State reps gain industry perspective at Bar-Way Farm hemp tour

  • Bar-Way Farm owner Peter Melnik and state Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland, during a tour of the Deerfield farm on Friday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

  • State legislators from the Joint Committee on Cannabis Policy were taken on a hay-wagon tour around Bar-Way Farm’s hemp fields on Friday. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

  • Bar-Way Farm’s owner, Peter Melnik, center, gives a hay-wagon tour of the Deerfield farm Friday to state legislators from the Joint Committee on Cannabis Policy, including the committee’s House Chair Daniel Donahue, D-Worcester, right. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

  • Bar-Way Farm’s hemp field in Deerfield. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

  • Peter Melnik, owner of Bar-Way Farm in Deerfield, holds a hemp plant while giving a tour of the farm’s hemp field to state legislators on Friday afternoon. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer
Published: 7/25/2021 7:03:09 PM

DEERFIELD — A group of state representatives representing the Joint Committee on Cannabis Policy toured Bar-Way Farm’s hemp field on Friday afternoon for an on-the-ground perspective of the industry.

The tour was the final stop on the committee’s trip around the Pioneer Valley’s hemp and cannabis industries. The group also made stops in Holyoke and at the New England Treatment Access (NETA) dispensary in Northampton.

Peter Melnik, Bar-Way Farm’s owner, gave the legislators a hay-wagon tour around his property, where he thanked the legislators for coming out, but also highlighted some of the challenges of working within Massachusetts’ regulations on his 30-acre hemp field.

“The rules and regulations, for a layman like me, they make no sense,” Melnik said. “We as a country have to get over the fact that hemp is not marijuana.”

While on the wagon ride, Melnik talked about the stringent testing and harvesting policies the state has in place. Each sample taken by the state must have 0.3 percent or less THC in it; otherwise it cannot be sold. If a field has three “hot” tests in a row, the field must be destroyed. The field must also be harvested within 15 days of the test; otherwise, it must be destroyed. He said the state supervises the destruction and it is a waste of a usable resource, but they have to play by the rules.

“Massachusetts sort of stumbles in harvesting,” Melnik said. “We really just put our head down and gamble.”

He added that the state is “toeing the federal line” when it comes to regulation — marijuana is still illegal federally — and he said he gets the feeling the state makes it difficult to grow hemp, despite its differences from marijuana.

“I feel like the state is trying to make me a criminal,” Melnik said. “I’m just a farmer trying to grow a crop.”

Beyond the difficulties of state regulations, Melnik said the “rich soil” of Franklin County is a great place to grow hemp and the plant has “a lot of potential” to become one of the nation’s leading exports along with staples like corn.

“Massachusetts is going to be a place, the Pioneer Valley is going to be a place where hemp is grown,” Melnik said. “I applaud the Legislature and governor for believing hemp can be grown in Massachusetts.”

Bar-Way Farm sends all of its hemp harvests to Heritage CBD in Northampton. Melnik said the company does a lot of its business outside of Massachusetts because of regulations and it is “sitting on hundreds of thousands of gallons of hemp oil.”

Melnik started growing hemp in 2019 and saw it as another opportunity to keep the farm growing, which was in line with how his great-grandfather grew onions, his grandfather grew tobacco and how his dad is a “cow guy.”

“This farm has done lots of different things,” Melnik said. “This is not Iowa, so we have to maximize what we have.”

State Rep. Daniel Donahue, D-Worcester, who is the House chair of the Joint Committee on Cannabis Policy, said it was his first time touring a hemp farm and he is “looking forward to all the successes” of the industry.

Donahue added that the tour was a chance to see how actual farmers were affected by legislation and gave some ideas on how to help them navigate the regulations.

“(The tour will help) draft up more regulations and make it a more successful part of our agriculture,” Donahue said. “We’re holding a host of hearings and this gives us a concrete perspective on any legislative fixes.”

State Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland, said the stop at Bar-Way Farm was not originally a part of the committee’s itinerary, but she organized it because she felt the representatives needed to see it to best understand the industry.

“This is the place you have to go. It’s the most innovative hemp farm,” Blais said. “I made a promise to bring Boston to Western Mass. and it’s so important for them to see this work.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.




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