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Sponsor Spotlight: MONTKUSH – Doing It For Devon

Photo copyright John Chapple / www.JohnChapple.com
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Kathryn Blume 31 Aug 2019

Editor’s Note: This spotlight was written as part of a paid business partnership.

MONTKUSH founder Anthony Sullivan didn’t plan on becoming a Vermont hemp farmer. A resident of St. Petersburg, Florida, he’d spent a successful 20 years in TV production, and wading through spring mud in Plainfield while living off Positive Pie pizza and Switchback Ale was the farthest thing from his mind.

But then, there was Devon.

Sullivan’s 8 year-old daughter suffers from a rare genetic disorder, so rare it doesn’t even have a name. But in her short life, Devon has had heart surgery, ongoing cognitive issues, challenges with eating, been on supplemental oxygen and had aggressive seizure-like episodes.

Anthony and Devon Sullivan. Photo copyright John Chapple.

Doctors put the little girl on Kepra for the seizures, but the medication “stripped her of her personality,” says Sullivan, who adds, “I hated what I saw.”

Distraught, Sullivan and Devon’s mother (since separated), started looking at CBD treatments, battling Devons neurologist in the process. While it took several months to get Devon off Kepra, her health has improved and her vivacious personality is back in force.

About the same time as Devon was transitioning to CBD, Sullivan happened to visit Vermont and was taken to visit a hemp farm. Standing in the middle of a field of cannabis plants in full bloom was a transformational moment for him, and, he says, “I felt the call.” For whatever reason, Sullivan decided he had to grow hemp on a commercial scale.

“It called me,” he says. “This is what I have to do.”

Sullivan never even considered finding a way to farm in another – perhaps more climatically temperate – state like South Carolina or Kentucky. Vermont he says, “just felt right.”

Anthony Sullivan and Dave Christian. Photo copyright John Chapple.

Knowing that realizing his dream would be impossible without an equally devoted and capable business partner, Sullivan turned to his old friend Dave Christian, whom he’d met doing the EcoChallenge expedition race in 2002. Sullivan was under no illusions that launching a hemp business from the literal ground up would be easy, and Christian was someone with whom he’d already survived plenty of tough situations.

Christian had the added bonus of coming from the commercial flood mitigation industry, and already had a deep understanding of cannabis-related issues like relative humidity, positive pressure, evacuation of air, and moisture content. “Dave knows how to stabilize temp and relative humidity of a building like nobody else,” says Sullivan.

The two men took a road trip through Vermont in search of potential properties for their business. After rejecting dozens of sites, they finally found a 116-acre piece of land on the side of Spruce Mountain, near Plainfield, which had been serving as a contract farm growing sorghum.

“We closed immediately,” says Sullivan, “got our hemp license right away, formed a partnership, and decided to go organic. We didn’t even know how to do it. But,” he adds, “we decided to learn.”

“There’s a lot of shit CBD out there. It’s olive or coconut oil with nothing in it. We want to be authentic and have top quality products.”

With no infrastructure on the property, they also bought an Airstream trailer, and started formulating a plan, relying heavily on advice from local community members.

“Everybody welcomed us,” says Sullivan. “Nobody said we couldn’t do it. They told us what we needed.”

By late April, they’d built their first greenhouse and, in spite of melting manure and dubious farmhands, were preparing their first hand-seeded crop of 75,000 plants – though because of the wet spring, they weren’t able to get the plants into the ground until July. Sullivan says throughout the process he’d “never been more excited, never been more afraid.”

Anthony Sullivan and Dave Christian in their greenhouse.

They’ve since received their organic certification, and converted the greenhouses over for drying using a proprietary, “Dave-Powered” process. Sullivan and Christian have also purchased a 10,000 square foot former ice factory in Plainfield, where they’ll be able to dry and store their product at scale.

Their commercial plans include selling some hemp wholesale, making isolate, and developing their own retail line of CBD products.

“I have no interest in doing gas station/drugstore CBD,” says Sullivan. “There’s a lot of shit CBD out there. It’s olive or coconut oil with nothing in it. We want to be authentic and have top quality products.” Sullivan brings his primary inspiration for creating the business back around to his daughter, for whom their parent company, Devonia Farms, is named. “She’s not going to benefit from cheap, crappy gas station products.”

Sullivan also states clearly that his hands-on approach has been quite intentional. “It’s very important to me to have a farm,” he says. “It’s easy to white label something. It’s another thing to make your own product, and have real appreciation for what it takes and what goes into it. I have to make sure,” he adds, “this makes it into the hands of people in good condition. I don’t want to rush it. I’d rather do it right than do it fast.”

Devon and Squanto. Photo copyright John Chapple.

Additionally, Sullivan knows that he’s not alone in his passion, and that it’s ultimately the power of the cannabis plant itself which is attracting resources and people – a power he witnesses every day.

“People go up the mountain in one state of mind, and come down in another, with big smiles on their face. When you go up in those fields,” he says, “magic is going to happen.”

MONTKUSH is a Title Sponsor for Hemp Fest.

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