David Falkowski is not a man who can separate his hands from his heart.

He farms with conviction, not only caring for his famous mushrooms — and the over 200 varieties of vegetables naturally growing beside them — but also the East End community, his lifelong home, and the people who live here.

He is growing cannabis for them, he says.

“Very often in this world, if you don’t do something, how can you expect anybody else to do it?” he said aboard his tractor, transplanting tomatoes in the field. “I’ve been given this opportunity and a gift to truly touch and help people. Don’t get me wrong, I feel we’ve really done a lot with our food and our mushrooms, but this is another natural gift we can use.”

Two years ago, the owner of Open Minded Organics in Bridgehampton became one of the first licensed growers of industrial hemp in New York State, getting in on the ground floor of an industry that has slowly burned and finally exploded: CBD.

As part of a state-funded pilot program, Falkowski planted his first crop in 2017, yielding a couple thousand pounds of cannabis to help him produce cannabidiol products, or CBD — a chemical compound, or cannabinoid, found in hemp extract that has witnessed a dramatic growth in sales over the past five years, marking the end of the prohibition of cannabis and the birth a $1-billion industry.

Heralded as a miracle cure-all — said to ease anxiety and sooth inflammation, and help ailments from insomnia to menstrual cramps — CBD does not get its users “high,” due to the near absence of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychotropic component of the cannabis plant, according to acupuncturist Kevin Menard, who is experimenting with mixing CBD and traditional Chinese herbs to amplify his practice.

“By law, a CBD hemp plant can have a maximum of 0.3% THC by dry weight volume, which means that as the female plant is growing, it starts to produce all these cannabinoids,” he said. “As the plant is doing that, they’re testing it to see what is the level of THC. As soon as it gets to 0.2%, they cut the plant and dry it. They don’t want it to grow anymore and develop more THC.

“If they allowed that plant to grow another week and all of a sudden it’s 1 percent THC,” he continued, “it would be considered a cannabis plant and they’d have to burn it.”

Even though Falkowski is one of only a few New Yorkers to hold a license to grow hemp, CBD is already widely available in rapidly growing varieties on the East End alone, from capsules, tonics, creams and rubs to edibles, vape pens and even personal lubricant.

“There is potential for the East End to transform our economy over here,” Menard said. “There are a lot of farms that have been here generations, and they’re not making money in potatoes and corn anymore. The families don’t want to sell, but if they convert a portion to hemp, they can make some good money. It’s good for the environment, it’s good for local business, and I think it could be an economic booster for the East End, on both forks.”

Cannabis sativa grows at David Falkowski’s Bridgehampton farm at an undisclosed location in Bridgehampton. Lori Hawkins photo

To match the pace of the growing demand, Falkowski said it would be borderline impossible without his near-bottomless supply of hemp extract.

“We are literally plowing through it,” he said. “I won’t complain — these are good problems to have — but it’s beyond most people’s comprehension. A lot has changed in the last 24 months, even. Now, the lid is completely off.

“It’s not just like, ‘Hey, I heard about CBD,’” he continued. “It seems, at this point now, everybody has at least one person in the family, or more, who is using the product with some level of success, or at least enough to speak highly and recommend it — whereas, last year, it was more like one house on a street, let alone one person in that house.”

About three years ago, Susan Blacklocke said she first started to pay attention to CBD when older, more conservative shoppers began wandering into Provisions Natural Foods Grocery and Café specifically seeking it out for anxiety, insomnia and inflammation.

It was a demographic she never expected, the nutritionist and vitamin specialist explained, and it was enough for her to try it out herself.

“I was hesitant to try it in the beginning because I really felt I had no reason,” she said. “I remember trying it one time and feeling a very relaxed state and I wasn’t used to that. Now, I use it sparingly for muscle cramps, and it really helps. That, to me, is undeniable.”

The Sag Harbor shop now carries a variety of oils and tinctures from NYC Botanics and Open Minded Organics.

“I would say it’s more popular and I think it’s definitely trendy, and a lot of people are taking it because it’s trendy,” Blacklocke said. “But from what I’ve seen, it was the older customers — those people you think might be a little more difficult to encourage because of its pricing and because it’s cannabis — who legitimized it as a medicine for all.”

The hemp effect is not exclusive to the health sector alone, Falkowski said. If given the chance, this plant could revolutionize modern industry at large — from manufacturing, the stock market, fashion and real estate to academics, advertising, food and beverage. In an industry that is moving fast, these kinds of talks are well underway, he said, as well as consideration of the negative impacts, such as farming, production, packaging and logistic concerns.

“This cannabinoid thing, it’s the upfront money maker,” he said, “but the long game is really interjecting the true industrial uses of hemp into the market, whether it’s plastics, fibers, bio-fuels, it’s endless. That’s the big future there.”

Until legislation changes and regulations are slapped in place, hemp is for the farmers, by the farmers and for the people, Falkowski said, and he plans to continue producing CBD tinctures and oil while the laws still favor small business.

“If we don’t do this, I won’t have an opportunity as a small farmer in the future and, most definitely, the small farmers that are part of this growing network won’t have an opportunity, either,” he said. “This is really like fighting big business, in a way. I’m not a very political guy, but this really is fighting for what’s ours. Who brought cannabis to where it is today?”

He did not answer his rhetorical question.

“I’m a farmer who authentically cares for people. I’m an empath,” he continued. “This is really an opportunity to deeply touch people’s lives in a positive way, so that’s why we’re doing it.”

Kevin Menard inserts an acupuncture needle into a patient in his Sag Harbor office. Michael Heller photo

Pairing CBD and Acupuncture

Chinese herbs may be highly effective, but no one likes to take them, according to acupuncturist Kevin Menard.

In teas, some of the herbs give off a repulsive odor, with a taste to match — and the brown color doesn’t help matters, either. As capsules, the ratio of consumption to effect is disheartening, to say the least, often resulting in a tedious routine with varying results.

But Menard knew this pillar of traditional Chinese medicine could help his patients. So the Sag Harbor-based practitioner went where no acupuncturist has gone before.

In light of the growing, science-backed hype surrounding cannabidiol, or CBD — a chemical compound, known as a cannabinoid, extracted from the hemp, or cannabis, plant — Menard decided to merge the two, amplifying their medicinal power against pain and inflammation. Unlike its more famous cousin, THC, this cannabinoid does not have the same psychotropic effect, he said, as it consists of .3 percent or less of the legal THC limit.

“The symptoms of an inflamed central nervous system are anxiety, insomnia, PTSD, Alzheimer’s, all of these conditions that were extremely rare 100 years ago and are now commonplace,” Menard said. “All of our bodies right now are hyper-inflamed, and they can’t keep up. So what happens when you ingest CBD, it locks into the receptor cells in our endocannabinoid systems, and our body releases more of its endogenous cannabinoids, thereby reducing systemic inflammation.

“In essence, we’re helping our bodies work more optimally, naturally, to reduce inflammation,” he said. “So that’s the beauty of it.”

As part of Menard’s company Sagamore Botanicals, his CBD/Qi capsule line of custom formulations combines the best of both worlds: hemp extracts with synergistic Chinese herbs that are easy to consume, therefore enabling better patient compliance, he said.

“Using acupuncture, we do the same thing with needles, when we talk about dispersing the Qi and blood stagnation,” he said. “That’s how we reduce pain. My role is to get the body back in harmony. Cannabinoids do that on an internal level, so I said, ‘Wow, wouldn’t it be great as I’m treating on the outside with needles to create a product that treats them on the inside as well, to balance them?’”

Cannabis itself was once used as a Chinese herb, dating back thousands of years, Menard recently discovered. According to the ancient Chinese texts, cannabinoids are a recorded herb known as “mu hua,” widely recognized to reduce pain and inflammation, or to disperse Qi and blood stagnation, he said.

“So we’ve come full circle. We have these Chinese herbs and now we’re adding the new, old Chinese herb,” he said. “The funny thing is, they say if you take it, it reduces Qi and blood stagnation. But if you take too much, you run around in circles and see ghosts. Basically, if you take too much, you get high. That was in the ancient text. You can’t make this stuff up.”

Rest assured, the three different formulas offered by Sagamore Botanicals would pass a drug test with flying colors, each working as an extension of Menard’s acupuncture practice or on its own.

“I’m treating people for pain and, for some patients, the needles are helping a lot and for other patients, the needles are just okay,” he said. “When I’ve given them the herbs, it helps much better. It starts where the needles leave off and brings them to a whole other level.”

The Xie Corydalis Formula — which includes broad spectrum, water-soluble CBD combined with corydalis, white willow, black pepper and breomelain — is specifically crafted for pain and inflammation, and Menard said he is already receiving positive feedback.

“What’s happening is patients are feeling more clear and more energized because you’re lowering all that background inflammation that you have in your body,” he said.

For performance enhancement, Menard recommends the Yang Deer Antler Formula — “These herbs are known to build testosterone and the precursors for human growth hormone,” he said — while the Huo Cordyceps Formula is best for energy and focus.

“It gives you get-up-and-go to work out, or gives you a really strong stream of energy throughout the day,” he said.

While studies have shown that cannabinoids are proven to reduce chronic inflammation in muscles, joints, tissue and the central nervous system that cause pain, tremors, anxiety and autoimmune related conditions, there is still a healthy dose of stigma surrounding CBD and its consumption — despite its popularity as a mainstream panacea.

“People hear ‘CBD’ and they think ‘cannabis,’” Menard said. “It’s slowly changing as everyone’s hearing about it and reading about it. More and more people are trying it, and more and more people are amazed at the results — both topically or taking it internally. There is so much potential for cannabinoids. It’s exciting because this medicine is going to revolutionize so much treatment in so many ways.”

Changing the Laws

In the wake of New York failing to become the 12thstate to legalize the recreational use of cannabis, Congress recently passed two bills to regulate the production and marketing of hemp extract in the state, including cannabidiol, known as CBD, on the final day of the 2019 legislative session.

Poised to set an example for the rest of the nation, the new law establishes a regulatory framework for hemp extract production, extraction, manufacturing and sale in New York, updating the hemp permitting process and regulating the extract industry through testing and labeling, protecting both farmers and consumers.

It also requires that New York State hemp processors use New York-grown products.

“Hemp cultivation offers a tremendous opportunity for our farms in New York to diversify into this high-value crop,” Senator Jen Metzger, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, said in a statement. “This legislation creates a framework for developing and regulating this growing agricultural market to the benefit of New York farms while ensuring that consumers can trust that they are getting a quality, standardized product.”

In reading the small print of both bills, David Falkowski, owner of Open Minded Organics in Bridgehampton, remains skeptical, describing the new law as “a tricky one at the most fragile of moments.”

“Literally, every corporation in the world wants in on the New York market, and do you think that will do any good for the regular, small Joe Schmo? No — not unless they get it right,” he said. “The way it’s looking is it’s good for corporations, good for unions, but I really find it hard to believe that it would do anything for the small farmer, long term.”

The legislation almost didn’t happen, which is what Falkowski expected shortly before the final vote. Long tied to the proposal to legalize cannabis, it appeared to die with that measure, until its sponsors worked out a new bill without prior agreement from Governor Andrew M. Cuomo.

“As hard as it is to pass these things, it’s often said that it’s even harder to amend or repeal things sometimes,” Falkowski said. “So it all really depends on how you look at it — is it half empty or half full? Right now, it’s half full and it’s filling up.”

Enjoying the Surprising Pleasures of CBD

Taylor Berry, owner of Berry & Co. in Sag Harbor, has come across her fair share of snake oils, elixirs that claim to be cure-alls.

Harbor Books Proprietor Taylor Rose Berry with her hemp tea brew. Michael Heller photo

Cannabis — and, more specifically, cannabidiol, a chemical compound more commonly known as CBD — is not one of them, she says.

“Everybody is always looking for the next new healthful benefit of anything. I always joke around and say, ‘It’s like açai or vagina steaming. There’s always one thing that suddenly is going to change your life.’ I don’t know why CBD caught on in the way that it has, except for the fact that it works.”

Over the past three years, Ms. Berry has honed her selection of CBD products, starting with her CBD tea lattes at Harbor Books on Main Street before moving to her new location on Division Street.

Today, Berry & Co. has expanded its Sensimilla lifestyle — born out of the desire to educate people on a lifestyle rooted in cannabis — to include skin care, topical balms, vapes, even personal lubricant, Ms. Berry’s most popular item.

“I’ve created an environment where people are really comfortable asking questions and really comfortable being open and sharing knowledge,” she said. “So as soon as they see that we have this CBD lube, the immediate question is, ‘What isthat?’ It’s a mix of botanicals: it’s got peppermint and cinnamon and coconut oil and CBD. For women, the endocannabinoid system in your reproductive system everywhere from the front of it to the back of it is very, very responsive with endocannabinoid receptors.

“So it’s therapeutic for sexuality — post-menopausal, when you’re experiencing dryness or a lack of enjoyment, to just for fun enjoying it,” she continued. “It’s been fun to see women getting it, introducing it to their husbands, men, women. It’s a fun thing to watch people experience. It’s helpful if you need it and, otherwise, it could just be a hell of a lot of fun.”

Ms. Berry also carries 10 varieties of CBD confectionaries from Monarch & the Milkweed, based in Burlington, Vermont, each ranging from 25 mg to 50 mg CBD.

“They are delicious,” she said. “I find myself wanting to eat them regularly, and then being like, ‘No, I’ve tapped out on my CBD for the day, I need to slow down,’ because they’re just so good. The reality is, you’re not gonna OD on CBD. So if you happen to pop up an extra white chocolate truffle, it’s not the end of the world.”

In partnership with Elmore Mountain Therapeutics, Ms. Berry has developed a skincare line of her own, including a rose glow salt scrub “that’s amazing,” she said, and regularly incorporates CBD in her own skincare regimen.

“In the morning, if you notice bags under your eyes, dot a little CBD under there,” she said. “It’s the best eye cream you could possibly imagine.”

As published in the Express Magazine

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