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Hands On Hemp – Sterling College Offers A Higher Education In CBD

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Rob Williams 16 Aug 2018

“This course is dope.”

Smiling at her pun, forty-something-year old Lauren (she asked me not to use her full name) tells me she traveled from Massachusetts to the small Vermont town of Craftsbury to join nine other students getting their hands on hemp as part of Sterling College’s week-long Healing Hemp: Cannabidiol from Field to Product course.

Vermont’s historic new personal use cannabis legislation, which went into effect on July 1, 2018, now makes it easier to experiment with growing hemp. Under the auspices of their School of the New American Farmstead continuing education program, Sterling College is the first Vermont institution of higher education to offer a one-week immersion course focused on the entrepreneurial pursuit of growing and making value-added products from this cannabidiol-rich plant.

That Sterling is offering this course course is, perhaps, no surprise, given that the college has long prided itself on its hands-on curriculum, which balances classroom pedagogy with active, get-your-feet-in-the-soil projects that train students in real world agriculture pursuits such as food, farming, and land management.

This ground-breaking week long hemp/CBD course is taught by farmer and Sterling alum Kyle Gruter-Curham of Creek Valley Cannabidiol. The affable, bearded, 32-year-old instructor is supported by friend, business partner, and fellow alum Nicholas Augsberger, former Sterling College livestock manager, who serves as the course’s teaching assistant, “which means I do everything from making copies to answering questions about the finer points of CBD,” he laughs.

“It’s a quiet thing,” he notes, gesticulating in the air with his fork, “but with legalization now a reality here in Vermont, cannabis and hemp growers are starting to connect. It’s exciting.”

As I chat with the instructors over lunch in the Sterling College dining hall, surrounded by delicious food and conversational chatter from folks at  other tables, I can’t help but think that I’m looking at the future of Vermont farming. This dynamic duo’s excitement for hemp is palpable and their belief in CBD infectious, especially given their personal circumstances.

“My younger sister has a seizure disorder, and used to suffer from 20 small seizures every day,” explains Gruter-Curham. “I know this sounds hard to believe, but when we shifted her medication over to CBD oil, she went an entire year in remission – without a single seizure.”

His sister’s experience with CBD’s healing properties helped convince the young farmer to shift his Irasburg-based operations from lamb, pigs and garlic to hemp, particularly as Vermont moved to legalize first medical, then personal use cannabis, and formalized the regulations around growing hemp.

“This Sterling College class will be valuable for people looking to get into CBD, whether they are looking to grow it or make products out of it,” says Gruter-Curham. “I look forward to sharing the knowledge and skills I have learned over many years in the industry. This class will also provide opportunities to hear from and network with some of Vermont’s finest in the business.”

“This feels almost unreal to me,” he muses. “All this work we cannabis activists and growers been doing in secret is finally coming into the light.”

Sitting next to him over lunch, Augsburger shares Gruter-Curham’s excitement about their new course. “In this industry, you don’t get much background in both farming and cannabis, and I am able to offer our students both areas of expertise.” As we eat, he cites his experience working with Pete’s Greens, Stone Grill Garden, and now with Kyle as they ramp up their cannabis grow operation in Vermont’s NEK.

“The best thing about this course,” says Augsburger, is the open public dialogue and sharing of information now taking place. “It’s a quiet thing,” he notes, gesticulating in the air with his fork, “but with legalization now a reality here in Vermont, cannabis and hemp growers are starting to connect. It’s exciting.”

The course syllabus is ambitious, offering students a historical and cultural background in cannabis and hemp (Day 1), a “hands on” overview of hemp growing and processing at their farm operation (Days 2 and 3), and dialogue with a variety of guest speakers steeped in the cannabis industry, including Eli Harrington of Heady Vermont, Eric Kawka, M.S., and Will Read from CannaPlanners (Days 4 and 5).

After lunch, I talk with the students as they prepare to jump back on the van for the thirty minute ride from Sterling’s Craftsbury campus back to the farm. “My family runs a hemp farm in Barton,” says 19-year-old Camden Devereux, the course’s youngest student. “Learning how different cannabinoids work together and how leaving plants in their natural state changes turpenes – it’s really informative.”

New Hampshire resident and cannabis caregiver Daniel Elwood Stockell Jr. (who insists I use his full name) agrees, citing his use of cannabis as daily medication to boost his health. “This feels almost unreal to me,” he muses. “All this work we cannabis activists and growers been doing in secret is finally coming into the light.”

I wave goodbye to the class as the van pulls out of the Sterling College campus, ducking left around the Craftsbury green, and then heading north towards cannabis country. Ten more people being trained in the art of hemp and cannabis cultivation – an activity that, only six weeks ago here in Vermont, was illegal.

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