Jeffrey Brooks: The Future of Hemp Farming


Oley Hemp’s founder, Jeffrey Brooks



He may not have a crystal ball, but Jeffrey Brooks has spent decades predicting the future. Beginning nearly three decades ago, Brooks purchased farmland in Oley, Pennsylvania, that he intended to use for breeding race horses. The land, located in the eastern part of the state, is known for its fertile soil, meaning the horses would be fed on the best quality grass possible. He was proven right when, after the purchase of his first farm, his horses were happier, stronger, and healthier than he’d ever imagined.


But his agricultural premonitions were just getting started. When it was clear that the agricultural sector was shifting priorities Brooks shifted along with it, with another idea for what he might redirect his efforts towards: hemp. After learning that growing hemp could be more lucrative than either corn or wheat, he decided to dedicate his considerable land to cultivating it. But this was just the beginning: once he learned more about the incredible diversity of hemp, Jeffrey Brooks realized that this was the crop of the future and could solve some of the most pressing issues confronting farmers around the world. This realization led to the founding of Oley Hemp in 2018, starting by producing sustainable kitty litter from hemp and since expanding to include a product line from soaps to CBD salves.


Jeffrey Brooks and Oley Farms have continued expanding as well, with hemp farms in Oregon and Montana that are tended and cultivated according to the same principle of regeneration and sustainable economic growth for everyone. Edible Planet found Sharon Cittone sat down with Jeffrey Brooks to find out more about how his story began, and what else he sees in the future of farming.


*note: some responses have been edited for clarity.




Sharon Cittone

So I guess the first question is, why hemp?


Jeffrey Brooks

Well, I believe that this is the most important crop we have available, for so many reasons. First, every acre of hemp is equivalent to growing four acres of trees over 50 years. So we can envision replacing paper made from trees with hemp, for example, but there are so many other products. Second, we can supplement the food supply, as we know that the seeds contain a lot of protein. After that, the fiber can be used to create things like sustainable kitty litter, chicken coop litter, and on and on. Really, almost anything that you can think about using in your everyday life could be made from the hemp plant.


Sharon Cittone

Hemp has also been called “the gateway crop” for regenerative agriculture. Can you explain a bit more about this?


Jeffrey Brooks

Essentially, hemp is carbon negative and this is where the environmental benefits really reside. When you take carbon and nitrogen out of the atmosphere and you put that back into the soil, it adds nutrients that our soil needs. When you plant hemp, you don't need to use a whole lot of water compared to growing cotton and other crops. So it’s a very easy option. Crops like coffee, cotton, palm oil, soybeans, or wheat increase soil erosion; hemp roots actually strengthen spilt, which helps alleviate erosion during heavy rains. It can then be used to replace carbon emitting products like concrete, which is the world's third-largest carbon emitter. Hemp fibers are spun into cloth, which uses a quarter the amount of water that you need to grow cotton.


That's how important this crop really is if you really think about it. And it can grow anywhere from four to 20 feet, so you can probably get between three and 9000 pounds of hemp per acre. Start adding that up and it makes a lot of paper, a lot of concrete and a lot of clothing.


Sharon Cittone

You can also use hemp as a cover crop to restore soil health, right?


Jeffrey Brooks

Yes. We need cover crops, because you can’t keep growing the same crop without taking away the nutritional value of the soil. So it's very difficult to keep planting the same crop. By having a crop in the field at all times and regenerating the soil, you don't have to plow as much. And it keeps more nutrients in the soil for the next crop that you're growing. So it's really a whole system that we're looking at providing.


Sharon Cittone

What does it look like to “go all in” on hemp farming?


Jeffrey Brooks

First, it gets us much closer to not using pesticides. The pesticides that we consume can cause illness, inflammation, or changes to our immune system. Hemp actually grows very quickly and very tall, which prevents weeds from growing in the first place. Thus, no need to chemically treat crops, soil, or food. This is also very important because we have bees, and they must live in a pesticide-free environment. And the bees actually help pollinate the hemp and all the other crops that we grow, and that helps also strengthens our bee population.


Sharon Cittone

Let's talk about the bees for one second as it is probably the most important creature on earth. What is the role of the bee? You know, it's not just about pollination, they are keeping our ecosystem alive. What's your take on this?


Jeffrey Brooks

Well, I could talk about bees all day. Where do I start? The honey they produce contains flavonoids and antioxidants. Honey has been recognized as antibacterial for millennia, and as a source of nutrition since ancient times, when athletes would eat honey to enhance their performance. It helps balance your metabolism, reduces cause throat irritation, ensures proper sleep, it regulates your blood levels. If you cut or burn yourself, if you put pure natural honey on that burn it will help you immediately. It's probiotic. And the most important thing, it's strengthening your immune system.


Sharon Cittone

Incidentally, these are some of the same properties you find in CBD products.


Jeffrey Brooks

Yes, and I think the combination of honey and CBD gives you the most nutritionally balanced meal that you can have. It helps build the immune system and reduce inflammation, which is the building block for a healthy body.


Sharon Cittone

Absolutely. So, what's in the cards for Oley Hemp?


Jeffrey Brooks

Right now we’re building a kitchen to test recipes and a lab that can produce five thousand tinctures, roll-ons, and sabs every day. We’re also concentrating on private labeling and working with private label people to get the products that best define what their customers are demanding.