Hempen was established as a not-for-profit co-operative back in 2015, with their farm located in the South Oxfordshire countryside. They were endeavouring to be pioneer growers of organically certified UK hemp, creating both organic hemp & CBD products. They have a strong focus on cultivating hemp to provide ecologically- and socially-sound solutions. The company is made up of a tight-knit team who live and work together as a community on the farm.
Up until July this year, Hempen were one of the UK’s organic hemp growers, using the plant to produce organic hemp superfoods, cosmetics and CBD supplements. Due to government regulations preventing anyone in the UK from growing hemp for CBD, Hempen were forced over summer to destroy their crop. They’re now in the process of launching a new range of organic CBD products, grown and produced by hemp growing partners in Switzerland. We spoke to co-operative member, Ali, about the challenges of the CBD industry as well as what Hempen’s next steps will be.
Why CBD and what was the motivation to start a CBD company?
We believe in the power of the whole hemp plant, and the amazing things it can do in so many ways. Hemp helps clean the soil and air and can be used as a construction material that means we can create buildings that sequester carbon out of the atmosphere. Hemp has highly nutritious seeds and oil, providing high levels of protein and essential fatty acids omegas 3, 6 and 9, to bioplastic and many other things in between.
We founded in 2015 as a hemp company, finding ways (at the start, mainly focussed around food) to share hemp with more people. At that time, CBD was just launching into the UK market, and because we really know and believe in the healing power of the cannabis plant, it made perfect sense to us that we would offer a high quality organic CBD product that has been ethically and transparently made.
How did you start and who was on the original team?
We started from nothing, literally empty fields, with very little start-up capital. We've been lucky enough to receive a lot of help and support from an amazing group of likeminded and energetic volunteers over the last few years, who have helped us build Hempen. Many of the original or early team are still co-operative members, including Joe, Patrick and Theo. Today, we have 9 co-operative members and a community of 15 people living and working with us.
What are your main priorities as a brand?
There are a few things that we aim to do. The strongest focus is in increasing the demand for organic hemp products, specifically those grown in the UK. We want to help people understand the importance of choosing organic hemp and CBD. Following that, we want to make sure everyone has access to high quality, pure organic hemp and CBD products. To achieve this, this means only supplying the best products, at an affordable price that benefit people, community and planet.
Another priority for us is to act as an ethical leading light in hemp and CBD and educate people about the products, their uses and efficacy. Following the destruction of our latest crop, we also want to enable change in legislation around the use of parts of the hemp plant, so farmers can grow hemp for CBD here in the UK. There are many economic and ecological benefits that would come from this. We're building our campaign #SaveUKCBD and a legal case to change the legislation.
Obviously another one of our pressing priorities is re-securing our licence to grow hemp. Despite the changes in how we’ll be working now and needing to import CBD from Europe, we’re still a local brand. We want to remain true to our founding philosophy of ethical, sustainable and transparent production.
What’s your favourite product from your range and why?
Personally, my favourite CBD product from our range is our Organic Coconut CBD Oil. It's a gorgeous and incredibly versatile product. You can eat it - bake with it (don't heat too high, though), make raw energy balls, add to salad dressings, put it in smoothies, CBD coffee or hot chocolate. Or, you can apply it straight to the skin or hair as you would coconut oil. It's really moisturising, anti-inflammatory and helps many people with aching muscles and joints or minor skin complaints. It's slower release also makes it a great choice for aiding sleep. There are so many ways to use it, it's a staple in my cupboard.
What were the challenges of establishing a CBD brand?
There are a few challenges, starting off, understanding the regulatory environment is a big one. To understand what you can legally sell, for example, ensuring all products are within 0.2% THC limits. The other thing is how to market it, knowing what can and can't be said around therapeutic or medicinal claims. It's a highly competitive market now, so having a strong story and brand is also very important. Finding a trustworthy supply is another challenge. Many sources from around the world are not lab tested and often don't contain the cannabinoids stated.
What are you most proud of Hempen for?
The solidarity, unity and determination that is continually displayed by our amazing community in the face of some challenging and uncertain times. Losing our hemp crop this year was devastating and a really difficult, emotional time for us all. But with love and support flowing in, and knowing that we will never give up because our vision is much bigger than ourselves, the team rallied together. We have successfully found an amazing opportunity in our personal struggle - to make a wider-reaching positive change in the world. I couldn't be prouder to live and work with such a dedicated, hard-working, loving and positive group of people.
What are the next steps for Hempen, especially in regards to your license and the unfortunate forced destruction of your 2019 hemp crop?
We will be campaigning for a change in the law. Firstly, we will be taking the government to court for a judicial review, to challenge the decision and policy around our license. Secondly, we'll be producing some research on the economic and ecological benefit of hemp in the UK. Thirdly, we will be running a political campaign and lobbying around the law. Fourthly, we'll be raising public awareness around the benefits of the whole hemp plant and the difficulties with growing and using it in the UK.
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