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Trouble In Paradise: Zack Woods Herb Farm And CBD-Vermont

Melanie and Jeff Carpenter with their daughter Lily.
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Kathryn Blume 31 Dec 2019

Of all the charismatic stories from the world of Vermont cannabis in 2019, one of the most startling was the implosion of Waterbury’s CBD-Vermont, and the arrest of its founder and CEO Doug Bell for failing to pay at least 10 local hemp farmers with whom he had growing agreements.

One of those farmers, Jeff Carpenter, runs Zack Woods Herb Farm in Hyde Park with Melanie Carpenter, his wife of 23 years. They’ve been a certified organic farm for 20 years, and grow medicinal herbs for herbal supplement manufacturing.

On the recommendation of mutual acquaintances, Bell contacted the Carpenters in early 2018, sharing with them his plan to contract 10 farms to grow 2 acres each of hemp, which he would harvest and make into oil, which would be sold for a premium on the international market.

Hemp growing at Zack Woods Farm. Image courtesy of Jeff Carpenter.

The Carpenters were enthusiastic about Bell’s plans, which were in line with their mission of agricultural sustainability. They agreed to participate, and recommended another half dozen farms which they thought would be good partners in the project.

The CBD-Vermont warehouse. Image courtesy of Jeff Carpenter.

Challenges with Bell began in the spring when the hemp plants were delivered late, and didn’t size up well. But all of the growers got paid after the 2018 harvest, which is why they agreed to participate again this year.

More warning signs popped up around mid-summer after a couple key CBD-Vermont employees quit, and the Carpenters learned that none of the oil from the 2018 harvest had been sold, and that Bell hadn’t purchased the extraction equipment he’d been planning to have on site at his Waterbury facility.

By fall, with harvest time approaching, the Carpenters hadn’t heard from Bell about when he was planning to come out and harvest the plants, nor had he ever tested them for THC levels to ensure their legality and commercial viability.

“He kept lying and stringing everyone along. We were led to believe that everything was going well.”

As fall drew on, the Carpenters encouraged Bell to come out to their farm and borrow their employees to facilitate the harvest, which he did, eventually taking them to harvest at 2 other partner hemp farms. While the workers got paid for their time in the field, none of the farmers ever got paid, and most never got their plants harvested. While some farmers demanded, and received, checks from Bell, all the checks bounced. All told, Bell owes half a million dollars to his partner farms.

“One grower planted 8 acres for CBD Vermont and is owed $200,000. I can’t imagine being in that position.”

My intuition tells me that [Bell] went into it with good intentions,” says Jeff Carpenter. “He hired great people and opened a store.” But, says Carpenter, “he failed to find a buyer for the oil. And he kept telling everyone he was selling the oil at a high price. He kept lying and stringing everyone along. We were led to believe that everything was going well.”

Unharvested hemp at Zack Woods Farm. Image courtesy of Jeff Carpenter.

The financial impact for all the contracted farmers has been significant. “The $25,000 we lost on one acre of hemp for CBD-Vermont is a lot of money and a big hit financially,” says Jeff Carpenter, “but fortunately we had 11 more acres of our farm planted in other crops that we have sold and been paid for. Unfortunately,” he adds, “one grower planted 8 acres for CBD Vermont and is owed $200,000. I can’t imagine being in that position.”

Bell was arrested on December 18, and is being held on $100,000 bail. His next court date is scheduled for Feb. 24.

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