Once a farmer, always a farmer

For farmers, a transition to growing marijuana can be lucrative

British Public Library

For farmers, a transition to growing marijuana can be lucrative

British Public Library

It’s not the THC, it’s the TLC. A newly-licensed marijuana grower reflects

A little over a year ago my marriage fell apart, and our livestock farm in upstate New York crumbled right along with it. It was September, winter was coming, but most of the value of the business was tied up in assets, equipment, animals, property. The size of it was staggering: We had over $60,000 worth of inventory on the hoof. There was a flurry of activity to move the stock before it actually got cold, but the equipment is always worth more in the spring so it was worth one of us staying the winter to watch over the place and then sell it all off once the snow melted.

I had no idea what to do next, but I knew I needed to move somewhere more vibrant, more social; five years in rural isolation made it clear that I need community. In the end, I decided to move home to Maine and go into the medical marijuana business. Medical pot’s been legal here in one form or another since 1999, though I wasn’t aware until I visited over Christmas and heard how popular the industry was becoming.

Nick Westervelt and cow. In this week's Field Notes, learn about how one farmer started over again, but this time with a wholly difference business purpose.The rules are relatively simple: As a caregiver I can grow for five patients as well as myself, up to six flowering plants each at any given time. Those patients can buy 2.5 ounces every two weeks, and at $200 an ounce (the going price around these parts), there’s money to be made.

I’ll be honest here, this was an entirely new world for me. I had just learned to smoke pot a few months earlier.  But I questioned why I hadn’t gotten on board the weed train a lot sooner. The business opportunities seemed vast. As it stands now, pot is a great business if you don’t mind staying small. Because of its illegal history, marijuana has remained a cottage industry, at least in this country.  It’s simple. If you get too big, you get caught.

Right now I have about 200 plants in various stages of growth in my grow room, all signed off on by the State of Maine. Keeping just 100 plants is a federal class A felony, carrying a sentence of up to 40 years. This risk is what makes the trade so lucrative. If 100 pot plants produced the same amount of dollars as 100 rose bushes, I’d grow the flowers that wouldn’t get me locked up for longer than I’ve already lived.

 I catch myself referring to my clones as piglets.

But in other ways—the most important ways—it’s really not that different. I enjoy farming, and while I was keeping a connection to my farm through the distribution business it has become I wanted to have growing cycles in my life, to have creatures who set their own schedule, who won’t yield, who moderate me and my routines, who I am responsible for.  There’s a regularity to growing something, a drumbeat of sorts, a communication between farmer and crop that had become a part of my identity, and I didn’t want to give that up.

The parallels are constant. I catch myself referring to my clones as piglets, and I dote on my mother plants with the same affection and care that we provided to Little Red, Payload and Ham Spot, some of our favorite sows. I have pest infestations, droughts, when a breaker flips I call it an eclipse. And I still find myself catching a whiff of my farm on my clothes when I’m out and about in the world. At least now it smells more pleasant.

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Nick Westervelt is the founder of Clawhammer Farm, a meat distributor serving the New York City area, and recently started a Maine-based medical marijuana farm.