Lifetime horticulturist and Botanical Garden of the Ozarks trailblazer Donna Porter is harnessing the healing power of a single plant to help others. She’s putting decades of knowledge to work to offer the Northwest Arkansas community some of the best CBD and hemp-derived products on the market through her new business HelloHemp!
Porter’s fascination with horticulture science was sparked in the early 1980s after reading a comprehensive and scientific book about cannabis. This book introduced her to plant processes such as photosynthesis, respiration, pollination and other horticultural topics and, along with her early love of gardening, inspired her to pursue studies in horticulture. From Pennsylvania, she moved south to begin her studies at the University of Arkansas.
“I became totally intrigued and fascinated after visiting various botanical gardens and arboretums during, and immediately following, my college years” Porter says. “It wasn’t only the extraordinary beauty of these places, but their mission of educating people about plants that intrigued me the most.
When landing a position at an establishing arboretum while living in Asheville, North Carolina didn’t happen quick enough, Porter decided to return to Fayetteville in 1992 to start a botanical garden for Northwest Arkansas. She initiated this effort by collecting hundreds of signatures at the Fayetteville’s Farmers Market from local residents who expressed their support for such a project.
The tireless work of Porter, as well as numerous other dedicated volunteers, was finally beginning to garner serious support, especially with the completion of a $250,000 Master Plan, two and a half years in the making. But after roughly nine years as board president and executive director of the organization, she was suddenly forced out by the board of directors. This abrupt and unexplained removal devastated her, and she left the country to forget and to heal, spending the next decade pursuing her horticultural passions in Costa Rica.
“It has taken a lot of forgiveness and strength for me to come back to Fayetteville – nearly 17 years later,” she says. But it was a discovery made while in Costa Rica that prompted her to return to the states to pursue her new passion in cannabis.
“While living in Costa Rica, I found a book in the local, used bookstore entitled Hemp Bound. This book was written before anyone, aside from scientists, had any clue about CBD. The book was all about hemp’s global and American history and the plethora of uses for it. I was captivated.”
Porter then began to research online what had been going on in the United States in recent years and the advancements in CBD and the growing marijuana industry. “I had been out of the country for 13 years. I was pleasantly surprised at what I had discovered and learned about what was currently going on in the U.S., and internationally, with cannabis – which includes both hemp and marijuana,” she says.
In early 2018, she moved back to the states to be closer to her elderly parents in Pennsylvania, and she considered pursuing a career in Canada in the burgeoning marijuana industry. After spending one very cold and snowy winter in Pennsylvania, Canada didn’t sound as inviting. Undecided whether she wanted to become involved in the hemp or the marijuana aspect of the industry, she headed to Colorado, which helped Porter to make her decision.
Porter moved back to Fayetteville, conducted two and a half months of market research and acquired the proper licenses. By October of 2018, she launched HelloHemp! This business would not only offer select, quality CBD and hemp products, but would also serve to help educate people on how to become more savvy consumers in the confusing CBD and cannabis arena.
“I have always loved educating people about plants, especially plants that have been historically used by humans for more than just ornamental or aesthetic purposes. Granted, I love gardens and their healing nature. My true desire has always been to help people heal, physically or emotionally, with the use of plants,” says Porter. “Now through my hemp business, I can help educate people about this extraordinary plant and its medicinal, as well as economic and environmental value here in the U.S.”
But being in the hemp business has its challenges, as Porter was quick to find out. The chief among them was the stigma that comes when working with a plant that has been demonized for over eighty years.
Hemp was the innocent bystander so-to-speak,” Porter says. “You could have smoked a garbage bag full of the ole ‘ditch weed’ and never got high. But due mainly to ignorance, greed and yes, lobbyists, hemp, being that it looked like its cousin marijuana, was classified in the 1970’s as a schedule one controlled substance along with marijuana, and even worse, with heroin and cocaine. Hemp is an extremely versatile, utilitarian, sustainable plant and has been grown and used around the world for centuries to make clothing, rope, paper and a host of other products. Its seed is highly-nutritious and products made from it are considered superfoods.”
“The number one misconception that people have with CBD, which is only one of about 113 chemical compounds called phyto-cannabinoids found in cannabis, is that people think it too will get you high,” she adds. “This is not true. In fact, CBD counteracts the psychoactive effects of THC, the compound found in cannabis that does get you high. CBD’s medicinal popularity is due to its powerful anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and neuro-protectant properties and is also being used successfully by many for easing anxiety and insomnia. For these reasons, this compound is taking the world by storm.”
Another challenge facing Porter and HelloHemp! is how overcrowded the CBD market has rapidly become. “Unfortunately, due to the FDA’s inability to quickly regulate this industry, a large percentage of CBD products are either bogus or of very poor quality,” she says.
What sets her business apart from the others in the market, she says, is the dedication she puts into thoroughly researching products, plus her elevated level of knowledge about the plant, its product and the industry
“I have carefully chosen my own select product line – products that I feel are some of the best on the market. I have done trial testing of products to prove their efficacy on myself and others,” Porter says.
“I use a list of 12 criteria in choosing my select product line, and my products must meet those criteria. The most important are: that the hemp used for extract is grown organically because hemp has the unique ability to absorb toxins, especially heavy metal, from the soil; the extracts are made from the cannabinoid-rich hemp flower; and most importantly that the manufacturer supplies the most recent 3rd party, full-panel lab results for each new batch of product that I buy.
“This is where consumers can easily get fooled. I have seen companies boast and post-lab results on their websites or in their shops, but upon close examination of the results, I discover that they are either outdated or incomplete tests and results. Reviewing those independent lab results is the only way to verify what compounds, and their amounts, that a company claims are in their products are actually in the product. And at this point, to have tests done by reputable labs is costly. So, you get what you pay for. The lab tests are the first thing I request when looking at a product to add to my select- product line.”
Educating the community on the difference between hemp and marijuana, as well as the incredible uses of CBD and the importance of choosing high-quality products, has become a mission of Porter’s through HelloHemp! She posts information on her website and social media channels, but she also makes her way around the community, vending at a variety of local and statewide events, offering informative home parties and speaking to social and civic groups. Her website has an online store for shopping convenience, but she also makes local deliveries and offers local pick-up.
“I think it is important for the public to know the distinguishing difference between marijuana and hemp grown for CBD extract. And according to the 2018 U.S Farm Bill, that distinguishing factor lies only with the amount of THC found in the dried plant matter. Hemp must contain less than 0.03 percent of delta-9 THC to be considered hemp and not marijuana. It is also important to know that hemp grown for CBD extraction is only one of the three types of hemp grown world-wide. One other type is grown for the seed, and another is grown for the stalk. These both have hundreds of uses.
“I am a horticulturist and make no claim of being a medical professional. But I have taken the time to educate myself thoroughly on CBD, hemp and other related subjects and I continue to do so, because I am passionate about it. I do not believe that the majority of medical professionals, or local, retail CBD salespeople, have done the same.”
To learn more about HelloHemp! visit the website here.