Published August 27, 2019
When we arrived at Northeast Kingdom Hemp (NEK Hemp), a hemp grower and extraction facility nestled at the foot of Vermont’s Barton Mountain, founder Cam Devereux was coming off their two-acre hemp field after mowing. Oldest of his two sons, 20-year old Camden was wrapping up a three-day extraction training course for a team flown in from San Francisco. Joel, 17, finished watering the waist-high hemp plants and made sure the lab was tidy after the training course. Karen, mom, wife and head of operations, was completing last minute orders, fielding emails, and wondering out loud who was going to manage all this when she went back to her teaching job at the end of the summer. NEK Hemp is not just a thriving hemp business, but a family affair.
In Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, hemp has replaced most traditional crops and livestock farming. Now fields of hemp spread like a patchwork on a quilt across the lush green landscape. The two-acre farm where the Devereaux’s grow, extract, and produce CBD products is where Cam grew up and was once a large prosperous dairy farm. When dairy farming was flailing, a big portion of the land was sold off. Cam kept the remaining acres to settle down with Karen, raise a family and operate a successful pipe welding business.
Karen recalls it was during spring 2017 when hemp came into their lives.
I remember the day Cam came home and told me about this new thing called CBD that he heard about from a friend. And Cam said to me, ‘You can grow hemp!’
She chuckles at the memory because it was neither a statement or question. That very same spring, Cam jumped into hemp cultivation with both feet. The consummate entrepreneur, he bought seeds, built a greenhouse, and planted their first 1100 plants.
Admittedly, Karen was skeptical about the health claims surrounding CBD, but if she was going to support the business, she had to support the product they’d be producing and representing . She wanted to test hemp oil’s effectiveness on her 82-year old mother’s debilitating arthritis. Within three days of taking CBD capsules, her mother found relief and has been taking CBD ever since. After this, Karen was all in.
“We didn’t really know anything about hemp or growing it, but learned as we went along. It didn’t go as smoothly as we’d hoped. Promises were broken by a certain company who said they would take our entire first harvest. They didn’t and we were stuck with all of it. Luckily, it worked out in the end, but…,” Karen trailed off.
That first season, holding an entire harvest with no buyers in sight prompted Cam to make another huge leap of faith: an investment in lab equipment and a Critical CO2 extraction machine to produce their own full spectrum oil. Ultimately, this move allowed them to maximize the quality, potency, and jump-started a line of CBD products that now consist of pre-rolls, tinctures, bar soaps, bath bombs as well as branding the Vermont appeal with CBD-infused Maple Sticks (CBD and maple syrup packaged in a straw), Cam’s Finest Buds (5g of their largest premium buds), and CBD-infused Sweet Maple Nips (locally tapped maple syrup and CBD).
“We know we’re small compared to the other cultivators in the area, but we’re okay with that. Cam focuses on quality over quantity. We cater to people who need premium, artisan, consistent quality to help with physical symptoms. We want to be the Hill Farmstead of hemp,” Karen said referring to a local small batch artisan brewery who have won international acclaim with their world-class beers.
She added, “Our fields are the perfect size for us to work and I hate to sound corny, but Cam loves each and every plant and tends to them every day.”
When you watch the Devereux’s work alongside each other, you can see how they made it through the stressful ups and downs of starting a new business in a risky emerging industry like Cannabis. And you witness every Devereux has a say and is valued in the family seed-to-sale business. Karen agrees that their adventure in hemp has tested their mettle and at the same time, created a reconnection with the family farmland.
Excitement is in the air as fall harvest approaches. Making it through the last couple of seasons has allowed them some well-earned breathing room. Feeling confident about the quality and potency of their grow, their customer base, and growing methods, the Devereaux’s are ready to tackle marketing and hoping to grow sales in the next year. Two things that will go unchanged is their size and keeping it a family affair.