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Sowing Seeds: The Journey of Acadia Farms

Benjamin Morgan-Dillon

Benjamin Morgan-Dillon

My journey in the world of soil started at a very young age. I grew up on a farm in a small, rural community in southeastern Massachusetts, playing in our family’s garden beds. I enjoyed pulling up weeds and flowers alike, not knowing much but wanting desperately to help. We had large vegetable, herb and flower gardens, chickens, goats, a giant pig, cats, dogs, and various other pets. As I grew older, my experiences shaped me into a more aware gardener who loved to grow vegetables and fruits alike, but I never saw a career for myself in agriculture.

Creating my business, Acadia Farms, has been an adventure in learning and has been greatly influenced by my family. My mother is a writer, an artist, and an animal trainer. Her creativity and open-mindedness was a catalyst for my own. Her love for animals and devotion for their care was definitely a guiding principle in the development of our Harmony CBD pet product. My father was an auto mechanic, who ran his own business from the age of twenty. My father came from a family of blue-collar workers, salt-of-the-earth people who knew the importance of a day’s work for a day’s pay, which is where I learned work ethics. More importantly, he taught me to have a deep love of nature, a passion for environmental awareness, and a commitment to an organic and sustainable lifestyle. My grandfather was a dedicated Brown University professor, who loved his students. He has truly inspired my path as an educator. My grandmother was a teacher and an avid gardener. She kept an organic garden where we planted my first vegetables as a child.

I have always believed that a person should strive to be a benefit to the world, in ways both near and far. It is as important to avoid the use of pesticides in one’s own garden as it is to vote for politicians who will oppose the big pesticide companies. Think big and start small, as the saying goes. We are currently at a critical juncture for the well-being of our planet, and the way we live our lives is the tipping point. If we are to save ourselves and our world, we must immediately move towards more natural and sustainable methods. Not only must we embrace organic growing, but we must also seek out new methods of cultivation, and re-discover ancient ones. We must achieve our own health through holistic methods and the use of natural medicines, with the goal being to build a better world for our children than the one we currently inhabit.

In March 2014, my father was suddenly diagnosed with terminal cancer and given three months to live. Having always been in peak health, strong, never ill, and eating exclusively organic food, it was a devastating shock. In the months that followed, I sought urgently for something I could do to be of some use. I was just twenty-three years old, and I felt that I didn’t know how to help. Dad detested going to the doctor and so I went to every appointment, treatment, and follow up to take notes, ask questions, and ensure his care. My father had always refused to take any sort of medicine, and now he was faced with an endless regimen of chemotherapy and radiation. Cannabis, however, had always been his friend and a point of bonding for us as I became an adult.

My interest in cannabis started not only with a teenage curiosity but more importantly developed with my interest in medicine and alternative therapies. I was in college in a pre-med program, maintaining a 4.0, but decided to put it aside in order to care for my father. I began to study and apply growing techniques in earnest. I was voracious for any material or knowledge I could find. I have always loved nature, and with my strong family background in education, I was determined to learn all I could. My interest in all aspects of cannabis cultivation, preparation, and use now had a specific goal – to help my father in every possible way. I spent the next three years refining my cultivation and working to mitigate Dad’s symptoms and conditions. Despite an initial expectation of under three months to live, my father led a vital and mostly symptom-free life for four more years until he passed on October 11th, 2018.

After his death, I knew I didn’t want to return to the traditional study of medicine. I had been very discouraged by many of the experiences I had with the medical industry. I decided to follow the course I had found myself on when helping Dad. I chose to enlarge the scope of my thinking from just cultivation to every aspect of the plant. I became increasingly interested in psychopharmacology – the way drugs interact with our minds and bodies. With scientific research and grassroots experimentation, from sophisticated laboratories to people’s backyards, the field of knowledge was exploding. I wanted to be a part of that, and I wanted to make Dad proud of my choice to leave a medical career behind.

A teenage plant after its first defoliation

photo courtesy Acadia Farms
A teenage plant after its first defoliation. We defoliate to promote bilateral branching, light penetration, and air movement through the canopy.

I set out initially to simply help each member of my family. My mother had a torn meniscus, which despite surgery led to acute arthritis in her knee. She was in constant pain, limping instead of walking, unable to stand up straight. Nothing short of opioids eased her pain, and those were not a good answer. My sister was diagnosed with acute, sudden onset of Bi-polar 2 with panic attacks and anxiety. My stepfather is a Marine with severe PTSD and crippling anxiety. My girlfriend has Celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, and anxiety. I dived into research and began to formulate mixtures for each of them and we started experimenting. To my surprise, we had immediate success! My mother was “able to walk free of pain and without a cane for the first time in three years”- Alexandra. My sister “had a complete mental-emotional turn around with no pharmaceuticals”- Madelin. My stepfather was able to reenter the workforce after years and rapidly rose back to his old position – he now is the chief jeweler and manager at a high-end, custom jewelry shop. My girlfriend has “been in remission from Crohn’s disease for almost two years now”- Amanda. This means her disease is no longer active and she is without symptoms. After these great results, the company grew in an organic fashion, expanding, from one person to the next via recommendations of ecstatic clients. We have since more than doubled our initial product lines, and have expanded into the field of cannabis education and consultation.

I never saw myself following in my grandfather’s footsteps as an educator, and I never saw myself as a cannabis entrepreneur, but I have embraced it all. After having been an avid student in this field for thirteen years, I have been repeatedly told that I need to begin speaking and sharing all that I have accumulated and learned. I have always had a natural way of forming deep and meaningful relationships with people, even in unconventional environments or short periods of time. I love to impart knowledge and experience to people and watch them grasp onto a concept and run with it. I excel at communicating complex or otherwise difficult concepts to people in very easily digestible terms. These skills have led me to where I am today, an international hemp/cannabis consultant who gets to spend his time both in the field and educating people on regenerative cultivation methods.

In Massachusetts, the industrial hemp program is still in its infancy and as such there have been many hurdles to overcome. The license is not very expensive ($300 for cultivation or processing, $500 for both) or difficult to obtain. They require you to submit an application providing the location and site maps (including GPS coordinates for the corners of each field) for cultivation and processing. Many farmers have used google maps for this, but some have been told the photos are not clear enough, that there is too much tree cover at the time it was taken, or it’s too old. To avoid all of these issues I find it best to hire a drone pilot for an hour or two and have up to date, crystal clear photos with geotagged GPS coordinates. Additionally, you can request the pilot provide you with a topographical map. This will show you the grade of your land, where the highs and lows are and by how much they vary. Your eyes can’t see a few inches difference over an acre, but water surely will and you may experience dry patches or flooding if not corrected. It is vital that any drone company you hire be legally licensed, trained, and insured and have substantial experience. In my area, the only company which meets these standards is Ocean State Drones. I have used them exclusively for years.

If you are leasing the land you must provide a signed form designating that you have permission from the landowner to grow hemp. You must also provide some personal information, a COA (certificate of analysis) as proof of the levels of THC (<0.3%) in the seeds, seedlings, or clones you will purchase, and what you plan to do with your final product. The entire process is nowhere near the level of intensity or difficulty of the application process for recreational or medical cannabis but is still far more than is required for any other agricultural crop. Once approved you may order your seed or seedlings and begin your season. You must submit a planting form when setting plants in the field to notify MDAR (Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources) of the numbers and variety. You then must also submit a harvest form to give them a window of time to come and sample your crops before harvest to ensure they are not “hot” (>0.3% THC). Then you may harvest, dry and process the material into whatever final form you chose.

A happy, healthy plant that has bushed out after the first defoliation.

photo courtesy Acadia Farms
A happy, healthy plant that has bushed out after the first defoliation.

As hemp farmers, we are limited in what products we are allowed to produce and sell. For instance, we are not allowed to sell raw flowers for consumption. Massachusetts has therefore indirectly stated that we must extract the oils from the flowers and then turn that oil into products that can be sold. To make it even more difficult, there is a new law that we can only create and sell products that do not fall into the categories of food, beverages, feeds, pet treats, dietary supplements, or vapes. This effectively limits our options to only topical applications. This decision was made and implemented halfway through the 2019 growing season after most farmers had already planted. Products for which farmers had received approval were now suddenly illegal, which has caused a financial disaster. MDAR has yet to correct this costly error despite having been present at numerous hearings where farmers (including myself) testified for hours on the detrimental impacts of their choice.

This leads us to another industry-wide misunderstanding of terminology and genetic makeup. What the federal government has chosen to call “Industrial Hemp” is actually two separate species of cannabis that they have lumped together. These two species are Fiber/Seed Hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) and CBD Hemp (Cannabis indica ssp indica and Cannabis indica ssp afganica hybrid varietals with <0.3%THC). If the THC content is >0.3% (greater than 0.3%) the federal government classifies it as Cannabis and it is therefore federally illegal to grow. Fiber/Seed Hemp does contain some trace cannabinoids, however, they are in such minute volumes that they are not worth extracting. Due to this Fiber/Seed Hemp is used to produce food, lubricants, textiles, etc. Since CBD Hemp, not Fiber/Seed Hemp, is the primary source from which we extract CBD, for the purpose of our conversation we shall refer to it as “Hemp (CBD)”. Cannabis (the source from which we extract THC) shares the same two sub-species of the same genus and species as Hemp (CBD). Genetically, Hemp (CBD) and Cannabis (THC) are varietals of the same Genus and species Cannabis indica ssp. indica and Cannabis indica ssp. afganica, with the amount of THC present (<0.3%THC for Hemp (CBD)) being the determining factor of the categorization, rather than the genetic lineage. Fiber/Seed Hemp is extremely tall with a thin main stalk and very minimal bilateral branching or flower (phytochemistry) production. It is this morphology characteristic of long fibers which makes it ideal for textile production. Cannabis and Hemp (CBD) range from short and stocky to very tall and lanky, with lots of bilateral branching and flower production.

Hemp (CBD) and Cannabis are unlike any other crop that we cultivate in the world, from the way the plant grows to the care needed to express the most unique characteristics. There are over 20,000+ registered terpenes (essential oils present in all plants) in the world and more than 200+ of them have been recognized in Industrial Hemp and Cannabis. This means that this plant has more terpene diversity than any other plant in the world. When you combine them with the 400+ cannabinoids which may be present in the plant, you get the synergistic result known as the “entourage effect”, a compounding of the phytochemistry increasing the impact of each part. This benefit alone makes this plant one of the most versatile crops we can grow. When we consider that Fiber/Seed Hemp can be used to produce textiles, paper, hempcrete, food, lubricants, plastics, packaging, and nutritional supplements just to name a few, why wouldn’t we want to grow these amazing plants which are such a cornucopia?

A 40x zoom of the trichomes developing on the bract's of the apical cola

photo courtesy Acadia Farms
A 40x zoom of the trichomes developing on the bract’s of the apical cola

Another incredible characteristic of both Industrial Hemp and Cannabis is that they are bio-accumulators. They absorb toxins from the environment and concentrate them in their cells. This would mean any plants grown on contaminated land would extract and concentrate those pollutants, rendering them unsafe for use in and on our bodies. However, these contaminated plants can still be used for fuel, lubricants, and plastics. I see this as one more major benefit of this crop. We can use it to purify and remediate all the land which we have lost to microbial extinction as a result of conventional agriculture. We can save soils contaminated with heavy metals, over salinization, and even radioactivity just to mention a few. Therefore, I believe it is even more crucial to cultivate this plant in polluted ecosystems to begin to regenerate the natural ecology.

I have spent the past few years traveling the USA and parts of Europe, utilizing my fifteen years of experience to consult and educate on the cultivation of Hemp/Cannabis. The work I do ranges from helping new farmers get established and learn how to grow this incredible crop without the pitfalls of a novice cultivator, to guiding experienced farmers in a new regenerative methodology and crop, to soil detoxification projects and ecological regeneration. I have found it so inspiring to work with such dedicated and passionate people in their pursuit of a better way. Many farmers simply need to be educated on the needs and characteristics of the plant through its different stages of life. Others really want to dive deeply into the soil biology and its impact on plant growth and phytochemistry production.

I recommend that any farmer interested in growing starts with a basic knowledge of soil science and plant care. Additionally, having an understanding of the microbial world and how it directly ties to the crop you are trying to grow is very important. Learning methods of sustainability and conservation will help to provide you with a solid foundation when designing your farm or fields. We must remember that we are simply stewards of this amazing world and the better we mimic nature in our cultivation the more robust and balanced our system will be and thus more profitable and sustainable.

Conventional methods try to provide a specific NPK value that is based on an estimation of what the needs of the crop are to avoid nutrient deficiencies and maximize yields. The inherent issue with this method is that we cannot accurately predict exactly what the needs of a crop are and will be on a day to day measure of the season, so we apply a blanket approach hoping to hit the mark for most of the crops in the field. This, however, leaves large amounts of nutrients unused in the soil increasing salinity and reducing overall soil health. This also means that these excess nutrients are able to leach from the soil and contaminate water tables, wetlands, and rivers eventually draining into lakes and the ocean where they feed algae that grow out of control and cause “dead zones”. A “dead zone” is an area where algae or bacteria have grown so rapidly that they have used all dissolved oxygen in the water around them creating an area no other aquatic life can survive in.

Due to the issues one runs into with conventional agriculture methods, such as over salinization of the soil, increased pest and pathogen pressures, lack of organic options, fertilizer runoff, microbial extinction, plant rejection, and exorbitant costs, I implement a form of regenerative cultivation known as Korean Natural Farming. We focus on capturing naturally occurring indigenous microorganisms and cultivating large colonies which we use to inoculate the soil. The purpose of this is to maximize biological diversity and therefore plant growth and resistance potential. This provides indigenous microorganisms that have naturally evolved to thrive in your local environment to mine nutrients from the soil and provide them to the plant in exchange for sugars and carbohydrates. We also harvest wild plants and fruits which grow in your environment and extract their vitality and essence through fermentation. We then apply them both as a foliar feed and a soil drench to provide optimal nutrition to the microbes and plants, completing the cycle. Aside from these naturally occurring sources, we use nothing that could be classified as a fertilizer, herbicide, or pesticide. We have found through extensive research, trial and error, and evaluation that a balanced and biodiverse environment does not support pathogenic or pest incursions. In fact, there has been evidence to the opposite – using fewer interventions than we would in a conventional methodology, we have obtained superior quality and yields. Using these methods of soil stewardship I have been able to drastically reduce my farm inputs while increasing my plant’s health and overall production, by increasing the fertility and biodiversity of my soil. The reaction that the indigenous ecosystem had when I began to implement these methods is incredible. Pollinator populations increased, pest and pathogen pressures decreased, yields increased, as well as the overall quality of my crops. I have seen this not only in my hemp/cannabis but also in my vegetables, bushes, and fruit trees.

Utilizing Korean Natural Farming, I have also been able to return my land to a no-till/ low-till regimen which has increased microbe populations and stability, especially fungal colonies. Tillage is one of the most destructive practices of conventional agriculture, as it breaks microbial colonies and exposes subterranean microbes to the atmosphere and UV radiation from the sun. This change has allowed us to increase and maintain our microbial populations year after year as well as reduce the labor and equipment needed for field preparation each season. This subsequently increases our profit margins by reducing overall operational expenses. Using the plant fermentations that we create from indigenous thriving plants replaces the fertilizers, pesticides, and fungicides used in conventional agriculture.

Korean Natural Farming fermentations extract the macro and micronutrients that plants growing in the area have gathered. One of the most common fermentations we make is a fermented plant juice (FPJ). We walk the property and local woods to find the most vigorous and healthy fresh growth we can, and then responsibly harvest some of the new shoots. One of the very best sources of fresh growth for an FPJ are those weeds that you’ve battled for years and are still growing strong (avoid poisonous or caustic plants). The plants that have adapted to the environment so well that they are thriving despite your best efforts, are the perfect food source for the crops you are growing in that same environment. We chop up the fresh growth (only one variety of plant) and mix it 50/50 by weight with brown sugar. Gently massage the mix together, slightly breaking the plant’s cell walls and evenly covering the surface area with sugar. Then place the mix in a mason jar, filling the jar full, and cover with a breathable barrier (cheesecloth or paper towel). If the plant used has high water content you may place a ¼ – ½ inch layer of sugar on top of the final preparation. This is called a sugar cap and is used to absorb excess water and reduce microbial activity. Place the jar in the dark, at room temperature, for 7 days to ferment. Then on the 8th day sieve the solids and retain the liquid, seal the jar and place it in a dark area to store until needed. This will later be diluted at a ratio of 1:500 with water and used in conjunction with other fermentations to feed the plants and microbes.

When we apply a foliar feeding or a soil drench of our fermentations, we are providing a plethora of nutrients, enzymes, fatty acids, proteins, and carbohydrates, which are a feast for the microbial colonies which directly feed our plants. Rather than guessing what we believe our plants will need or even worse reacting to a nutrient deficiency, we anticipate the next stage of growth based on the season and what the plant is telling us visually. Once a deficiency has visually presented itself the imbalance which caused it happened one to two weeks earlier and so trying to pinpoint a treatment becomes a tale of too little too late. Instead, we look at the growth stage the plant is entering about 2 weeks before it reaches that stage. We then treat the plant and soil with the fermentation regime for that stage of growth, providing the needs of the soil, microbes and therefore the plants. We do this to try and stay ahead of the curve and not be caught off guard by an unexpected nutrient deficiency. In general, even if a deficiency presents we look forward to what the next stage needs rather than trying to correct what has already gone wrong. We react by rebalancing the microbial network through an Indigenous Micro Organism inoculation and possibly a fermentation to provide a little extra vigor to them as they go about correcting the imbalances.

Having grown up on a small farm in Massachusetts, with a robust background in academics and medicine, my growing interest in hemp and cannabis cultivation led me to researching the current methods and best practices. With the personal experience of both my father’s cancer and the various ailments of several other family members, I became dedicated to finding better treatments. My involvement with Korean Natural Farming has revolutionized my approach to plant health and our gut health. As my knowledge increased, I decided to get involved in sharing with others. I have found my experience of learning from the soil and educating people to have been one of the most satisfying of my life. There is no greater gift than giving. The more we can educate the general populace on both holistic alternatives and sustainable agriculture, the more we can heal our ailing planet and ourselves.

“The meaning of life is to find your gift, the purpose of life is to give it away.”
-Picasso