By Jan Mercker
Loudoun has conquered the DMV craft beverage scene. Is craft cannabis next?
Over the past four years, Loudoun farmers have been legally growing hemp and producing locally grown CBD products. But there are still plenty of misconceptions about what CBD is all about. No–it’s not pot, and yes, it’s legal.
Jeff Boogaard planted his first hemp crop in 2019 as an experiment after nine years running one of the commonwealth’s largest Asian water buffalo farms. Three years after launching Cannabreeze Hemp Farm & Company, Boogaard is “all in,” with plans to expand his operation to include a members-only private club focused on “all things cannabis.”
In the past two months, Boogaard and his team have opened a CBD tasting room on his scenic farm near Lovettsville and launched a retail kiosk at Dulles Town Center. He plans to start a private membership-based club at the farm later this summer.
“We understand that there is a lot of mystery behind where CBD comes from, what it is and how it may or may not affect you,” Boogaard said.
Hemp and marijuana are two different species of the cannabis plant. CBD stands for cannabidiol, a substance derived from hemp, which advocates say offers wellness benefits without the psychoactive properties of marijuana.For Boogaard, a Navy vet and former real estate agent turned farmer, cannabis culture was a mystery before his first crop. But extensive research and his daughter’s cancer diagnosis and recovery made him a believer.
“I didn’t know anything about this industry and didn’t believe half of what people were telling me,” he said.
But when the 2018 federal farm bill legalized growing hemp, Boogaard began thinking about making a shift. When a third-party investor approached him as part of an initiative to find local farms as hemp growers, Boogaard started doing his own research. He submitted an application to the state in July 2019 and had his license two weeks later.
“I was in my truck at 6 a.m. that Friday morning driving down to Nags Head to a nursery that had started germinating clones for hemp,” he said.
Boogaard put 420 hemp plants in the ground in the summer of 2019 as an experiment, harvested them two months later and dried and cured his first crop in the barn. Then his 22-year-old daughter was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma on Christmas Eve 2019. Boogaard had read about potential benefits of CBD oil for cancer patients, and his daughter started taking CBD oil when she began her cancer treatments in January 2020.
“As that progressed, I realized that this is what I was supposed to be doing,” Boogaard said. “That was my catalyst. … I decided we were all in.”
Boogaard’s daughter is now two years cancer-free. He and his team have spent the past two years growing their business, with a focus on producing high-quality, locally grown CBD products while educating consumers and dispelling myths. Cannabreeze produces topical CBD products, including balms and roll-ons for acute pain, and edible products from gummies to mints and water-soluble infusers. Cannabreeze also has launched a partnership with Lost Rhino Brewing to produce non-alcoholic CBD-based seltzers, available on tap at Lost Rhino and in cans at the Cannabreeze tasting room.
For Boogaard, hemp production is simply the next step in his evolution as a farmer. And, as with water buffalo or wine grapes, there’s an agricultural learning curve, including finding cannabis strains that work well with Loudoun’s soils and humid climate.
“At the end of the day, your number one enemy outside of bugs is moisture and mold,” he said.
Boogaard has built a buzzing business with what he calls a “seed to sale” approach, from cultivation to production.
Boogaard’s cultivation manager, Justin Everhart, is a Lovettsville native who started using cannabis as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, seeking a natural approach after years of pharmaceutical medications. Everhart became a passionate cannabis grower and worked on a commercial cannabis farm in Oregon before returning home to start a family and help a hometown hemp farm get off the ground.
On a gorgeous June afternoon, the farm’s grow room echoes with classical music as Everhart and his staff prepare young plants to go in the ground on five acres in a few weeks. Boogaard is also investing in greenhouses for year-round growing in coming years.
With the farm’s public tasting room opening in May, Boogaard is also planning to launch a private members-only club in late August. Cannabreeze’s 420 Club, run by Western Loudoun service industry veteran Michaela Cooley, will give members access to the farm’s scenic outdoor spaces (complete with hammocks) and a climate-controlled 2,000-square-foot geodome known as “the hangar.” Cooley has plans for activities for members including live music, karaoke, trivia, games, and yoga. Because Virginia legalized home cultivation of up to four marijuana plants and possession of one ounce or less by adults 21 and over in 2021, the 420 Club will also allow members to bring their own homegrown pot.
“We’re kind of modeling it after a country club,” Boogaard said. “It’s really going to be focused around all things cannabis.”
While BYO marijuana will be allowed for private club members only, Cannabreeze’s public tasting room and retail kiosk sell only CBD products legally allowed for retail under current state law. And Boogaard says there are still hurdles in dispelling myths about what CBD is and how it’s different from marijuana.
“Public perception still sways to the old way of thinking,” Boogaard said. “80 percent of our time is spent on educating consumers on what this is and how it might help you.”
Cannabreeze currently sells CBD products at 15 farmers markets around the DMV, but Boogaard wanted to establish a permanent retail presence in Loudoun. The new kiosk at Dulles Town Center offered a way to get their products in front of consumers. While CBD products are legal at both the state and federal level, they are not FDA-approved, so producers are limited in their ability to advertise.
“We needed to find another way to grow our name,” he said. “In this industry, it’s very difficult to successfully market your company.”
Another hurdle is the poor quality of some CBD products, Boogaard says, with many unvetted CBD products coming from outside of the US. That’s why the “seed to sale” model is so important, he adds, with Cannabreeze focusing on a high-quality, locally grown agricultural product. The venture remains a local farm at heart, he says, and he’s excited to finally open the doors to the public as curiosity grows and misconceptions decline.
“It’s going to take some time and we understand that,” Boogaard said. “We would like to think that at some point in your life if you realize that CBD is right for you, that you would seek us out.”
Cannabreeze Hemp Farm & Company is located at 13554 Breezy Meadow Lane near Lovettsville. The public tasting room is open Thursday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The Dulles Town Center retail location is open daily. The farm is also accepting registrations for charter memberships for its private 420 Club. For more information and a list of farmers markets, go to cannabreezehemp.com.