According to Mathew Johnson, CEO of Hemp Connect, hemp has come home to Horowhenua.
He points to information from an entry in the online Encyclopedia of New Zealand (https://teara.govt.nz/), which states that, "towards the end of the WW2 the Ministry of Agriculture planted four hectares of hemp at Foxton…..but by 1948, the question was raised about what the ministry was growing. The trials ceased soon after when they realised that cannabis had narcotic properties."
Hemp Connect has set up shop in Levin recently, on the main road, where the Eel Trading Company used to be, transferring its plant from Whanganui and its head office from Wellington. In their first week here, one local found employment with Hemp Connect.
Johnson said that the main reason for coming to Levin was the availability of suitable premises. "Levin was also conveniently halfway between our factory and our office."
Hemp Connect produces certified organic hemp seed oil from seeds. Aside from making a few products themselves, such as hemp oil, protein powder, and hemp hearts, the company supplies others who use the product in their own products, including a number health foods.
"Our core product is hemp hearts," he said. "It looks like sesame seeds and taste a bit like almonds. Hemp contains all essential amino acids humans need."
The hemp is grown in the field in Rangitīkei and the company uses a UV sterilisation machine. Hemp Connect buys seeds from farmers but also manages hemp farms. "One day we may grow it here."
Other farmers are able to use Hemp Connect's facility, including a few who make vegan products.
"Hemp has the potential to be the most profitable crop in the country, but that depends on legislation. There are over 50,000 uses for hemp seeds.
"Hemp is very different from cannabis or marijuana. It is a bit like grape juice vs wine. Hemp does not contain any cannabinoids."
Hemp Connect has been in business for four years, and its owners were driven by the desire to find sustainable solutions. "Hemp consumes four times the amount of CO2 of pine trees and a crop takes 120 days to mature. We grow it year round, and get a tonne of seed out of a hectare."
At the moment they handle 200 tonnes of seeds a year but the goal is to provide consumers with 10m kg a year eventually. Right now there are five or six players in this market in New Zealand, so Hemp Connect is a bit of a trailblazer.
Hemp Connect products are available in shops around the country and has 100 stockists, but no one in Levin yet.
The company has eight staff members, five of whom are already based in Levin.