In order to learn more about the maturing industry of CBD, it’s important to bring it back to where it all begins: the farm. This episode’s guest is Kevin Jahnke, the treasurer of the South Central Hemp Cooperative.
Kevin and his family are involved in the first stages of producing hemp used to create quality CBD products as part of a Co-op. Listen along to learn about the community South Central Hemp has established over the years and the farming practices they employ to create trustworthy products.
Insights From The Episode
- How Kevin’s background in natural farming led his family to grow hemp.
- How the South Central Hemp co-op functions effectively.
- What makes the South Central Hemp Cooperative relatable to customers compared to larger companies.
- Why Wisconsin is a great place to grow hemp.
- Why buying locally can foster community, and how it can help farmers.
- What sustainable practices South Central Hemp Cooperative utilizes.
- What skeptics should consider about CBD, according to Kevin’s previous experiences.
- What the future entails for CBD, as well as for the South Central Hemp Cooperative.
Resources & Links From The Episode
- Farming – Climate Wisconsin.
- Organic No-Till – Rodale Institute.
- What Is A Co-op? – National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International.
Connect With The Guest
- South Central Hemp (website)
- South Central Hemp on Facebook
- South Central Hemp on Instagram
- South Central Hemp on LinkedIn
About South Central Hemp Cooperative
Founded in 2019, South Central Wisconsin Hemp Cooperative is a producer-led Co-op focused on growing and marketing the highest quality Certified Organic Hemp throughout South Central Wisconsin. Originally a dairy farm, the Jahnke Family Farm converted a portion of their greenhouse to house hemp seedlings. South Central Hemp partners with Good Earth Enterprisses, LLC to produce quality, organically-grown CBD hemp. All members of South Central Hemp Cooperative serve a unique and important role and are dedicated to providing well-made hemp to the world.
Scott: Hey, what’s going on everybody? Scott with “The CBD Guide” podcast here and welcome to another episode. So excited about this one. We’re going to be talking about hemp farming and all sorts of exciting things. And I’m joined by Kevin Jahnke of the Jahnke Farm, and he is also a member of the South Central hemp Co-op. He’s the treasurer, and they’re located in Wisconsin. So we’re gonna be talking about, really, I think just diving into all that that entails. Kevin, welcome to the show.
Kevin: Hey, thanks for having me.
Scott: How are you doing on this… I’m located in Chicago here, it’s gotten chillier all of a sudden. How’s it for you up there in Wisconsin?
Kevin: Yeah, it’s beautiful weather here. It’s been a roller coaster all summer with lots of high heat and no rain at times. I’m a dairy farmer and a CBD grower and so my life kinda hinges on weather. So yeah, it’s been a roller coaster ride, but it’s beautiful weather out now, and I’m happy to be able to be outside.
Scott: That’s fantastic. So you’ve been managing the Jahnke family farm with your family since 1991. And I want to know because that’s just so cool doing that as your work and your career, how did you first discover hemp specifically, though, and realize that it was something you wanted to produce on your farm? Because you mentioned you’re a dairy farmer, how do you make that kind of leap to hemp?
Kevin: Well, actually, there was multiple things that led me to hemp. So, destiny. But just to kind of back way way up, I’m like the fifth generation on our farm and we’ve really been organic since the late ’70s, early ’80s when my dad quit growing row crops on our farm and at times have been bringing pasture, and grazing different stuff. So at an early age going on the farm, I just always saw the benefit of things that were natural, and you know, ecosystems that work with human intervention. And so anytime that you create a natural environment just everything within that ecosystem works. And so when CBD started to come out in the news and I’d hear about it, you know, about how as an organic farm, we already utilized a lot of different herbs and herbal medicines on my cows, my kids, my family, myself, CBD to me immediately, I just understood it was another one of nature’s great medicinal plants among thousands of others.
And so that was that. And then secondly, I’ve been a farmer my whole life, my body is short, so I have a 55-year-old body that needs surgery on two shoulders, a hip, a back, and a knee. And unlike a lot of jobs, I can’t take vacation days from farming because I’m the man, I do it all, along with my family. But I mean, I’m just saying that I can’t take a day off. I’m the guy that’s got to go out and make sure that cows get fed and things happen. So pain was irrelevant. And so, every time I took CBD, and you know, was amazed at how well it worked at relieving pain, I also noticed that I slept good and so that was the second connection. And thirdly, the connection was just…years ago, farms were successful because of their diversification. You know, farms would have female cows, they’d have some beef cows, they’d have some chickens, and whatever. And so whenever a market’s up or down the farm was diversified enough that they could remain profitable.
And so unfortunately the mentality of big ag these days is, “go big or get out.” And I had no intention of getting big on our farm, and so this led me to being a small organic farmer belonging to another co-op called Organic Valley, which I’m very proud to be able to put a plug out there to your listeners. If anybody listening is an organic consumer, look for Organic Valley because we are the real deal, farmers led by farmers, policed by farmers. We police ourselves and make sure that we have the highest integrity. And so that kind of led over to my checking of hemp.
So I was at a meeting a couple of years ago at hemp meeting and I ran into a lady that I had sold some bull calves to a long time ago. And she happened to be growing hemp. She told me that her and a couple of people were interested in forming a co-op, and asked if I’d be interested. And so I have a long history with co-ops living in rural America, and so I just immediately just told her, “Yeah, I’m in.” And so all of those factors is what led us to growing hemp on our farm.
Scott: Right, it’s so many different things and it’s such a natural progression. And I love, too, that you also have that kind of personal experience with, like, CBD helping you out just from the pain standpoint and sleeping a little better. It’s just all the signs just the lining to say, “Hey, maybe this is something you should be growing on your farm and make it a part of what you’re doing?” You mentioned you ran into someone who was doing hemp and wanting to do a co-op, and that’s the South Central Hemp Co-op, and you serve on the board of directors, what’s really the story behind South Central Hemp as a producer-led cooperative? What’s your mission when all you farmers are gathering together and forming this co-op?
Kevin: You know, the biggest thing I think for all of us is just the support of each other and trying to navigate our way in literally what everybody calls, you know, the wild west of hemp. There’s no rules, there’s not a lot of regulation. And so, immediately we knew that as very small growers, that with the influx of huge companies with investment dollars behind coming in Wisconsin and planting thousands of acres, that each us, being a small grower, there was no way that we could…well, first of all, there’s no way that we could even buy seed unless we were buying minimum quantities. The very first thing our co-op allowed us to do was have access to the seed and the genetics. So we buy within the whole co-op to get the seeds that we wanted, and plus it offered us a chance to grow multiple varieties because we could share those minimum orders.
But secondly, it’s hopefully going to allow us to have a better position in the market, just as a voice. So you know, each one of us, individually, we’d end up competing against each other. Collectively, we can work with each other. And so that’s really what it’s all about. And when you look further into the mission of any co-op, you know, one of the seven principles behind a co-op is to help out other co-ops. So we’ve been overwhelmed by the reach out of other co-ops across the country that are doing similar things, and we as our own co-op continue to reach out and look for partners that can help us in this endeavor.
Scott: It’s so important, and I want to dial in on it a little bit because you were alluding to it. With the rise of CBD products and others and all this focus on hemp, more and more people are really turning their attention and realizing the benefits that hemp can offer, which can mean more competition, challenges for keeping up with production, you get these huge players, all this kind of stuff. And then you have the challenge of just breaking through the noise and reaching people. So what have been some of your keys to success both as a hemp farmer and as a member of a co-op that’s selling CBD oil products and actually creating things and trying to reach folks with them?
Kevin: Well, so one of the advantages to starting small is that the customers met us so that’s the real benefit that our co-op has over the big companies is we’ve got a good story, we’re real, we have integrity, we’re affordable. Beyond that, we’re just doing the right thing to good people. And so really our mission is to allow farmers to, you know, receive a fair price for the crops that they grow on their farm, which in turn allows us to market it to consumers at a fair price, and so it’s a win-win for all. So we just do that, you know, and keep telling our story, you know, that advantage to help us continue to stick around. I mean, really, that’s…our motto in the last couple of years here is, just still being here next year is a win.
There’s just so many companies that have came and gone in the last two years that thought this was going to be a goldmine. And we’re not in it for the money necessarily, we’re just in it for the overall good it can do for our farms and our communities. And I just feel that if we can just take their story out there, that no matter what kind of problems somebody has, probably CBD can help you for it.
Scott: You mentioned like the story and I find over and over, when I talk to folks in the CBD world that are really finding that success, so many people, they attach to those stories and they’re inspired by them. And when we talk about whatever these products are, they help people with wellness, with just living day-to-day, and not feeling pain, sleeping better, these types of things. It’s just such a powerful message. It makes sense to me that you and folks that are part of your co-op that’s really what’s resonated.
I want to shift gears because, as I mentioned, I’m a Chicagoan, and living so close to Wisconsin, I was really excited to come across a whole co-op of hemp farmers in the state just to my North here, because I feel like there’s a lot of this…so if you go and pull random people around the country, they might assume that all the hemp is being grown in California and Oregon, and you know, in other places. They wouldn’t necessarily think, “Oh, Wisconsin, that’s a good place for hemp.” What about Wisconsin’s land and weather and maybe even community make it so great for farming hemp that people might not be familiar with?
Kevin: Well, I think one of the big things is just in Wisconsin here, since we’re in the middle of the Corn Belt, is that we’ve got great weather to grow things. We’ve got a pretty climate summer, we get adequate rainfall, good sun, it’s not too hot, not too cold. That’s good for hemp. The other cool thing about hemp is that because we’re harvesting the oil that those plants produce as a defense, you get high temperatures and cold temperatures at night and all the fluctuations in humidity and heat and things like that stresses plants, so you can actually improve the growth and terpene content of the plant just by the dresses, that they are exposed to while growing. So that’s one aspect of it. And the other thing that’s probably not known is that most of Wisconsin actually has a long history dating back to the early 1900s of growing hemp. So in the World War I and II days, Wisconsin was, I think, the number one state in the country for producing hemp for this.
Kevin: The other thing is, there’s a very good reason that hemp and, pot, and marijuana all is referred to as weed, it generally grows like one. So growing up as a kid, there was always wild hemp plants growing around just because of those seeds that his plants, seed to seed every year from the early 1900s. And it’s that across the whole southern part of Wisconsin. So I’m a big trout fisherman in my off time with the dairy farm. And I sneak off and visit little trail streams around. And I’m just amazed now, that when I look for it, how many wild hemp plants you see growing all over them. So hemp likes to grow, so I think Wisconsin is a good place for it to land. And then not only…I guess the other final thing why Wisconsin, because honestly, growing hemp is a lot of hard work, it’s a lot of on your knees, bent over with your butt in the air doing stuff. And it’s not for everybody. And so I think that’s the other cool thing is that in Wisconsin and the Midwest, in general, are just known for hardworking people. And it takes hard work in person or a family group to produce a crop of hemp. I think that’s the other thing, is just the work standards of the folks here.
Scott: Absolutely, and as a Midwesterner myself, I can attest to that. You were talking a bit and we’ve talked about the co-ops that you’re a part of, and we were talking again a little bit about this earlier. How important do you think community is to hemp farming and perhaps even the larger CBD industry? How can people, wherever they are along the production side or even if they’re they’ve got just a retail store and they’re selling CBD products, how can they foster that sense of community?
Kevin: Buy local. Look for companies that, run right, look into the company and see what they’re about, see where their investment money came from. Because what I don’t want to see is a lot of consumer dollars going to buy CBD and it’s just lining the pockets of somebody in Wall Street. That’s not what I do this for. I would rather give my hemp away to needing people in my community for the healing properties versus lining the pockets of somebody that doesn’t need them. Really the biggest benefit that the whole world can do in general is to make sure that a small part of the proceeds, the farmers get their fair share. Because as a longtime farmer here in the Midwest, everybody talks about, “Thank a farmer because that’s where your food comes from.” But really, the best way to thank a farmer is to look for the little guys and giving them your money, because when you give a little guy your money, it stays in your community.
Scott: That’s so critical and such a great point. And as the CBD industry itself grows and you get these big players in there, I think that there is important space that needs to be there for folks like yourself and the local products and the people that are really doing their best to make great CBD products and produce great hemp, I think that’s what it’s all about. I guess it’s connected to this, and I’ve talked about this before on the show, but sustainability, it’s on so many people’s minds these days and agriculture can really help sort of lead that charge, farming, all of that. As a farmer and as part of South Central Hemp Co-op, how do you approach sustainability?
Kevin: Yeah, I think that’s a big thing. And I think there’s a lot of words nowadays that kind of revolve around sustainability, whether it’s green or carbon-neutral, or net-zero, or whatever. But really all of those things, if you’re an organic farmer, you’re pretty much on your way to all of those things already, because organic is built around building soil. And so when we can build healthy soil, everything that grows in that soil is going to be healthy, and it’s going to thrive. So just going back to…I like the word regenerative on a grass-based dairy farm such as ours, I have pastures that haven’t been tilled ever. I mean, since my early ancestors bought this farm, it’s just been pastured. And so in the last 30 years under a rotational grazing management program those pastures have just flourished into highly productive grasslands that feed my cow, but it also feeds wildlife, insects, tons, and millions of soil microbes and healthy soil.
And so all of those things are part of being organic. But us at South Central Hemp, all our growers and members feel that, you know, we’re taking extra focus on them because if we’re growing medicine from somebody, we’re saying that food is medicine, well, so is hemp, you know. If it’s medicine, then let’s grow it in the most appropriate responsible way so that it’s not only good for the land, it’s good for the farmer, but it’s good for the consumer.
Scott: Right, and what you were talking about your pasture there, that will help your family and future generations and make sure that your farm remains healthy and prosperous, and all of that.
Scott: So if someone is maybe newer to the world of CBD or hemp and maybe they’re unsure or skeptical about the potential benefits, what might you say to them to maybe take the plunge or give a hemp product a try, a CBD product to try if they’ve got some kind of challenges or what have you?
Kevin: Yeah, I would just say give it a night. I know so many friends and family, that when we started being hemp growers and started giving them some of our CBD, they were just so reluctant, and I just kept pestering them to try it. And after they try it…my father-in-law was a good one. He was just, “I just can’t believe how good I sleep.” Or “I can’t believe how good…” My father’s 84 years old, and last fall, he was out on our farm helping us pick tomatoes.
Scott: Oh, my gosh, that’s amazing.
Kevin: So, yeah. So it works, and the thing is, and I think this is…might be leading into one year next questions, but part of the thing I feel like it has ruined it for us latecomers is that with Wisconsin being late in the game, there were so many companies from outside of the state that had already gained market share in Wisconsin. So when I would go to see a local retailer about carrying our CBD, they’re like, “Well, yeah, I like your story and you’ve got a good affordable price, but I’m already carrying XYZ company from Colorado or somewhere else.” So we were behind the game on that. But worse is that a lot of it was overpriced and didn’t work. It wasn’t the strength that it said or there’s a lot of fake stuff out there called hemp extract, and then there’s just you don’t know what you’re getting.
So that’s why earlier I said before you buy a CBD product, do your homework, see where it’s coming from, see who makes it, see who grew it, know about it because this is something that you’re putting into your body, and so it’s hard for us to compete with that, but we’re the real deal. So it works. And look for somebody that knows about it, the dosages are kind of critical to each individual. And so what I found for myself is that I need a lot of it to make it work, but my mom who takes it doesn’t need…she can just about take a sniff of it, and it helps her. So everybody’s different, and so that’s the other thing, that if you happen to be somebody that might require a higher dose, don’t give up on it until you find your sweet spot.
Scott: I love that advice. And a lot of people that I’ve had on here have talked about, “Hey, start slow and then work your way up.” And the “work your way up” is a key thing. If you try it once and you’re not getting the results you need, don’t just give up. Right?
Kevin: Exactly, yeah.
Scott: So as we wind down our chat here, Kevin, I always like to look to the future and think about what’s coming next. What’s gonna happen with all of this, be it hemp farming or CBD. What do you see in the future for CBD and hemp as a whole? How might, I guess, the landscape change, no pun intended, in the months and years to come?
Kevin: Yeah, that’s a really tough question to answer because it just seems like, from the last two years, the answer to that question would change monthly. So originally when the co-op started out, our intentions were just to grow hemp and dry it on the farm and sell it as a dried biomass, and things keep changing and we’ve had to pivot. And so really now, we’ve basically just vertically integrated ourselves all the way to a real retail product. And so what’s gonna change, it’s really hard to say, I mean, I can see that there’s going to be thousands of products coming out with things that you can’t even imagine yet, and a large portion of that is going to hinge on what the FDA decides as far as allowing it to be in food. If they give that approval, then that’s just gonna open the floodgates for all kinds of other companies to come in.
And so that’s one of the things that we’re…we’re taking our time building our co-op, because obviously, as the farmers and we have farming to do, a lot of us have daytime jobs and then building a co-op in our spare time. And so, it’s gone really slow, we have meetings as often as we can, and so actually, that’s turned out to be advantageous to us, just this slow and steady process. And so, you know, really, for us, we don’t really have any huge lofty goals, but other than just trying to maintain some market share here, and just continue to grow our product.
Scott: Right. It’s interesting how that sort of slow and steady march actually can be helpful in an industry like this, that’s changing so fast because then it allows you to just move with it rather than try to keep up with every last change as soon as it’s happening, right?
Kevin: Right. Yeah.
Scott: That’s awesome. Kevin, thank you so much for joining me on the show today, really talking all about hemp farming and the things that you guys are doing to do it right and producing a great CBD product and all of that as part of your co-op. If folks want to connect with you guys, maybe find some of your products, learn a bit more, where can they do that, where should they go?
Kevin: You can go on southcentralhemp.com, look us up, and there’s places on there where you can get connected with us, more lists of…you know, locally in Wisconsin here, it’s got a list of the retailers that carry our products.
Scott: That’s awesome. I’m gonna check that out because I find myself in Wisconsin from time to time and definitely that’s something I wanna check out.
Scott: Thanks so much, Kevin.
Kevin: Thank you.