The history of hemp runs deep in the Northeast. Before ‘America’ was even coined, this fibrous plant was cultivated by Native Americans for clothing, thread, paper and cordage. Early colonials considered hemp a staple crop, exporting it to England in the form of books, sails, tents, shoes and more.
Iris Rogers’ story starts in 1787 when her ancestors bought farmland in Upstate New York. This land was originally appropriated and paid to a soldier for his effort in the American Revolutionary. Centuries since this land last saw hemp production, it is now returning to its roots as Rogers grows her company Homestead Hemp 1787.
The farm, which has been in Rogers’ family for eight generations, needed to be cultivated if she, her siblings and cousins wanted to keep it. Her sister was the one to came up with the idea to grow hemp.
“It was originally my sister’s idea and I came home after I graduated college to give my effort to it working and give my time and energy to say that I tried and be able to say ‘I really want the farm to stay in the family, I really would like to see this succeed,’ but then I basically said I was going to give it two years max and then I was going to go back to my own career and I actually ended up taking everything over full-time July of last year,” Rogers said.
Rogers spent hours self-teaching and funneling energy into the hemp industry and, when her sister decided she did not want to be part of the business anymore, Rogers decided she would stay and devote a large chunk of her time to Homestead Hemp. Around that time, she decided to pursue help and discovered the Koffman Incubator’s Accelerator Program.
“I was going to quit and tie up all the strings, because I thought ‘there is no way I can do this all by myself, I know nothing about this, I don’t know how to do it, I don’t know anything about business.’”
Despite the four hour drive, she decided to join the Accelerator Program, making the trip from her farm in Salem, NY to Binghamton, NY for every single class.
“They were willing to give me that education for free so I was like ‘I’m going to drive four hours for every single class, I’m going to make this work,’ and it was just so helpful, strategic and eye-opening about what I needed to do, how I needed to sell, how I needed to think in a business sense,” Rogers said. “It was very, very rewarding.”
Now, Rogers has launched a website, an online store and has gained a huge following on Instagram @homesteadhemp1787. She’s cultivated a brand of CBD products oriented around the farm’s family history and its unique story. Products include pre-rolled CBD, CBD bath bombs, extracts and more. Rogers said the biggest customers come from word of mouth.
“They’re starting to order, and just place orders, without even talking to me,” Rogers said. “That’s really exciting for me, because what I’ve realized about the CBD industry is that it’s all word of mouth. There’s a lot of things we can’t do like paid online advertising.”
Hurdles still exist due to the regulation of hemp and cannabis in the country. Because of government regulations, Rogers cannot run advertising campaigns on social media.
“Running ads on social media is a huge thing I would love to be able to do and we can’t so people talking to other people and giving recommendations and them actually buying my product—that’s a big deal to me,” Rogers said.
Rogers said she sees a bright future with cannabis which can create jobs, opportunities and money. She hopes for advancement of the cannabis industry in New York state. For now, she’s focused on her CBD product.
“I really like giving people a reliable source of CBD and getting such great feedback from our customers about how it’s working for them and how it is changing their lives and that’s the part I really, really enjoy,” Rogers said.
Learn more about Homestead Hemp at their website: homesteadhemp1787.com