Gloucester philanthropist launches line of organic CBD products

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A Gloucester philanthropist known for promoting the arts and helping Main Street is now an organic hemp farmer and processor releasing wellness and self-care products through a new business venture.

Adrianne Joseph founded River Organics on her Goshen Farm property between the Ware River and the Gloucester Court House area. The farm grows hemp that’s processed on-site in small batches to make CBD or cannabidiol products including mint, citrus and natural tinctures and massage oils made with tea tree and peppermint oils.

The products come in different sizes and range in price from about $45 for a 1-ounce, 300-milligram CBD tincture to $120 for a 4-ounce, 1,200-milligram CBD massage oil. The products are gluten-free, vegan, kosher and non-GMO (genetically modified organism). The business sells from Riverorganics.com and Joseph said she is working to find more retail partners.

In a month, the business plans to offer higher potency tinctures and pet products, like a bacon-flavored CBD tincture, operations manager Ryan Cross said. In the summer, River Organics plans to release a lip balm, cooling stick and a bath bomb. It’s also working on a chocolate recipe and a hemp herbal tea blend with lavender and rose hips, production specialist Rex Jones said.

CBD products are used in products marketed for wellness and self-care, but the Food and Drug Administration is still developing regulations and hasn’t evaluated the efficacy and safety of various claims. River Organics puts a disclaimer on its website and product packaging that it can’t claim its CBD products can treat or cure a disease.

It’s like the “Wild West” with evolving regulations and rules varying from state to state, Joseph said. That also creates an opportunity for River Organics to distinguish itself early on, particularly from online sources where customers may not know what they’re getting.

“I think by what we’re doing, we are setting a standard,” she said.

She said both the growing and extraction processes meet U.S. Department of Agriculture organic certification standards, which the business invests in through strict protocols and added costs. The products are tested by a third-party lab to ensure quality and consumers can visit the website or scan a QR code on the product package with a smartphone to get the analysis, Cross said, adding the business strives to be at the forefront of customer transparency.

“Because it is so new, people are confused,” he said. “They need to learn.”

CBD is a chemical compound found in cannabis plants. Hemp, defined by federal legislation, is a cannabis plant that does not exceed 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Marijuana is a cannabis plant with higher THC levels. Unlike THC, CBD cannot get someone “high.”

The farm had been growing organic soybeans and corn when Joseph, who had practiced as an American and French lawyer, saw opportunity in the 2018 Farm Bill that legalized hemp production. She said she had experience helping startups get off the ground and wanted to get into an emerging industry that could work for the farm. About a quarter of the 400-acre property is farmland, she said.

She also saw potential for the deep-rooted plant in sustainable farming practices, like carbon sequestration and reducing runoff to the Chesapeake Bay. Joseph had taken steps to preserve the land with a conservation easement and hopes the business can be an example to others of making farmland work. River Organics participates in 1% for the Planet, which is a Vermont-based network where members commit to giving 1% of sales revenue to nonprofits helping the environment.

“We all feel very strongly about protecting the environment,” Joseph said.

The farm is in its third year of hemp production. About 3,000 hemp plants seeded by hand are growing under tender care in the farm’s greenhouse to be transplanted by hand to a 5-acre field later, Cross said. The team will add another 2,000 this year. They’re cultivated by a team led by master horticulturalist Donny Gilman, who’s been the farm manager for about 16 years and has a background as an ornamental grower.

About 10 people work in the River Organics business, Cross said.

“We do everything by hand,” she said, comparing the care to making fine wine.

Both Cross and Joseph said they liked how a historic estate dating back to the 1750s has been able to transition to a new crop that at the same time isn’t so new. Joseph referenced how hemp was cultivated in Colonial America, which an online Colonial Williamsburg article also details, specifically that hemp produced strong fiber for use in ropes, sacks and clothes.

“It’s fun to work in something that’s so innovative,” she said.

The CBD trend fits with Joseph’s lifestyle, as she’s interested in well-being and stays active swimming and doing yoga. She founded the Cook Foundation 22 years ago to bring more arts to Gloucester and support artists in the county. She and her late husband, Edwin Joseph, also started the Main Street Preservation Trust 16 years ago after buying what’s now the Main Street Center shopping center and rehabilitating it. The income from the shopping center funds the trust, which helps Main Street attract and retain businesses and fund projects to enhance the area with beautification and civic and cultural activities.

Kelsick Specialty Market on Main Street has sold a decent amount of River Organics products over the past four months, owner Paige Williams said. Other companies pitched selling at the store but she liked how River Organics is local and high quality.

Williams’ take on CBD is that “it’s very up and coming, especially this year, it’s going to trend really high.”

Customer Suzanne Scott, who lives in Gloucester, ordered the citrus CBD tincture. She puts a dropper full under her tongue for a minute as part of her nightly ritual to help with arthritis pain and promote overall well-being.

“I didn’t have high expectations but I wanted to try it,” she said. “It was local and organic, and it really did help.”

Tara Bozick, 757-247-4741, tbozick@dailypress.com

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