By Beth Waterfall

With their coastal scenery and diverse topography, Cape Cod and Plymouth County effortlessly entice nature lovers and scientists to call the region home. And while the fishing and hospitality industries are the heartbeat of the local economy, the region is also home to innovators like Dr. Erik Hunter, a South Yarmouth-based hemp cultivator and business owner with a Ph.D. and master’s degree in mining and earth systems engineering.

“American industry is trending towards bio-sustainability, and hemp plays a critical role in the establishment of a new economic paradigm,” Dr. Hunter explains. “I’m dedicated to shifting the perception of hemp as being an alternative crop to a mainstream commodity.”

Across the globe, hemp is used for “food, fiber, livestock bedding, Cannabidiol (CBD)-based medicines, paper products, molded plastics, and many other purposes,” Dr. Hunter explains. “It’s a hardy crop that will grow in any environment that supports the cultivation of corn, which historically has been an important crop on the Cape and South Shore. Hemp is also useful in helping to re-establish fallow lands, remove salt build-up in the soil, and eradicate stubborn weeds.”

Dr. Hunter’s curiosity about hemp piqued as a child playing on the edges of his father’s wheat and soybean farm. The perimeter of the farmland was dotted with mature hemp plants – relics from World War II, when farmers were encouraged by the U.S. government to grow hemp to support the production of sail canvases, shipping ropes and other fibers used by the military.

“As a kid I walked through the hemp plants, but I didn’t know they were absorbing the fertilizer runoff from the farm,” said Dr. Hunter. “It was cleaning up the environment on the farm, so it was puzzling to me when my father explained that the hemp plants were illegal.”

A few years later he was inspired to become a hemp activist after learning why hemp was illegal from The Emperor Wears No Clothes by Jack Herer. Then, when Dr. Hunter was a Ph.D. student in 2012 at the Colorado School of Mines, he joined leading local hemp advocates to successfully lobby for a bill that resulted in a research program focused on hemp cultivation to remove contaminants from soil. Erik and his team then cofounded the nonprofit Rocky Mountain Hemp Association to educate farmers about the benefits and challenges of hemp agriculture, and successfully lobbied for the bill that created a Colorado Department of Agriculture program for commercial hemp cultivation.

After connecting with leading activists during a summer trip to Massachusetts in 2016, Dr. Hunter decided to head to Massachusetts, where he could continue his lobbying efforts and be closer to family. “With my success as a lobbyist in Colorado, I realized I could help elsewhere and change perception,” he said.

Today Dr. Hunter runs Cape Cod Hemp (http://www.capecodhemp.com/), which he founded “for the purposes of promoting hemp agriculture, manufacturing of hemp products, and retailing of hemp products in Massachusetts.” The website provides visitors with an update on the current legal status of hemp in Massachusetts and links to The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) Hemp Program. The site also includes a page full of colorful images of hemp plants he grew last year.

Dr. Hunter continues to grow hemp, and is now selling a topical salve that he makes with hemp-derived CBD. He’s also researching and testing a CBD gummy bear product and looking to purchase property on Cape Cod for commercial hemp cultivation, which is presenting a fair share of challenges with the region’s diverse topography and subdivided lots.

“To get anything that’s more than an acre at a good price is difficult,” says Dr. Hunter. “I’m looking at $80,000/acre properties and talking with the town planners about using different parcels. There’s some good soil on the Cape so I’m going to keep trying.”

Dr. Hunter is also committed to ensuring quality and accessibility of CBD products locally and globally.

“Many CBD products on the market are overpriced and unaffordable for a lot of people, so I’m looking to work with companies making quality CBD products at reasonable prices that really reflect what it costs to make the products. The cost of CBD has come down so much that there’s no excuse to be keeping people from accessing it.”

Dr. Hunter creates his products in a commercial kitchen inspected by the health department, and he performs THC and CBD analysis on his products. Dr. Hunter’s products will be available for sale at select Hyannis retailers later this spring. Visit http://www.capecodhemp.com/ to learn more.