CEO, PureLee Farms, LLC
Eric Lee, owner and operator of our family farm, was recognized as Conservation Landowner of the Year, 2020 for contributions made possible with the collaboration of many employees of the NRCS, FSA, and USDA departments.
Taking care of our farm topsoil to prevent erosion is our first mission and highest form of stewardship; put into practice we chose to implement contour farming practices, with narrower fields, grass buffer strips, residue management, and waterways to reduce the flow of rainwater and keep nutrients where they belong – right next to the plants that need it.
Farming responsibly, both sustainably and economically, is a challenge; doing it is a great achievement and source of personal satisfaction for any farm family. We don’t do it for recognition - it’s a labor of love for the land you have accepted stewardship of and a responsibility to pass along intact or better to those generations to follow. It is especially heartwarming when someone recognizes the effort you put in and shares a kind word, it is particularly moving being recognized by peers and other organizations.
We sourced approved seeds and dedicated an entire greenhouse to bring these seeds to a transplantable seedling size. Placing thousands of seeds individually into growing trays and overseeing them like expectant parents, they slowly emerged and thrived in the warming spring weather.
Taking care to keep them warm inside with a woodstove during the chilly nights and bringing them back outside in the sunshine of the daylight to grow stronger stems with the breeze at the ridgetop nursery.
We had pre-seeded the entire field with Dutch white clover to establish a weed barrier between the rows and to create a lush ground cover that would provide a natural source of nitrogen and protect the plants from the muddy splash of raindrops on bare ground. The result was the most beautiful ten acre field of natural medicine in the county!
Together with our Amish neighbors we located a large machine shed in the region that we decided to dismantle, move, and rebuild on our farm next to the existing tobacco curing shed. These re-purposed buildings would provide enough space to naturally dry the mature hemp flower.
We re-purposed a tobacco transplanter and used the restored 1953 John Deere tractor to put these ladies into rows separated by six feet and six feet apart within the row to give ample room to grow. The planting was slow and steady. Each plant was mechanically set in the soil by the revolving clamps and given a dose of water prior to the closing wheel firming them into the soil. Nearly 10,000 plants were individually set, with the care and dedication of my brothers.
Once our plants reached maturity in October, harvest season was upon us. We went through the field to select and cut the top flower from all the plants and hung them individually in the new shed. We did this to shorten the height of the plant so the remaining plants could be hung whole in the four levels of the tobacco barn. This strategy worked well and proved to be a viable way for our region to harvest and cure hemp (given no one had attempted this in Vernon County before).
Keeping a field well maintained, takes a lot of hands. We were fortunate to have our children and their youth group be an instrumental part of in season care hand pulling weeds around each of the plants until the clover was able to establish itself and provide protection on its own. The added benefit was the abundance of pollinator habitat the clover provided to honeybees and butterflies. It was so wonderful to spend time in this beautiful, vibrant garden.
Once all the hemp was dried and cured, we took down every plant and individually removed the flower and packaged the biomass for processing.