Know Your Local Farmer: Alex Long of Topia Hemp Farm

Know Your Local Farmer: Alex Long of Topia Hemp Farm

The hemp and CBD industry in North Carolina and across the country has exploded in size over the last few years, allowing people the tremendous benefits of cannabis in its many forms, even in states like North Carolina, where THC-laden marijuana is not yet legal. For centuries, cannabis has been well-known for its industrial uses as a strong, environmentally sustainable fiber, as well as being a natural, non-addictive medicine for all kinds of ailments such as depression, anxiety, seizures, arthritis, nerve pain, and muscular pain.

Yesterday, October 24, 2019, the North Carolina State House and Senate came to an agreement on a Farm Act, known as Senate Bill 315, that would ban smokable hemp by June of next year. This bill has been strongly supported by local law enforcement agencies across NC, who claim that the lack of current regulations on smokable hemp “effectively legalizes” marijuana because it’s impossible for police officers to determine by sight or smell whether something is smokable hemp, which has a negligible THC content, or marijuana. This Farm Act is scheduled to be debated further on Monday, October 28th. If this is important to you, you can find contact information for your local state legislators here. This bill could be devastating to local farms like Topia, who have found a viable cash crop in cannabis. 

At the General Store, we know where our hemp and CBD products come from. They come from people like Alex Long of Topia Hemp Farm. You might have seen him shopping in the store. We know his name, we know his farming process and we know what’s in his hemp products. For our Rock n Roots CBD oil, even though it’s made in Colorado, we still know that it’s a small family farm with ties to North Carolina. We know who they are, and we know how they make their products, and how it aligns to our Saxapahaw values.

So please continue on, to read our interview with Alex from Topia Farm of Saxapahaw, and support your local farmers and your local stores who support local farmers.

Who owns or runs Topia Farm?

Our family owns and runs Topia.  Primarily myself (Alexander Long), Marijke Long, and Alison Davis (my fiance).

How long have you been in this area?

We have been in this area for around 25 years but purchased our current farm around 3 years ago.

The old “Iron Horse” row-cropper on display at the NC State Fairgrounds, owned by the Long family.

How long have you been farming? What were you farming before, and why did you make the decision to start farming hemp?

The three of us have not been farming long, but our family (Long and Wood) has been farming in North Carolina since shortly after Jamestown. There is an old “Iron Horse” row-cropper on display at the NC State Fairgrounds, which was donated by my great uncle.  My father’s generation left farming but something in our blood keeps calling us back.  Myself and one of my two sisters have both started farms.

Before hemp, we had already started with chickens, cows, horses, peppers, and fruit and nut trees.  We are continuing to pursue those farming avenues as well since we believe in the resilience and benefits of multi-dimensional farming and land stewardship.

We became interested in hemp because we were trying to build a hempcrete house but could not find a local source for the material.  The NC-based and other regional hempcrete companies we called on for months never called back.  We even looked into importing container-loads of the feedstock from Canada and Europe before we gave up due to the cost.  In that process, we started to ask a lot of questions, and we came across people who guided us towards hemp for CBD.  CBD-grade hemp has huge benefits and a multitude of uses.  We’re just now starting to learn and relearn everything it can do, and there are still lots of hurdles in the form of misguided legislation and cultural biases that need to be overcome before we can really get into researching and documenting the benefits of CBD.  That being said, the fiber uses of hemp totally eclipse the CBD uses.  Hemp has the potential to affect just about every industry: construction, medical, textiles, renewable energy, plastics… it’s already begun.  There are hempcrete houses in NC.  There is an FDA-approved hemp-based medication in circulation.  Some of the largest plastic molding companies in the world are looking into hemp-based plastics and additives.  We really want to be a part of it all.

Up close view of Topia’s Sunbeam Haze plant

How big is your farm and roughly how much hemp do you produce? How many different strains do you produce?

Our farm is 53 acres.  Around 20 acres are in permanent forest.  This year we grew 2500 plants on around 1/2 an acre.  Next year we hope to go up to around 10 acres if we can find a stable market for it all.  We grew one strain this year… a high-CBD boutique autoflower strain called Sunbeam Haze.  A few farms tried to grow it in NC, but apparently we were the only one who was successful.  Boutique hemp really needs A LOT of attention and care.  It’s not conducive to traditional row-cropping so a tremendous amount of farms have failed to grow high-quality flower.  Next year we hope to grow 6 strains.

Our dream is to have the land and equipment necessary to grow fiber-grade hemp in addition to CBD-grade, but realistically we’d need around 600 acres for the fiber-grade to make sense so we are a long-way off.

Where do you sell your product other than the Saxapahaw General Store?

We’re in 10 stores at the moment. They are in Greensboro, Graham, Pittsboro, Siler City, Durham, Hillsborough, and Raleigh.

What does farming mean to you?

It may sound cliche but we believe farming is the most honorable profession there is.  It feeds the soul, spirit, and the belly.  We believe that you have to grow and raise things in a holistic way to make holistic food… or holistic CBD.

Rows of plants at Topia Hemp Farm in Saxapahaw

What do you think sets Topia Farm apart? Can you describe your process to get the most out of your plants?

It really all comes down to attention. We plant every seed by hand. We check in on them and say nice things to them regularly while they’re growing.  We avoid additives, chemicals and fertilizers.  Yes that means we lost some to caterpillars, rabbits and grasshoppers, but that’s ok. We harvest when the individual plant is ready.  Not by row, but when each individual plant is perfectly ripe. We then dry, trim, cure, and package by hand in a carefully controlled environment. This means that we can catch problems if there are any, because someone visually inspects the flower 3-4 times throughout the harvesting process. Working by hand also means we preserve the crystals and bud integrity far better than if you use a powered bucker (separates flower from stalk) and powered trimmer (separates leaf from flower). It’s the crystals that you want, so you need to make sure you aren’t shaking them off.

The quality of the CBD in most stores is really bad. It’s not hard to tell the difference, just look at the flower.  If it’s brown or grey, don’t buy it.  If you don’t see crystals, don’t buy it. A lot of companies also spray stuff on their flower to make it smell stronger or better. That’s not good.  It gives people headaches and shouldn’t be allowed. We don’t spray anything and we inspect our flower batches with jewelers’ microscopes to make sure everything looks good.  You can do that too!

Also, don’t think the extracts are any better. If someone does a bad job growing or harvesting and produces a moldy, ugly looking flower, they’re going to sell it for oil or extract use.  Hemp is expensive to grow, they will need to recoup expenses. So seriously, know your farm, know your farmer, buy local.  It’s that simple. Oil and extracts are great if they’re made from good product.

What do you mean by “beyond organic”?

We’re not licensed organic. We hold ourselves to an even higher standard than that.  The organic label has started to regress as bigger and bigger players have gotten involved.  It’s not their fault.  People want “organic quality” at inorganic prices, so naturally, corners will be cut.  There are new labels being developed: ones like Biodynamic Agriculture, Regenerative Agriculture, Permaculture.  We align ourselves way more with those cutting-edge labels.  They are way beyond organic so that’s why we use the term “beyond organic.” Once again, what’s important here is to know your farm, know your farmer, buy local.  It’s that simple.

Hand-picked Sunbeam Haze from Topia Hemp Farm

What do you hope for the future of hemp farming in NC or in the US as a whole? 

We really hope hemp continues to be an opportunity for people to bring care back into cultivation. Hemp for fiber can be done on a large scale, and hopefully, NC tobacco farmers will take part of that on, but CBD-grade hemp is a very sensitive plant and production process. We hope that consumers appreciate the difference between CBD produced with care and mass-market stuff.  If they do, then hemp will continue to get better and better, if they don’t then it’ll all end up being grown on a few big farms like most other things.