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Lifelong friends learn hemp farming together

Mendota duo farms two acres in Princeton

For more than a decade, lifelong friends Eddie Diaz and Kyle Rex wanted to go into business together.

They just couldn’t decide what type of business to start.

Finally, the Mendota residents found a business that intrigued them both — hemp farming.

“Basically, we had a desire for a joint business venture,” Rex said. “We had been talking about doing something for a decade. (Hemp) was the first thing we could come to an agreement that we were both interested.”

The pair researched the hemp industry for about a year — learning about clone delivery, pre-planting care, transplanting techniques, plant care and harvesting — before establishing Illinois Valley Hemp LLC in April 2019 and planting the crop on two acres, which was previously an overgrown rental property in Princeton.

After establishing the company in April, the pair spent two months preparing the ground for planting by removing trees and installing irrigation systems.

“It was a lot of trial and error and internet research,” Rex said about preparing to enter the hemp industry. “We had some local friends who are horticulturists who had a more base understanding of plants in general. They were able to help. We made a lot of mistakes, but luckily we were able to make it to the end with product.”

Then came the really labor-intense part — harvesting.

“There is no machinery (for harvesting),” Diaz said. “It’s such a new industry that machines are not readily available.”

So the hemp had to be harvested by hand.

“It was a lot of manual labor,” Rex said. “Mainly, four of us went out and worked the two acres. You chop it down by hand at the base stalk. We had a drying barn. You hang the individual stalks on a net, and about seven days later come back and remove the flowers from the stalks. That is what is referred to as biomass.

“It’s almost hard to comprehend the amount of labor.”

Initially, the pair’s business plan was simply to farm the hemp and sell it in bulk, but they quickly realized that’s not the way to make money in the industry.

The company had to process it and sell CBD products.

“We were fortunate we grew the hemp, had product and were able to process it and turn it into topicals and creams and the stuff we’re selling down,” Diaz said. “In the CBD world, I think that’s one of the only ways to make money.”

The hemp produced by Illinois Valley Hemp is tested and verified for quality by a third party, a state-certified laboratory.

The product must have a THC level under 0.3%. It’s also traced through all phases for pesticides, solvents and heavy metals to make sure it’s “extremely clean.”

The company has also partnered with a company out of Joliet for the processing of the hemp, which involves extracting the active ingredient and reducing it to an oil form.

“We handle certain aspects of the processing, but there are other aspects that have a lot of expertise involved,” Rex said. “We’ll build that expertise internally to do every aspect ourselves.”

The company sells its products — of which creams and topicals along with drops for under the tongue are among its best sellers — in Mendota.

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