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New Jersey Farmers Turn To Hemp To Cash In On High Demand

LINCOLN PARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- In a day and age when many farmers have folded their operations after selling their land to developers, others have pivoted to a form of cannabis as the new cash crop to grow their business.

Kenneth VandeVrede is a third generation farmer. His grandfather started raising mums and tomatoes in New Jersey 50 years ago and now, he's trying to stay ahead of the curve by diversifying his crop.

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"We've been selling flowers and herbs for 40 years to supermarkets," VandeVrede said. "This is good business for us, the next evolution where we can grow a product in high demand like hemp."

Marijuana, says VandeVrede and others, is the future. Governor Phil Murphy approved the farming of hemp in November, but the actual regulations must still be worked out. Already, dozens of farmers across the Garden State have also applied to expand into the lucrative new green industry.

Some say they hope to start growing by next year.

"Some farmers struggle, as a matter of individual's creativity, to branch out and adapt with changing conditions in an area," agriculture agent Bill Hlubik said.

Hemp is a strain of cannabis, just like marijuana, however hemp provides no high due to its very low level of THC. VandeVrede created the company Hillview Med to market hemp-based products which are currently legal to sell.

Hillview plans to transition several greenhouses from traditional plants to hemp. For now, VandeVrede is importing hemp from his farms in Colorado and New York to extract their oil. The seedlings start indoors with the help of hydroponics, then will be transferred outdoors.

The family owns land in Morris and Warren Counties.

Smaller family-run operations such as Giamarese Farm and Orchards in East Brunswick attribute their success to agricultural tourism, such as hay rides to pick your own apples. The owner Jim Giamarese is interested in hemp but unsure he has enough land or capital to get started.

"It takes a little bit of money to change your direction, so it would be pretty expensive," he said.

Brendon Pearsall is just starting his farming career.

"Smaller scale farms are more diverse direct market farms, there might not be as much of an opportunity for it, but you can find that in each market if you're working with a producer that's making CBD oil or something like that," he said. "If you can find that angle then you might be able to make it part of your portfolio."

That's just what VandeVrede plans to do -- share the wealth by contracting with small farmers and hiring more than 100 new employees in the next year.

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