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Hemp grown at Satur Farms in Cutchogue. (Credit: David Benthal)

Something a little different is sprouting up among the greens and herbs at Satur Farms in Cutchogue: baby leaf hemp.

Satur Farms in Cutchogue, known for its delicate wholesale greens that are a favorite among New York chefs and home cooks alike, is one of a handful of farms in New York State growing the plant, which some hope will become a leading crop for the region. 

“It’s awfully cute,” said farm co-owner Paulette Satur of the baby leaf hemp, which looks a bit like marijuana leaves.

From body-care products like soaps and lotions to edible items such as hemp milk and cannabidiol, or CBD, infused ice cream and cocktails to home products like the travel water bowl I just bought in Woodstock, N.Y., for my dog, cannabis culture appears to be infiltrating every aspect of our lives. And despite questions of legality and regulatory challenges, by the end of 2018, total sales for the U.S. hemp industry are expected to reach $1 billion, according to the Hemp Business Journal.

Satur Farms is growing its hemp through a partnership with JD Farms in Eaton, N.Y. JD Farms was the first private farm approved to grow the crop under a New York State pilot program.

Satur is excited to be a part of it.

“It’s a new crop we started last year,” she said. “It still needs some work, but it’s fun and it has potential.”

According to Satur, baby leaf hemp has a lemony taste, but you will soon be able to determine that for yourself. Satur Farms, which Satur owns with her husband, Eberhard Müller, is growing the baby leaf hemp in its partnership with JD Farms.

Satur expects the baby leaf hemp will soon be available solo and as a baby hemp and baby kale salad mix at Whole Foods throughout the Northeast, making it one of the first hemp products grown on New York State farms to make its way to the public.

Paulette Satur at her farm in Cutchogue. (Credit: David Benthal)

Among the many questions for those wanting to grow hemp are what varieties grow best in New York’s soil and climate, what will the market for hemp be and can the state attract new businesses, such as hemp-processing facilities, to the region.

At Cornell’s Long Island Horticultural Research and Extension Center in Riverhead, a group of scientists, led by professor Larry Smart of Cornell University’s School of Integrative Plant Science, is hoping to answer those questions and lay the foundation for New York to become a leading supplier of industrial hemp. The farm in Riverhead is one of six test sites Smart is overseeing as part of Cornell’s hemp research.

After the state Legislature approved the pilot program for industrial hemp in late 2015, Cornell applied for and received one of the initial licenses to grow industrial hemp. Smart and his team imported the first cultivars in 2016 and began establishing trials in 2017. This year they’re working with cultivars from France, Poland, Ukraine, Canada and other parts of the U.S., bred and selected to become various products such as CBD oil, grains for fiber and more.

At the Riverhead farm, New York’s southernmost test site, more than 30 types of hemp were planted this past June. If all goes as planned the hemp will be harvested in September. Through experiments at the various test sites, Cornell is hoping to identify which cultivars best adapt to New York’s climate, which ones work best in different parts of the state, and to determine how hemp pollen will move in the wind and ultimately breed cultivars to adapt to local conditions.

“Historically, New York was a huge producer of hemp for sail cloth and ropes,” Smart said. “We have an appropriate climate and soil, but the big question is if we can develop the market.”

In New York, the growing of industrial hemp dates back to the 1700s, when it was traditionally processed into textiles. But in the 1970s a federal law classified hemp as an illegal Schedule 1 drug, and almost all industrial hemp production was banned in the U.S. Hemp, while similar in appearance to marijuana, does not produce a high and contains about 0.3 percent of the psychoactive chemical tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. In contrast, marijuana contains anywhere from 5 to 35 percent of THC. The 2014 Federal Farm Bill legalized the growing of hemp, but under a set of conditions that include strict requirements for certifications and licenses. State laws also made it tricky to expand the industry. Growers hope additional legislation will create a viable hemp-growing industry.

Smart hopes that through its research, Cornell will be able to breed cultivars targeted to the market, which so far seems to be centered around food companies.

Hemp has a wide range of culinary uses, including for oils for salad and pestos, as a high protein flour that is gluten free, and as a vegetable that so far has been non-GMO, non-soy and is normally organic.

“It’s an attractive food protein,” Smart says.