The operators of a new CBD shop are looking to revitalize small Vermont farms while offering customers a natural method of pain relief.

Douglas Bell opened CBD Vermont this week in Waterbury Center, where customers will be able to procure products, learn about CBD use and see exactly how the product is made.

“The retail shop is a bit of an afterthought,” said Bell, a Middlesex resident who previously lived in Maine for 30 years. “When we were looking for an extraction site, we looked at facilities all over the place. One thing Waterbury likes is to incorporate retail and light industrial.”

CBD refers to cannabidiol, a component of cannabis that lacks the psychoactive properties that make the user intoxicated; instead, CBD offers users pain relief, and can be applied topically or ingested in an array of methods.

During the past week, Bell has divided his time between his shop and the 14 farms around the state where local farmers have been growing hemp — a non-psychoactive form of cannabis — on behalf of his business.

In the spring, Bell gave each farmer as many as 1,000 hemp plants to grow.

“They have signed a contract for a set price, regardless of how they grow, which puts the farmer in a good place,” Bell said. “It’s a healthy and sustainable project, and we’re paying the farmers a substantial increase in what they can get per acre. We’re really interested in keeping small farms alive.”

Currently, shelves at the store are filled with Vermont-sourced CBD oils from other producers. However, Bell plans to process his incoming harvest and produce his own oil.

Getting greener

CBD Vermont is the second shop of its sort to open in the area in recent weeks. In September, Elevated State VT opened its doors in Stowe.

The new businesses are part of a statewide trend, according to Eli Harrington, co-founder of Heady Vermont, which advocates for cannabis in the state.

“From Bennington to Brattleboro, all the way up to the Northeast Kingdom, you’re seeing more and more CBD retailers,” Harrington said. At least 10 shops in the state are dedicated to CBD retail, with many more expected, he said.

“From 2017 to 2018, we’ve seen the number of hemp cultivation permits increase from 100 to 400,” Harrington said. “You can’t overstate the growth of this industry, and these places showcase Vermont products, from the field to the retail floor.”

Challenges and opportunities

Like other hemp cultivators around the state, Bell has had to deal with vandalism and theft of his plants.

“It was some rookie who didn’t know what he was doing,” Bell said of a recent incident. “It didn’t look like he was a very coordinated or experienced thief. There was some breakage because they used a saw that wouldn’t cut through the plant. I found the broken saw and one cut plant. The rest had been snapped off. It was really kind of stupid.”

Last month, police responded to the theft of hemp plants from Gaylord Farms in Waitsfield, and from another farm in Waterbury. It is unclear if the thieves are targeting the farms because they mistakenly believe the plants contain THC, or if they hope to sell the plants to customers who don’t know any better.

Either way, the thefts illustrate the need for education, a component that CBD Vermont will offer. In addition to watching how CBD is extracted from hemp, visitors to the store can learn how it can be used.

“My goal for the space is to have people just come in and talk about why they’re using CBD and share their experiences,” said Julianne Stemp, who divides her time between the shop and the field, and who envisions classes being offered on everything from aromatherapy to cooking with CBD-infused olive oil.

“I consider this company to be a mission-based company. We want to advance regenerative and sustainable farming in Vermont,” said Mike Crowley, managing partner of CBD Vermont. “We’re also all about health, and we see those two pieces going hand in hand.”

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