The Ministry of Hemp Podcast
Feminized Hemp, The Future Of CBD? With Michael Townsend of Hemptown USA
In episode 17 of the Ministry of Hemp Podcast, we explore what could be the future of growing hemp for CBD: feminized hemp.
What is feminized hemp and why is it so special? Our host Matt learns from Michael Townsend of Hemptown USA.
In this episode, Matt talks with Townsend about the benefits of growing feminized hemp for CBD products and what is feminized hemp anyway? We also learn a bit more about CBG, an additional cannabinoid with unique benefits.
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Is feminized hemp the future of CBD? Complete episode transcript
Below you'll find the full written transcript for this episode:
Matt: Welcome back to the Ministry of Hemp podcast. My name is Matt Baum, and I am your host. In the last few episodes we've been talking to some farmers and some people who know a lot about growing hemp. And today we're going to talk about a specific kind of hemp, feminized hemp, that is used specifically for CBD. Feminized hemp is a term that I'd heard before, but I didn't really know what it was. Lucky me, I found somebody who knows all about it.
But before we get into that, let's talk about the part of the hemp plant the CBD specifically comes from. Mainly that is the flower because the flower is what produces trichomes. Trichomes are the resin and sort of hair like follicles that contain the phytocannabinoids that CBD producers are going for. Since the flower of the hemp plant contains the highest density of trichomes, of course, growers want to encourage hemp to flower. And this is done by either getting it out in the sunlight in your fields, or growing indoors with very controlled lighting. The bigger the flowers, the more trichomes there are. And the more trichomes there are, the more CBD you'll be able to get out of those flowers. The trichomes in the hemp flower start out clear, and then they kind of become a milky white, and later on they'll even turn amber. Right around then it's usually time to harvest.
Though hemp growers have to be really careful when they harvest because they want to make sure that the level of THC in that plant is below 0.3%. Now as it turns out, some very smart growers have figured out that there are certain types of hemp plants that will have higher levels of CBD, lower levels of THC and produce even more trichomes than normal industrial hemp. And this type of hemp is what they call feminized hemp. And it's something that's been popular with marijuana growers for quite some time, but now using feminized plants has moved into hemp growing. And I found just the guy to tell me all about it.
Breeding THC out of hemp
Michael: Yeah, so my name is Michael Townsend. I'm the president, and co-founder, and director of Hemptown Organics, which is doing business as Hemptown USA.
Matt: Michael, one of the things I was interested in talking to you about was specifically feminized hemp. When I looked your website, that seems to be what you guys are pushing. And you're pushing it because it seems to have more CBG, CBD and CBN involved. Can you talk about that? What is feminized hemp?
Michael: Yeah, so feminized hemp, it's effectively the cannabis plant. And it's just been crossbred to breed out the THC. So leaving only the CBD and the other cannabinoids, the 113. So they just keep crossbreeding the least THC cannabis plants, they keep crossbreeding them and eventually the THC is almost gone. And so that's what it is. It's not considered a GMO or it's not changed, but it's just crossbred. Like when you're breeding a dog to get a short tail. Take the two dogs with the two shortest tails.
Matt: So let me ask you like what are the THC levels like in what you guys breed?
Michael: Yeah, so the CBD has a little higher THC profile. We monitor extremely closely at this time of year. If it's hot out, which it is right now, luckily in Kentucky, the THC doesn't pop. So it's holding right around that 0.3%, which keeps it legal. And if we have a cold snap, we've got to harvest right away, so we don't spike past that 0.3%. With our CBG genetics that we're growing in Oregon, which we'll talk about more, I know you want to talk about that more. Those are very low THC genetics, so we don't really have to worry about them as much. They're 0.1, 0.2% at that full maturity.
Matt: Okay. So you said that temperature has something to do with it, I haven't heard this. How does that work? A cold spell can make the THC spike in it?
Michael: That's correct. That's what I understand. I'm not the cultivator, but that is what I'm hearing from my farmers. That they're watching the temperature of the humidity, and the temperature outside to know when to harvest, to minimize the THC.
CBG, the precursor cannabinoid
Matt: I did not know that. That is crazy. So tell me a little bit about CBG. Why would someone be interested in CBG? What does it bring?
Michael: Well, I think it's always been around, it's part of the plant profile. It's just usually in concentrations less than 1%, and people talk about the full spectrum or broad spectrum, you need the broad spectrum to get the full effect, the entourage effect. And we think G is a big part of that entourage effect. It's in there at 1% in most plants. And we think it's a big part of the help that people are getting from the cannabis plant. So it is the precursor cannabinoid, it is actually what the plant is producing when it first starts to flower, it produces CBG. And then as the plant matures, it converts its CBG into CBD or THC. So it's the precursor cannabinoid. So the mother of all cannabinoids, or sometimes referred to as the stem cell of cannabinoids.
Matt: Really? So the stuff that you grow for CBG specifically, is different than this stuff that you grow for CBD?
Michael: Yeah, I mean it's a different genetic, we pay twice as much for the seeds. And the bushes or the plants do not grow as big. We don't get the same yield, but we're getting close, we'll probably get about 75%. So we usually get about 1.25 pounds per plant on a CBD feminized hemp plant. And we're probably getting about 0.8 pounds on the CBG. So less yield, but considerably more yield than how people used to get CBG.
I guess I could tell you that story about how CBG used to be. They used to take down the plants very early in their cycle, so they wouldn't let them go even to half maturity. And they'd monitor the CBG levels, and right when the plant started converting its CBG to THC or CBD, they'd harvest the plants, effectively killing it. And that gave it the very low yields. And that's why the price of CBG has been so expensive.
Matt: So does THC… So you said CBG is basically the father of CBD and THC. The longer the plant matures, the higher the level of both CBD and THC, is that correct?
Michael: That's correct, yeah, that's right. The CBD converts to THC and CBD.
What is feminized hemp?
Matt: So let me ask you, when you say feminized, what does that mean? What does that do to the plant?
Michael: Well, yeah. Okay. So there's no seeds. We believe that the seeds take a lot of the energy of the plant. So instead of having the plant use all its resources and its energy to create the seeds, when you have a feminized plant, there's no seeds, and therefore the plant can concentrate on making the oils in its trichomes. It can produce the CBD and CBG without having to send a lot of its nutrients to the seed.
So we head hunt our males. So last year our harvest, our 2018 harvest, we had only one in 4,000 of our plants were actually males, or hermaphrodites. So we thought those were very good genetics, if only one in 4,000. I mean, so lousy genetics would be one in 400. And if you get a male plant, it can contaminate your whole crop. So handy to not have a lot of males.
Matt: So it's just basically like growing vegetables more or less. Instead of having a plant that is using energy to grow seeds, you are have developed a plant that genetically is disposed to just making flower more or less.
Michael: That's right. Flower and concentrating on those oils, enriching the trichomes.
Matt: So what do you guys offer right now?
Planting, harvesting & processing hemp
Michael: Well, we planted, if you can believe this number, we planted 4.5 million seeds in the spring. So we planted 1 million CBG dominant strain seeds in Oregon on 500 acres. And we planted 2.5 million seeds in Colorado. And we planted another million seeds in Kentucky. So we're going to yield somewhere in the neighborhood of about 3 million pounds in total.
Matt: That's impressive. That's very impressive.
Michael: It's quite a lot. Yeah. And growing it is probably one of the easier parts. I think the harvest is difficult. We have some proprietary harvesting equipment that we use, and we've had to have modified. And actually it's getting tight, the guys are nibbling their nails because we're waiting for these specialized combines to get delivered. I think they're on track, but it's been a nail biter. And then even drying is the next thing. So once you harvest it, sometimes people get over that hurdle. And then curing it or drying it is a very big endeavor.
I mean you can imagine this as… On one farm we've got a million pounds of dry, that's about 10 million pounds wet. So we put them in these, we have about six grain silos. And we pile them in the grain silos and there's huge fans, and propane and heat. And we blow the air from below through the grain silos. And we have a big fan up top that's sucking the air out as well. So it takes about 18 hours, 18 to 24 hours per turn. And so we have to move all 10 million wet pounds through these eight drying silos. So it's quite a quite an undertaking.
Matt: Now is that process any different than you would do… Since you're going for CBG, and CBN, which is another one we'll talk about in a minute, but since you're going for those, is that process any different than you would normally do for CBD?
Michael: Well, last year we only farmed 110 acres, and we hung dry all of that inside of a building. And then we closed the building and turned on the hot fans. But this is 10x that. So we did have to build all this new… We raised a considerable amount of capital. We raised about $35 million. So we've been deploying the capital into mechanizing our farms.
Matt: That is impressive.
Michael: And Buying these big dryers. And to answer your question related to the CBD versus a CBG, the CBG is a much more delicate flower. It has a very chalky feel to it, versus the CBD flower is sticky, like resiny, like a marijuana plant would be. So yeah, so this powdery, chalky trichomes that come on the CBG plant, we did believe that if we used tumble dryers, like a laundry dryer, a tumble dryer was an option that we had decided not to go with because we thought we'd lose too many of the trichomes to the tumbling process.
So to answer your question, yes, it is a special process that we felt that we needed to use, specifically on the CBG.
Extracting CBD & CBG
Matt: So is extraction going to be any different for that?
Michael: Extractions going to be a little bit different. Yeah. So the CBG comes off at a different temperature than the CBD. So it has, I believe it's a lower boiling point. And so we do have to tweak the extractors a little bit, but I don't believe it's a huge difference.
Matt: And what kind of extraction are you guys doing?
Michael: Yeah, we're doing CO2. Which is interesting because if you'd asked me a month or two months ago, I would have said ethanol. But the market, and we saw this coming as well, I mean the market was all isolet because they wanted 99.9% pure CBD. No one wanted to have a chance of any trace of some THC in there because you didn't want to get in trouble. But now the market has gone to a more, the people want this broad spectrum. We say full spectrum, that would include the THC.
So what people are calling it now is broad spectrum. Everything but the THC. They want all the, like you mentioned, CBN, they want CBS, CBDV, all of them, CBG. And the best way to maintain the terpene profile and the whole plant profile is to use CO2 extraction. And it costs more money, and they're smaller units, and it's a slower process, but it's a much better product in the end. So we have succumb to the fact that we need to use CO2 versus ethanol, or propane, or butane, or any other type of solvent extraction.
Exploring other cannabinoids
Matt: Okay. That was the next thing I wanted to ask you. I was looking at the website and I was reading some stuff. And right there it says like, "Look, this is more expensive because it's more difficult to do." Why go down this path as opposed to not just being a CBD isolate, or just calling it a broad spectrum CBD? How come you guys wanted to move to this feminized hemp and focus more on CBN and CBG?
Michael: Right. Well, I think a number of reasons. CBG, we wanted to differentiate ourselves from other competitors. I think the market is getting commoditized. We're not a huge player, we're pretty big in the feminized, in the CBG world. But as far as in the overall hemp world, we're not a massive player. And these guys are going to use big equipments and big land tracks, and they're going to commoditize the CBD business. And the genetics are everywhere. Our genetics are pretty hard to get. We have sort of front of the line access, we have an agreement with our geneticist. And we just think that it's a more niche market, but we think we're going to stand out from everybody else that's doing CBD, and commoditizing it. And yeah, we just wanted to have a lot of efficacy in our products. And we think blending CBD and CBG together is going to help us find solutions to real problems, like psoriasis, and Crohn's disease, and things like this. CBG is supposed to be incredible for skin irritations.
Matt: Okay. So CBN, where does that come in?
Michael: Yeah, so CBN is a… Not next year we're doing CBDV. The year after we have a genetic that's not commercialized yet, but it will be next year, to grow CBN. But really it's an oxidized THC. And I believe there's going to be a way, I mean you're not supposed to have THC, so somehow we've got to figure out a way to oxidize the THC before it is THC in the plant. So we're working on that. CBN is very valuable. It goes for about 45 to $55,000 a kilogram right now. And it's really good for sleep. So we'll figure out a way. Genetically, we're going to grow it in a couple of years, but we're talking to some doctors, some scientists now that think that they can convert the THC.
Matt: Okay. That's good. I'm going to edit this, don't worry.
Michael: Yeah, okay. Good. I turned off the buzzing there.
Matt: That's okay. So tell me about CBDV. What is the V?
Michael: Honestly, I can't tell you exactly what the V is right this second. Usually you'll see the CBDA, and the THCA, and that's the acid. I don't know what the V stands for, I have to be honest. I know, again, it has a whole different profile of things that it affects in the body, and the different receptors that it binds to. And it's a valuable crop. So that's the one we're testing this year. We have a test crop on our farm in Oregon, and next year it should be commercialized. And we're probably going to grow several hundred acres of CBDV next year.
Matt: I mean, everybody's learning I guess at this point. And we keep finding new things every time we test this stuff. So that's perfectly fair. I don't judge answer at all.
Michael: I don't know everything. I'm more on the corporate finance side, raising the money, and telling the story. But the geniuses are back on the farm right now, sweating over getting this crop out of the field.
The future of hemp & Hemptown USA
Matt: Right. So do you think that feminized hemp, do you think this is where CBD growing goes? I mean it sounds like… I come from a culinary background. And from a culinary background, what you're saying about plants not putting energy into making seeds, it makes a lot of sense. And do you think this is where CBD and hemp goes from here?
Michael: I think so. And I'll tell you my understanding, again, everything is my understanding, but the industrial hemp, the non-feminized hemp, the stuff that looks like bamboo with a little flower on top. You can get CBD from industrial hemp. Probably two to three, and they'll probably tweak it up to 4% maybe next year. But I don't think you get the full spectrum. I don't think you can get CBG. I don't think you can get CBN. All of them. There's CBS, there's 113 as you know. I don't think there's much of a spectrum or a plant profile to industrialize hemp, or non-feminized hemp. So I think if you want this entourage effect, this a broad spectrum product, you're going to have to go with feminized hemp.
Matt: So when do you guys expect to be in full production? I noticed everything that I saw on your site was sort of coming soon, pre-order now. When do you expect to be in production?
Michael: Yeah, so we're currently harvesting the top flower in both Oregon. We started about a week ago in Oregon, 20 acres a day. Harvesting, hand harvesting, top flower, trimming it with trimming machines. And then they just started the last couple of days in Kentucky, also harvesting the top flower for the CBD. And so, I mean this is a newer thing that's smoking flower from the hemp plant. Before the farm bill, it was almost nonexistent. And that was one of the big changes when the farm bill came through for us, is our phone lit up and everyone was wanting to buy our flower.
And this year we weren't even sure if the CBG flower was going to be in demand. And to our surprise, there's a lot of people in the valley right now looking to buy CBG in the six to $800 a pound for the flower. So we're pretty excited about that. That could be a huge windfall for us. And then I would say that we'll start harvesting in about 10 days, the biomass, the rest of the plant that's not the top flower. And then Colorado, we're about three weeks behind the normal schedule. They had a late spring. I don't know if you heard they had some snow in Colorado in June.
Matt: Yeah. We had it in Nebraska too. So I know all about it.
Michael: Right. We started, I think in late June, we didn't get all the plants into the field until about the middle of July. So they're going to be a couple three weeks behind, which is fine. Because we'll move, move the combines back up to Colorado. They were modified in Colorado. And they're sending them down to Oregon now. And when we're done in Oregon, we'll turn around and send them back up to a Colorado.
In Kentucky, we have 24 different farmers that are farming the 500 acres. So they all have their own equipment. They'll hang dry, they won't use these big dryers. They'll hang dry their material because there's multiple different farmers, that all have their own hanging… Tobacco farming, which is what these guys really do. 90% of their business is tobacco farming. It's very similar to hemp, where it's a delicate plant. You cant rip leaves, and the government goes in and appraises all of it, and grades it all. So they're very used to working with a high value crop, the Kentucky farmers.
Matt: Sure. And I would assume if you were doing tobacco farming, the switch to hemp farming just isn't that different. You have a lot of what you already need.
Michael: Exactly. They didn't need to invest that much capital at all, which was very nice. And we gave them what we call our SOPs, our standard operating procedures. And that's another thing I think if I can take a bow. We're only one of about five companies that has US Hemp Authority designation, both in our Kentucky fields and now in the Oregon field as well. And then we're also applying for our organic designation as well. But that's to come. But yeah, we achieved US Hemp Authority designation a couple, three weeks ago in Kentucky, and then just this week in Oregon. So we're pretty proud of that achievement.
Matt: I actually just spoke to the president of the US Hemp Association, Marielle. I just spoke to her on our last show. She was fantastic, we love her.
Michael: Great. Okay. Well, we love her too.
Matt: So how new are you guys? Is this a pretty new operation?
Michael: Well, in Oregon that Rod Wolterman, the founder of the company, he grew 110 acres last year. 50 acres for his own account and 60 acres for his neighbor, who he had the split the crop with. So we produced 250,000 pounds last year. It all got sold through for about $10 million. We started selling in February of 2019, and it was all gone by end of Q2. And it all went to one processor Mile High Labs, in Denver, Colorado. And they paid us $56 a pound, which is very, very high price. I think most people are getting 40 to $45 a pound.
We were running about 13% on our COAs. And it was just juicy stuff. When they were processing as they were getting a really high recoveries. So they took their first chunk, a couple of million dollars worth, and then they came back and they said, "We want it all." So we had some premium product, and we're using the same genetics this year. They cost a bit more, but that old adage, you get what you pay for. I think with genetics it's super important because they're not hot. They don't go late into the season, and they produce high grade, just like the gold mining business. The higher the grade the better off you are.
Matt: Sure. Real quick, for those who don't know, what is a COA that you mentioned?
Michael: A certificate of analysis.
Matt: Okay, so you guys are doing independent testing and everything on your own?
Michael: Oh yeah. Independent labs, everything. And we track, we track seed to sale. We have tracking software that tracks… These guys used to be in the cannabis business before where it's really mandatory that you track everything from seed to sale. They were trained up on how to… And also they took a lot of what they'd learned in the cannabis marijuana business and brought it to the hemp business. So they're growing hemp, feminized camp, in Oregon, like you would grow outdoor marijuana. So they're farther apart. They do use drip tape and they feed right to the roots. They don't overhead spray, they don't… So that's a no flood irrigation. So they do it very scientifically. So that's, I think one of the reasons that for our success in the field, is the methods that we use. Our standard operating procedures.
Building better hemp
Matt: So what does the future hold for you guys? Two years from now, where do you want to be? What do you guys doing?
Michael: Yeah, so we're advancing the genetics. We're into the CBDV, we're into the CBN, and then we're also buying brands. Almost every day we're looking at acquiring a brand. We bought a company called Kirkman Group, which is a nutraceutical manufacturing facility. It's both EGMP certified, and it's FDA licensed. And we're converting… They have 400 SKUs, mostly in the vitamin nutraceutical arena. And we're converting a lot of that business into now they're manufacturing. Our first product that came out of there was a CBD, CBG gum. And we plan on making more and more products in that facility. And because it's CGMP, we can ship to Europe, we can ship to Asia. It's in Portland, Oregon. Not too far from where we are in Medford, Oregon.
Matt: [crosstalk] That's mainly going to be a food related, is that right?
Michael: Well, we're not doing anything in the food yet. I mean, we're waiting for the FDA.
Matt: Everybody is.
Michael: There's a lot of pressure on them to do allow CBD because it's re-energized the Midwest, with a lot of farmers planting it. So I think eventually the FDA will come with guidelines that allow us to put it in food and beverages. But right now we're focused on the tinctures and the topicals, the stuff that is legal. We're developing a line of shampoo. We're developing all kinds of different products.
Matt: [crosstalk] Cool. Going all out, man. That's the way to do it.
Michael: … Consumer packaged goods. Yeah. So that's where the margins are, is in the consumer packaged goods. And everyone's going to want this seed to sale. I call it farm to face.
Matt: I like that.
Michael: They want to know where the product came from so they're not… I think a year or two ago they were buying the isolates on Alibaba, and who knows where it comes from. So I think people are going to want to know, just like the grapes, just like a fine wine, they're going to want to know where their hemp was grown, what appellation. In California they're talking about making designations like they have in France for the different appellations in California.
Matt: I mean, why not?
Matt: I mean when you've got this kind of soil that grows this kind of feminized hemp very well, and it produces this level of CBD, CBN, CBG, yeah. By all means. Name it. Call it what it is and be proud of that. It sounds like you guys have beautiful farms in Oregon, and Colorado, and Kentucky. I think it's amazing what you guys are doing.
Michael: Thank you. And then we're also going to brand any product, any one of these people that buy or any of these companies that buy our products to put in their products, we want them to, and they want like Intel inside. We, we say Hemptown inside, or powered by Hemptown. So we have a little seal that goes on in the package and that's part of our deal because we market the Hemptown brand quite a bit as you know. And we think that people are going to want to buy products that they say Hemptown inside, and they know that it comes from Oregon. And it comes from a US Hemp Authority organic designation.
So that's what we're working on. Build our brand, build our B2B businesses for our customers, and I think we should be public sometime next year or early next year. Maybe we don't even have to do a financing. We might do a direct listing because the amount of money that we're taking in on these selling the CBG, we probably won't need to raise any more money. So it could be just a direct listing, boom, away we go.
Matt: That is fantastic. And it's so good to hear success stories like this, especially when people are dealing with finance issues, and banking issues, and electronic payment issues. But I mean, if you're doing it the right way and you're representing the product the right way, it sounds like there's nothing to do but succeed.
Michael: Yeah, I mean that was one of the attractions of hemp. When I heard about the farm bill coming back in October of '18, and I mean it was hard to believe that cannabis plants are going to be federally legal in the United States. So your going to actually have access to banking, there's no taxes, there's going to be crop insurance for next year, we get subsidies on tractor, farm equipments. It's been a real pleasure to be in the business versus some of my friends that are in the THC side of the business, where they can't get bank accounts, and they're paying with poison cash.
Matt: Yeah, it's a nightmare right now. It really is. Just an over-regulated nightmare. So when can I expect to try one of your tinctures? When are those coming?
Michael: Yeah, well, we have the gum. I can send you some gum right away.
Matt: Oh, I would love that. I would love that. Yeah.
Michael: Yeah. It's pretty potent too. We got five milligrams of CBG, and 20 milligrams of CBD in each I guess round, the round pieces. And tinctures, I don't know how high tincture is up on our list, but I'm sure it's probably be before Christmas. But I think we're going to get into the topicals. We have a deal, we're just working on a deal with a pretty big brand out of Los Angeles. They're in the beverage industry. They're a big beverage brand and they came to us and they wanted to pivot into have a Hemp Glow product. And we thought that was a great idea, but we'd also like to add some topicals to their, use their brand, their Glow brand and add some topicals because they've already gotten the distribution there in 22,000 stores.
And we thought, "Well, if you guys are going to Kroger's with the beverages, with our products in them, why don't we send you with the gum, and some topicals." High-end hand lotion. CBG is very good for dermatitis, dry skin in the cold temperatures. So yeah, we'll have some products on the shelves there shortly.
Matt: I'll be looking for that this winter in the Midwest because it gets really dry and awful here. Michael, I don't want to take up any more of your time. You've been fantastic and I don't want to take you away from your kid's Taekwondo either.
Michael: That's right. Okay, well I appreciate that. Thank you very much.
Final thoughts with Matt
Matt: Huge thanks to Michael for coming on the show and really spilling out what feminized hemp is, and why it's important. It sounds like there's a lot of exciting stuff from Hemptown USA that'll be coming soon, and of course you'll be able to find information about that on ministryofhemp.com.
As always, you'll be able to find links to Hemptown USA and the other exciting stuff Michael has going on in the show notes. And of course a complete written transcription of the entire episode. While you are waiting for the next episode of our show head over to ministryofhemp.com. Where we have got a PhytoLogica CBD giveaway going on, on our Instagram account. PhytoLogica is a great company and they make full spectrum hemp for both people and their furry friends. And Ministry of Hemp is giving away three PhytoLogica products to three lucky winners.
To enter head over to Instagram, Ministry of Hemp, and like our contest post. Also over at ministryofhemp.com we've got a great article about the best CBD assistance programs and CBD discounts that are out there, so get over and check that out. Quality CBD is expensive stuff, but if you have a disability, if you're an educator, a student, a first responder, maybe you're from a low income household, you're a senior, you're a veteran or an active duty military service member, there are discount programs and assistance programs out there that we can help you find.
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Next time on the show, we will be talking about hemp and the elderly. So I hope you're looking forward to that, but for now, remember to take care of yourself, take care of others, and make good decisions will you. This is Matt Baum for the Ministry of Hemp, signing off.
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