Growing Hemp in the Isothermal Belt

Bobby Gibbs and Jes Shick of Subtle Seed Farm.

Bobby Gibbs and Jes Shick’s romance is the stuff of edgy romcoms. In 2016, while Shick was traveling through California, her Subaru blew a head gasket near a medical cannabis farm. That’s where she met Gibbs, who managed the commercial operation. He offered Shick a job and the two fell in love, not only with one another but with growing cannabis side by side. 

Today, the couple does just that at Subtle Seed Farm, their 22-acre industrial hemp farm in Rutherford County. The property is situated in the Isothermal Belt, a zone in the foothills known for warmer temperatures and longer growing seasons. This unique climate is one reason why Gibbs and Shick traveled 2,500 miles across the country to put down roots. But they also chose the area for its agricultural heritage. This quiet, rural region is where folks tend to rally around farmers, no matter how unconventional their crops are. 

“We’re definitely a curiosity,” says Shick. “But farmers respect hardworking people. We’re all out here caring a lot about a crop, more than most sane people would. That has transcended our differences to make us many really good friends.” 

Of course, neighbors were skeptical when growers from California first moved in two years ago. After all, there’s a lot of confusion surrounding the hemp industry, especially in North Carolina, where production was legalized not even ten years ago. Hemp and marijuana, the latter being a stigmatized term that many growers are abandoning, come from the same plant — Cannabis sativa. “The only difference is the amount of THC in each variety,” explains Gibbs. 

Under the provisions of the 2014 Farm Bill, farms in North Carolina can grow cannabis as long as the plants contain 0.3 percent or less of tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the main psychoactive compound in marijuana. Though CBD, or cannabidiol, is not psychoactive like THC, it does affect the body and mind in many of the same relaxing ways.

“Cannabis in general is marketed as this cheeky, fun drug when, in reality, it’s a deeply traditional herbal medicine that’s been healing people for millennia,” says Shick, whose customers can legally smoke Subtle Seed’s hemp flower or ingest the farm’s sublingual hemp extract. Both are typically used for anxiety, depression, and insomnia. “Many of our repeat customers have even been able to get off prescription drugs,” reports Shick.

Now in its second year, Subtle Seed is focused on what Gibbs calls “aces in their places,” or finding a flow with the current lineup of employees. The barn manager, for instance, is responsible for the five- to eight-person trim crew, while the farm manager nurtures plants in the garden and in light-deprivation greenhouses. Dealing with mold and bugs is just one of many growing challenges.

“It’s never been about the money for us,” says Gibbs. “It’s about the medicine, and our passion for the plant.”

Subtle Seed Farm, Rutherfordton, The farm will be featured on the North Carolina Foothills Farm Tour on Saturday, Sept. 18, from 2-4pm. $10. For directions and more information, visit

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