Field of Dreams: CBD hemp farmers like Patrick Finnegan of Two Harbors are changing the face of Minnesota agriculture

Hemp seedlings grow at Hemp Acres in Waconia // Photo via Hemp Acres

This story is a part two of a two-part series on CBD and hemp underwritten by J.C. Younger. The Growler maintained editorial control over the content. 

Afew hours north of Minneapolis–St. Paul, a hockey player-turned-CBD hemp farmer named Patrick Finnegan has his mind set on being part of the leading vanguard of his industry.

Finnegan doesn’t come from a formal farming background (“mostly I grew up in a mining community and everybody had their victory garden,” he says) but he’s taken to the profession with a passion. After retiring from playing hockey in the Netherlands, Finnegan bought and then cleared for himself a plot of land in Two Harbors and set to work building a business growing microgreens. He sold his first crop in 2010, when microgreens were white-hot and restaurateurs couldn’t get enough of them from major suppliers.

When that changed and he found himself out-competed by big restaurant supply trucks, he pivoted in recent years to producing hemp for use in CBD products.

Patrick Finnegan, left, and Eric Pollard pose for a portrait at Finnegan Hemp Farm in Two Harbors, Minnesota // Photo by Melissa Ratai

His operation is small—a five-acre farm with about 12,000 square feet of greenhouse production and an acre of high-end outdoor full-sun crops—but he aims to set himself apart with the way he grows and processes his crops.

“We still do [microgreens] for a few restaurants in town, but we’re about 90% hemp oil production,” he says. “We do a solventless product. Less than 1% of hemp farmers do a solventless product, so what we’re doing is a little bit more craft.”

One of the keys to Finnegan’s operation is his solventless process, known as ice water extraction. After harvest, it utilizes cold water (rather than chemicals) to separate the marketable components at the heart of the hemp plant.

“A lot of farmers add ice to their water because it isn’t cold enough,” says Finnegan. “We have a well here that’s 230 feet deep and when the water comes up it comes up colder than Lake Superior water. We save a lot of money—we don’t need an ice machine.”

Extracting the resin from the plants with an ice water method, says Finnegan, is particularly valuable because it keeps the plant’s complex essential oils intact. While the science behind CBD is still very much a work in progress, many who process, compound, and sell CBD products swear by “full spectrum” CBD that retains the full entourage of terpenes, which are natural compounds that give the plant its distinctive aroma.

“We [process] through a silkscreen like you do for T-shirts—you have different micron [filters] that you sift through,” he says. “We mix it all into one food grade, so we have a really high-end craft food product that you can turn into any product. We’re doing gummies that we’re going to evolve here into a dog line, for canines, and we’re going to some salves and healing balms and stuff like that.”

“We’re experimenting with different terpenes and you get different flavor profiles and smells,” says Finnegan. “We’ve got a lifetime of work ahead of us, and that’s what’s so cool about this project.”

Part of what fills Finnegan’s plate, he says, is his farm’s dedication to tackling every part of the growing, harvesting, and processing of the plant. “We’re fully vertically integrated here, so from seed to sale, we do it all,” he says. “We grow it all organically and we try to source the best amendments to our soil—if the roots are happy, you’re going to be rewarded in the end. […] We harvest it all, we dry it all, we cure it all, we extract it, we formulate it, and bag and tag and off to the store.”

Finnegan is part of a growing group of Minnesota farmers who are experimenting with producing CBD hemp, an industry that is beginning to organize under the auspices of the Minnesota Hemp Association. The group, says executive director Joe Radinovich, was incorporated in early 2019 and is focused on advocating for the industry at the state level and developing legal regulations to guarantee safe products and a stable business climate for its members.

This year’s hemp-related licensure, says Radinovich of the Minnesota Hemp Association, is close to last year’s in terms of number of licenses, although there’s more acreage under cultivation. “There were around 600–700 total licenses last year, and I think 350–400 of them were farmers or growers. I think there were 12,000 acres licensed last year plus a million square feet for indoor growing. By the time that was harvested, I think they harvested 8,000-plus acres and about 400,000 square feet.”

The growth in recent years, notes Radinovich, has been explosive. “In 2018 there were about 1,000 acres of hemp grown in the state of Minnesota—10% of that was for CBD. In 2019, 78% was grown for CBD.”

That growth matches the as-yet-unknown potential of CBD to help treat various ailments, says Finnegan. “The professors I listen to at the University of Oregon, they’re in their 40s and they’re like—’I’ll be long gone before they’re even done researching this plant,'” says Finnegan. “I’m 39 and I’m like this is fantastic to hear this, that there’s a lifetime of work ahead of us to research this beautiful plant.”

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