand ambitions for its future and the role south central Pennsylvania will play in it.
“I’d like to see us become one of the largest hemp producers in the state,” Groff said.