“All that is gold does not glitter
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.”
The Riddle Of Strider. J.R.R.Tolkien.
“My grandfather came to the Chiltern Hills in 1923 and built a kiln in the woods in Bellingdon. He dug the clay from the ground and made bricks with his hands. Not much has changed in almost a hundred years. The colour of the clay in the Chilterns is unique. It can only be found in isolated pockets. To reach it, we had to buy land, so naturally we became farmers.
About fifteen years back, I started to hear stories about the potential of hemp as a building material. I said to my family, “wouldn’t it be nice if we could stop digging and grow what we need instead?” So we began to harvest hemp.
Fast forward a few years and Tom [the co-founder of Grass and Co], got in touch out of the blue asking if I fancied I pint. I’d met Tom at primary school, where we read The Hobbit together in English class. Ever since, we’d been in touch sporadically, discussing our plans to build a hobbit hole in one of our old clay pits. This time, by way of reply, I sent him a photo of our hemp plants blowing in the wind. “Check this out,” I said.
I explained that it was industrial hemp and he asked me if I believed in ‘synchronicity.’ That’s Carl Jung’s word to describe coincidences that occur with no causal relationship yet seem to be meaningfully related. It turned out that he and his brother Ben had been thinking about producing cannibidiol.
I still remember us first standing in the field together as he told me about CBD – and how it has the power to heal us from the inside out. A miracle plant that could one day save the world. I got excited. Then I had to figure out a way to sell the idea to my family. I told them all about regenerating the soil and planting and harvesting a crop which has great potential to help people. They said, “Jim, it is your job to introduce new ideas to us and we’re grateful but this one is a bridge too far.”
I was upset for a couple of days, then the phone rang. It was my Mum. She said, ‘so I’ve just got home from bridge club. Margaret, who is 82 years old, just took a bottle of CBD from her handbag. She has been taking it for her arthritis and swears by it.” They were on board.
Going into business with mates is not without risks but we’re all a little older now. What unites us is that we’re here to stay. This is our home. We’re not fly-by-nights peddling synthetic Chinese CBD isolate. The time and effort we invest now will pay back in generations to come. To my mind, we’re a bit like a hobbit. A small player up against giant global farming consortia. If we get greedy, we’ll lose before we’ve even begun. Quality will win in the end. A bit like what’s happened with real ale. As the CBD market matures, discerning customers will place a premium on quality.
I don’t think Tom or I thought we’d ever be travelling to Holland together to learn how to regenerate the fields from one of Europe’s leading cannabis scientists. Producing the finest CBD in the UK isn’t going to be easy.
To mark the beginning of our journey we went for a long walk. The Ridgeway is an ancient path that runs 87 miles along the spine of the Chiltern Hills. There is a strength in taking the long view. In letting nature take its course. ‘Deep roots are not reached by the frost.’ Tolkien knew the score. Slow and steady does it. Always.”