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Down a rural farm road on the outskirts of Bergheim, 40 minutes north of San Antonio, lies the green pasture nurturing Texas' first legal hemp farm. At Texas First Hemp, visitors can take a look inside the farming operation, demystifying some of the stigma and buying samples on their way out.
Owners Jennifer and Austin Ruple were some of the first to receive hemp-growing permits after the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 1325 in June 2019, legalizing hemp farming in Texas. Hemp is a variety of cannabis that contains less than .3% THC, a compound known to produce psychoactive effects. The Ruples primarily focus on cannabidiol, or CBD, a naturally occurring extractable compound found in hemp plants. Hemp has been used in everything from soaps, clothing, and diapers to paper, foods, and building materials.
The Ruples became licensed in spring 2020 just after COVID-19 hit, and they were the first in the state to have seeds planted that would grow into the first legal hemp plants in Texas.
“People think of this industry, and they think long hair and beanies, but it’s all about integrity,” Austin says. “It’s all above-board. It is becoming more popular and so much more mainstream.”
Now that those seeds have blossomed into 8-foot plants with leaves and buds, they’re ready for harvest, and the Ruples have opened the farm to tours. While nearby Fredericksburg attracts wine lovers, people with an appreciation for hemp can go behind the scenes of the process.
Austin walks guests through the plant’s life cycle from seedling to harvest, explaining the differences in THC levels between hemp and its cousin, marijuana, which contains up to 30% THC. He tells visitors how the plants are cultivated, as well as the Texas Department of Agriculture’s rigorous standards that have to be met in order to stay in business. “Our goal is to serve and educate,” Austin says.
The tours, which began this summer, draw a diverse crowd, including motorcycle clubs, parents with their young children, and other hemp farmers looking for tips and tricks. Throughout harvest season, which runs through late October, guests are able to help select and cut stalks ready to be hung and dried on the property.
New plants will go in the ground in November. Austin says he’ll continue the tours year-round so people can follow the process and see where their hemp products come from.
He shows techniques to cull unhealthy plants and to properly grow and cut the plants, and he shares some of the challenges he’s faced in their first year, like worms and bud rot. Guests can touch and smell the difference between strains of hemp with names like Titan, The Wife, Trump 2, and Cherry Bubblegum. And the Ruples encourage people to bring their own picnic to enjoy under the farm’s sprawling oaks.
The Ruples have been in the CBD business for years. Through their company, Pur IsoLabs, they have been formulating custom CBD products with hemp from Kentucky and Oregon. Now, this farm gives them a chance to grow and manufacture purely Texas products.
Austin says they intend to dry several thousand pounds of hemp at a time, and other local hemp farmers have arranged to bring their crops to the Ruples' farm to be dried and processed. The farm got its processing license in September, which allows them to extract onsite. It will likely be the first fully vertical hemp and CBD operation in the state that grows, harvests, dries, extracts, formulates, and manufactures CBD and hemp products in one place.
After the tours, guests tend to linger in the shop, which sells CBD lotions, hemp flower, balms, oils, beverage tinctures, and chocolate bars. Giddy laughs echo through the air as people taste the previously forbidden fruit. But Ruple, who started his career as a peanut farmer, happily answers questions in his mission to destigmatize the industry and distribute products he believes will aid in the health and wellness of Texans who need it.
Tours are offered Mon.-Sat. at 11 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Call (830)-755-8000 to book your tour or shopping appointment in advance.
46 FM 3351, Bergheim