Hemp foods, industry on the rise at Pa. Farm Show

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- From sunrise to well past sunset all week at the Pennsylvania Farm Show, Shawn House has been in sales mode.

The owner of Hempzels in Lancaster County is convincing people to try his food products at his Main Hall stand.

His soft pretzels are the main seller. Sourdough pretzels, granola bars, jams, and even clothing apparel are also on display. All of them feature one main ingredient: Hemp.

"It's not a hard sell, but people need to understand what we're doing," House says. "They ask, 'What is this? Am I going to test positive? I drive a truck.' A lot of people, though, are hip to what's going on."

Hemp comes from the cannabis plant, but it has distinct differences from marijuana. Hemp, however, is almost entirely removed from the psychoactive chemical THC which allows marijuana users to feel a high.

Hemp is not illegal in Pennsylvania. In fact, throughout the state's farming fields, it is one of its most available crops. Shawn however, cannot use any of it. Instead, he's imported his hemp crop from Canada for the last 20 years. Pennsylvania does not allow hemp to be grown commercially. House and others hope that soon changes.

Last summer, Governor Tom Wolf signed Act 92 into law. It establishes a pilot program, run by the Department of Agriculture, which will allow industrial hemp to be grown for educational purposes. The selection process begins in January 2017.

For many farmers, like Michael Kovach of the Pennsylvania Farmer's Union, it's a step in the right direction but still not where the state's laws need to be.

"It's a slower start than we would've liked to have seen," Kovach says. "We were hoping research would include market research more so than it has in this current iteration of the rules."

The current rules state growing can only occur on five acre pieces of land. He and the Farmer's Union hope to work with state lawmakers more in the future to give them a better understanding of how industrial hemp works. Any university is eligible but must apply through the state.