Inside the booming business of Amish cannabis farmers in Pennsylvania where a green revolution is underway: Growers hope to sell $3M worth of crops to mega firms in California and the Midwest by 2025

Posted Nov 26, 2023 dailymail

Two Amish men dive into a deep sack of cannabis, scooping out handfuls of emerald buds before smelling them intensely. It’s not a scene you ever thought you’d see. But in the beating heart of Amish country – Lancaster County, Pennsylvania – a green revolution is underway.

This week, DailyMail.com was granted exclusive behind-the-scenes access to a network of farms where Amish growers expect to sell $3million of their produce to big buyers across the US by 2025.

It is part of a nationwide trend in which the Amish, who once relied heavily on tobacco crops, are pivoting to more profitable cannabis cultivation, feeding a newly-legalized CBD market forecast to be worth $16billion in two years’ time.

Nowhere is this unlikely marriage more pronounced than Lancaster County, home to the oldest and largest Amish community in the US, numbering around 30,000.

But those who gave rare interviews to DailyMail.com say cannabis cultivation is a ‘natural fit’ for the Amish tradition of organic farming that bans the use of chemicals or industrial machinery.

They are convinced by its medicinal qualities, but draw the line at recreational use.

Yet the community has already been embroiled in controversy after one operation was forced to shut down following an internal backlash against the marketing of its products to get high.

Welcome to the improbable world of the Amish cannabis kingpins.

Big ambitions

Father-of-three Riehl, 29, is the brains behind the operation. Born in neighboring Chester County, he is a craftsman by trade, having started out making sheds before working six years in a hardware store.

He started Lancaster County Cannabis in 2020 from his basement, putting the odd pound of cannabis into a jar and taking it to small CBD and smoke shops.

Four years on, he is looking at lucrative contracts with processors in California and the Midwest.

Riehl, dressed in traditional Amish attire, sits behind a wooden desk at the back of his store, which sells a range of home-made CBD products including lollipops, vapes and bath bombs.

Jars of pre-rolled ‘Hawaiian Haze’ CBD cigarettes sell for $100 a pop, but customers can also choose from a range of strains, including ‘Critical G’, ‘Suver Haze’ and ‘Merlot’.

One item displayed prominently at the checkout counter is emblazoned with that well-known Amish phrase: ‘Roll me a blunt & tell me I’m pretty.’

Riehl shares the premises with a non-Amish antiques shop and has access to a landline, electricity and the internet, while Lancaster County Cannabis itself boasts a polished website displaying its wares.

He explains that over the past decade or so, the Amish have relaxed rules so that certain modern amenities are allowed in workplaces so that livings can still be made in the 21st century.

At home, though, they are still strictly off grid.

Riehl has an entrepreneurial mind and speaks enthusiastically about sales figures and future growth.

He claims to have shifted up to 50,000lbs of cannabis this year, generating around $500,000 in sales.

Next year, he hopes to hit the $1million mark, with that trebling to $3million in 2025.

‘This year, we moved more product than we ever did,’ he says. ‘We started very small but every year we’re making connections.

‘If these contracts go through [in California and the Midwest], we could do a tremendous amount.’

A ‘gateway’ to Lancaster County

It has all been made possible by the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized the cultivation of hemp and derived products including CBD.

Hemp is defined as a cannabis plant that contains 0.3 percent or less THC, the psychoactive compound responsible for the mind-altering effects of marijuana, which is defined as a cannabis plant that contains more than 0.3 percent THC.

Lancaster County Cannabis deals exclusively with the former.

Farmers across the country have sought to capitalize on this new source of revenue and the Amish, steeped in agricultural tradition, have been no different.

Initially, however, their efforts were disjointed. Farmers would harvest their crops but without a ready stream of buyers.

Riehl spotted an opportunity to position Lancaster County Cannabis as a central depot for their produce, describing his business as a ‘gateway’ to locally grown Amish hemp.

He now works with a group of around 20 cultivators to purchase their crops and provide a one-stop for outside buyers.

Lancaster County Cannabis sells the raw hemp in bulk to major processors, as well as its homemade, Amish-grown CBD products to individual customers and smoke shops around the North East.

Riehl’s lab is a modest affair, consisting largely of a few scales and mixing jars.

He says he usually has a couple of Amish girls – aged between 14 to 20 – helping him out.

But, of his most recent helpers, one has recently married while the other ‘quit’ because she found the smell ‘too strong’, leaving him bereft of lab assistants for the time being.

An older Amish man does, however, wander through the store room, which is laden with bags upon bags of hemp.

He helps Riehl use an electric trimming machine to refine the cannabis plants.

It may all appear a bit rough-and-ready, but this is serious business.

The day after DailyMail.com’s visit, Riehl is leading a mini-lobby group of Amish cannabis farmers to consult state politicians on future regulations of the industry.

From cows to cannabis

Riehl, who doesn’t cultivate himself, has agreed to give us a tour of some of his suppliers. 

But given some are up to 30 miles away, he rides in the back of our car – it would take him several hours by horse and cart, otherwise.

We meet Amish farmers Stoltzfus, 31, and Fisher, 30, who have both jumped on the cannabis bandwagon in recent years.

They see it as a natural progression for their labors.

‘I felt like it was a good fit given that hemp has to be grown mostly organically,’ says Stoltzfus. ‘My neighbors grow tobacco to diversify and supplement their cash flow, but being an organic farm, I can’t do that because of the pesticides that are needed.’

Harvesting cannabis is labor intensive. Everything is done with draft horses, before Stoltzfus puts the crops through a hydraulic ‘plucker shucker’ which shaves off the debris.

It is then stacked on racks in a barn to dry. 

Stoltzfus says the hands-on methods also tally with the Amish tradition of encouraging children to help out on family farms from an early age.

His children, aged nine and seven, are already pitching in.

‘They’re all about hemp,’ he says. ‘It’s the greatest thing to them because they get to work alongside dad and see how everything is done. It teaches them good work ethic.’

Stoltzfus’ farm is 70 acres, three of which were given over to hemp production this year.

He made around $86,000 in sales from around 7,000 lbs of top flower and biomass combined.

In just his second year as a cannabis farmer, it already constitutes around 20 percent of his overall revenue.

Hemp also provides a better return on investment than dairy farming, which Stoltzfus and other Amish have traditionally relied upon.

Stoltzfus believes this could be key in heralding a long-term shift from cows to cannabis in the community.

Next year, he plans to double his hemp production.

While the ties to Amish farming traditions are clear, the new-fangled world of CBD production is perhaps a less obvious fit for a culture that takes pride in eschewing modern society.

Lancaster County Cannabis says it markets its products for strictly medicinal purposes only. It works only with hemp, not marijuana.

But Riehl admits they are treading a ‘fine line’.

Already, one Amish cannabis operation has been forced to shut down by the community after it was deemed to be flogging CBD for recreational use.

‘Some youth got high from it,’ he says. ‘That’s not good at all. It was a big, big mess.

‘It was very bad even for us. Because now people are looking at it, like, this is something the Amish should not do.

‘We try to present it as a medicinal [product], so we haven’t had any kickback yet.

‘Those are two different pictures of the cannabis industry. If we could get more people to realize what the benefits are of the product in the Amish community and the wider community, then that’s good.

‘But if those other businesses get more publicity, everybody’s going to be, like, “shut it down”.’

Riehl sincerely believes in the medicinal benefits of cannabis. He eulogizes about the benefits of CBD vapes for relieving stress and says he uses a CBD lollipop to help him get to sleep.

‘I used to take a [CBD] tincture, but it kicked too hard and it was hard to wake up in the morning,’ he says.

‘I’ve had a sample of three of these lollipops for more than a year and I still haven’t finished them. Lick this lollipop for 30 seconds and it puts you out.’

He recommends one to DailyMail.com’s reporter. The packaging warns first time users not to consume more than a quarter of the lollipop at once.

Has Riehl ever got high? Only by accident, he says, adding: ‘It doesn’t take much.’

Fisher, who cultivated around six acres of hemp this year, has also got in on the act.

He says he uses CBD products to relieve stress and help him sleep, adding: ‘I didn’t know until recently that I could take four of those gummies and get high. I’m glad I didn’t know that. It’s nothing I want to try.’

This speaks to an insoluble problem. Lancaster County Cannabis can market its products as medicinal, but Riehl admits there is nothing it can do to stop customers using them to get high.

He says this has been discussed within the community, but it was concluded that it was no different to Amish tobacco being used to wrap marijuana with.

‘It doesn’t bother me,’ says Fisher. ‘People use tobacco to wrap their weed. But who cares? We grow it to keep our children out of mischief, to pay for the farm.

‘What people choose to do with it is not really our concern.’

Regardless of what people use it for, it appears growing numbers are turning to Amish cannabis.

CBD retailers are at pains to market their products as ‘Amish grown’, seen as a mark of quality.

Heather Kreider, of Hempfield Botanicals, a medicinal CBD retailer in Lancaster County, says she buys much of her produce from Amish farmers.

She says she favors their ‘natural approach to farming’.

‘People associate Amish with natural living and holistic growing practices,’ she adds. 

‘They understand plant-based medicines and can see the benefits.

‘Of course, they want to make money, but they also see the benefits of how it is helping people.’

Riehl agrees: ‘We, the Amish, like to be a light to the world.’

So long as he doesn’t eat all those lollipops, lest his lights go out. 

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