Aiello brothers take long way home for hemp license
ANDOVER TOWNSHIP — Brothers Steven and Daniel Aiello are putting their hemp license to use on land they are leasing through the SAgE program of the Foodshed Alliance.
They crossed the country for four months looking for a perfect site to grow medicinal hemp and ended up just one county away from their hometown.
Other places were tempting, Steven said. Oregon looked good at first, but the state has its own guidelines which are not necessarily in line with the USDA and the brothers wanted to grow where the guidelines were uniform.
North Carolina was tempting since it was a little ahead of New Jersey and New York on USDA compliance, and the soils around Asheville are excellent for hemp.
Nevertheless, the brothers, who grew up in Chester, ended up back in New Jersey. Checking on FarmLink, they discovered the Foodshed Alliance.
The Sustainable Agriculture Enterprise program looked perfect for them. SAgE leases land to farmers with some experience but not enough capital for expensive New Jersey property.
The Aiellos are leasing a 13-acre plot on the Foodshed Alliance’s Andover property right on Route 206. A second property belongs to Warren County along the old Morris Canal bed in Stewartsville.
Their lease is for 10-years which is welcome by farmers who don’t want to renegotiate every few years and need time to establish their crop.
SAgE is perfect for the Aiellos, Steven said. The Foodshed Alliance “bridges the gap between the farmer and landowner,” he explained. Liaison Eric Derby of the alliance has been particularly helpful.
Three of their leased acres are very hilly, he said, but 10 are perfect for growing hemp.
Medicinal hemp is their main crop, although they have a vegetable garden as well.
The Aiellos are buying seed from Green Luster Phenos, LLC. Steven said he and Daniel are impressed with Green Luster’s practices, including practice homozygous breeding indoors in a completely controlled environment protected by UV light and HEPA filtration.
The company collaborates with breeding companies in Spain and Amsterdam, according to the Green Luster website.
Since cannabigerolic acid can convert to either CBD or THC, Dark Earth Farm will grow a 15- to- 16-percent CBD product, Steven said, noting that if the percent drops below 10 percent, the percentage of THC is higher, which is not what is wanted in medicinal hemp.
The Aiellos are confident they can keep THC below federal standards.
Now that the state has legalized it, Steven said they would be interested in growing THC cannabis, but not on a mass produced basis.
“It’s going to be flooded,” he said of the future market.
Steven said he believes in waiting until he can get into a specific market however.
“Growers are breeding out cannibinoids to get the THC higher, I don’t believe in that,” he said, since THC has value in pain management but not the other medicinal uses of hemp.
The Aiellos would eventually like to tincture their own CBD oil but for now will have it done off site. Steven promised a very high quality.
During 2020, their first year of the lease, the brothers turned the land and planted a cover crop.
They are working on “a really big fence,” Steven said. They use a BCS walk-behind for the vegetable and hemp beds, not wanting disturbance after the first turning of the soil.
The vegetable beds will produce tomatoes, garlic, bok choy, spinach and a few other crops.
“We’ll set up a small CSA,” Steven said, noting he has experience with CSAs.
He came to his hemp project after working at Rutgers, he said, and has had a number of jobs since college, including stock trading and working in the family business, a physical therapy practice in Mount Freedom.
The Aiellos are extremely grateful for the assistance that comes with a Foodshed Alliance lease, especially from Eric Derby.
“Eric goes above and beyond,” Steven said. “He comes by to talk business.”
One of the most important contributions Derby and the Foodshed Alliance made to the leases is water.
There are three wells on the SAgE property.
The alliance brought electricity to one of them to serve some of the plots and will match state grant money to upgrade the well which could cost up to $50,000, Derby said. He said the success of the program depends on access to water.
“We wouldn’t have the water to three farms here without them,” Aiello said.