Successful hemp harvest in Emma has farmer touting crop’s viability in Roaring Fork Valley

One of Pitkin County’s first hemp crops of the modern era, if not ever, was successfully harvested this week.

Raphael Fasi got a little help from his friends to harvest hemp from a 4-acre field in the heart of Emma. Fasi decided to experiment to see how hemp would do on a small farm owned by his wife’s family. He and helpers hand-planted 7,000 seedlings in the spring. The results were stellar, he said while taking a break Monday from the labor-intensive harvesting process.

“We did well. We had a few weak zones,” Fasi said. “Most things will grow well up here. You just have a shorter growing season and you really have to watch the Weather Channel.”

Some drip lines plugged up, stunting the growth of plants in a couple of small patches. Multiple frosts curled a few leaves but didn’t cause any serious damage. However, some of the plants soared to 6 feet high despite the relatively short growing season.

Fasi and his business partner, Connor Corgiat, have been growing hemp for four years as SIRH Farms. Fasi has developed an eye for how a crop is faring.

“Just looking at it, we’re close to 2,000 pounds per acre,” Fasi said while scanning the Emma field on Monday. “That’s right on par with everybody.”

SIRH Farms also grows hemp in Silt. The crop fared just as well in Emma as in the lower climate of the Colorado River Valley, he said. In fact, a September snowstorm created more problems in Silt than in Emma. His crew in Silt had to take emergency action.

“They attached two brooms to their dirt bikes and whacked all the plants as they drove up and down the rows,” Fasi said.

The hemp has three uses. First, Fasi and four colleagues targeted the plants with the densest nuggets and cut them by hand. The cuttings are fed to an automated trimmer called a Munch Machine that chews up the stems and leaves and leaves a flower. The process is called bucking. The model of Munch Machine that Fasi uses is the Mother Bucker.

The remaining flowers will be dried and sold to shops as smoking material. The hemp is in high demand for smoking for its cannabinoid medicinal uses.

“We’re taking the best of the best,” Fasi said.

The majority of plants in the field — those that aren’t targeted for smoking material — are hand cut and loaded into a wagon pulled behind a tractor. Those plants are placed in the sun for several days to dry out. They will be sold for extraction of CBDs for use in products such as oils, balms, tinctures and edibles.

That leaves the stalks, which Fasi will try to sell. Last year, a rancher purchased them for clippings to line stalls in a horse barn.

In the U.S., the level of THC, the psychoactive ingredient that gives marijuana the “high,” must be at or lower than 0.3% in hemp.

“I got tested. The state came out and these were at 0.21, so we cleared the test,” Fasi said. “Everything’s right on board, which is always feels good. You’re always nervous because it looks like weed but I know it’s not.”

The federal government decriminalized hemp in the 2018 Farm Bill, allowing transport across state lines and vastly expanding markets. Colorado allowed growing hemp prior to the feds. Pitkin County said three permits for growing hemp were issued by the Colorado Department of Agriculture this year, including SIRH Farms.

Fasi said the CBD level in his Emma hemp field measured between 15 and 19%, which he was pleased with.

The hemp has a similar smell to marijuana. The sweet aroma is noticeable when first exiting a vehicle next to the field, but it wasn’t overpowering and seemed to dissipate in the breeze.

Fasi said several neighbors have stopped by to investigate and some say they might try growing hemp next year. He intends to plant hemp again next year, assuming Pitkin County doesn’t take action to limit hemp cultivation. The Emma neighborhood caucus took a stand against hemp growing in a recent survey.

Fasi said he would avoid any political fight. He’s willing to share information about his operation to anyone that is curious. He thinks it is a viable and profitable crop for the Roaring Fork Valley’s remaining farmers and agricultural landowners.

“We’ve been in business now four years,” he said. “We’ve done everything by the book. I think they’re starting to weed out the bad farms out there.”