With emergency rules in place for New Mexico’s first hemp harvest in generations, a small farm hopes to position itself as a leader in the industry with its artisanal approach.

Road Runner CBD is based in Torrance County, where the harvest is now underway. Owners Bob Boylan and Kyle Blanks talked about the uses of hemp and cannabis, along with the satisfaction they gain by small-scale farming with an eye for detail.

Road Runner sells CBD products on its website, and also sells those products wholesale, working with massage therapists and other health professionals—and is working on a clearinghouse for hemp sales.

Their artisanal approach means hand tending every plant, doing their own expression of CBD from their plants using a press, and making their own products, in what Boylan describes as a “totally vertically integrated” hemp operation.

A google search for “artisan farming” yielded over 11 million results.

Artisanal agricultural operations produce everything from foie gras to ancient rainbow-hued corn. There are websites dedicated to helping others create an artisan farm. In its simplest form, artisan farming is a return to older, smaller-scale farming, with a modern emphasis on sustainability. It is a global phenomenon.

With the legalization of industrial hemp at the federal level, Boylan and Blanks saw an opportunity and a niche market.

The difference between Road Runner’s hemp and resulting CBD and more industrially farmed products is analogous to the difference between an unripe tomato from the grocery store and an heirloom variety from the farmer’s market.

Road Runner offers CBD tinctures, salves and CBD oil capsules, along with CBD body lotion through its website, and its products are also available wholesale.

In addition, the pair have plans to open Verve Botanicals in Edgewood near Tractor Supply, carrying their products and others, including wholesale of a limited run of fresh hemp flowers—which Boylan likened to “a very high-end artisan brewery with a very specific niche,” adding, “Our niche is artisan handcrafted goods.”

He explained, “Everything we do is time-consuming and very hands-on and very craftsy, not blowing through hundreds of pounds and producing the most you can fast—that is not our policy. We have 7 acres here and we have over 200 acres of accessible property for cultivation if we want it. We want to make sure that what we’re putting out is the best. Not some of the best, but the best.”

Boylan is enthusiastic not only about hemp, but about the medical benefits of cannabis. He said he was diagnosed with PTSD and looking for a way to avoid pharmaceuticals. He sees education as part of Road Runner’s mission.

“We’re going full circle again and now we’re back to the point where we’re starting to see the medicinal value [of cannabis] and natural things,” Boylan said.

Boylan’s background includes growing roses and berries in his native Iowa, and he is a master gardener, he said. His degree is in kinesiology, he said. He and Lori Boylan partnered with Blanks grow “artisan full spectrum CBD production provid[ing] a wellness alternative to pharmacology in the current era of opioid crisis.”

Kyle Blanks taking a break from harvesting to talk about farming artisanal hemp in Torrance County. Photo by Leota Harriman.

Blanks was a professional baseball player who graduated from Moriarty High School. He started using CBD for pain from injuries and surgery.

He was drafted by the San Diego Padres, after that playing for the Oakland Athletics, Texas Rangers, and San Francisco Giants.

“You know we’ve lost professional baseball players who recently died of opiates and alcohol, so you know, this is a really good time in our culture to revisit this conversation, to be very serious about it and stop the old-school dogma of the Nixon years,” Boylan said. He said it’s time to stop “demonizing something that’s a natural plant.”

Blanks said, “A very tragic situation just happened and I’m really trying to expose that it is very common. … Unfortunately it’s because the stigma is involved and guys are very scared to just use a natural solution because of the backlash.”

The pair were referring to the recent death of Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs, who died as a result of opioids and alcohol June 30, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Blanks said professional players fearing the loss of their jobs keep quiet about cannabis because it is prohibited. “There’s just simply not an option, you have no option except to use pharmacology and alcohol, especially in the minor leagues,” he said.

When he was diagnosed with PTSD, Boylan said, “During that time I was very upset with the only thing that they offered was pharmacology. … I started seeking out what can I do as an alternative. I wanted to make sure that it was something that was wellness based.”

He said he realized that he was self-medicating PTSD with cannabis “and then got more proactive … to make this a part of my diet, my daily regimen, and change that mindset about this is not a drug, this is a food.”

He continued, “It kind of put me on a crusade. … Stop the silly. I don’t tell you not to take a shower, I don’t tell you not to drink your coffee or drink your beer—you really should not probably tell me if I want to use a plant to care for myself. You should see that’s really out of line.”

For his part, Blanks, who was trimming flowers during the interview, said he enjoys this method of hemp production because it requires a level of focus that reminds him of professional baseball.

The plants are grown above ground in plastic bags that will be reused and repurposed next season. Ragweed grows about knee-high between the containers. Both of those things help to conserve water—the farm uses drip irrigation which Boylan said is one of the things that keeps the plants from growing “hot,” meaning in excess of 3% THC—and the ragweed helps keep the roots at a cool and steady temperature.

That TCH content is the difference between hemp and marijuana; if the plants were determined to be a higher content, the plants would be illegal and destroyed by the state, Boylan said. The farm had its crop tested and was given a green light for harvest, he said.

Boylan said the challenge is to “get that message out there” on the many uses of the plant. “This plant isn’t a drug, this plant offers medicinal value, this plant offers infrastructure in Hempcrete, it offers sustainability and the fact that you can use its waste to set the next year’s crop in motion with no energy usage.”

Emergency rules by the N.M. Environment Department went into effect Aug. 1 on how to label, transport or store the hemp crop this year.

According to a press release from the Environment Department, as of Aug. 1 three applications for hemp permits had been received. Its website lists four permitted facilities currently, one of them Verve Botanicals, LLC. The other three are located in Radium Springs, Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

The emergency rules will be in place for no more than 180 days, according to NMED. Final rules, which will include public input, are expected to be in place by early 2020.

Permits are $1,000 for a hemp extraction facility, a hemp manufacturing facility or a hemp warehouse, according to the rules.

A kilogram of CBD is valued at about $5,000, Boylan said, although when asked how many plants or how many acres it takes to yield a kilogram, he said there were too many factors to estimate.

Talking about the different strains of hemp, Boylan said he is looking to the future when he anticipates an operation like Road Runner CBD will be able to cross hemp lines with higher levels of THC than are now allowed.

As for Road Runner’s artisanal approach, Boylan said he could plant 1,500 plants on an acre and “sell giant bags of biomass” for other companies to extract CBD “because I know that if they see that kind of product and then they have our product, there will be a distinguishable difference that doesn’t have to be hyped by me—the product itself will do that.”