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FOI Innovator Profile – Hemp Acres

AURI Connects: Fields of Innovation Innovator Profiles is a Q&A series with Minnesota entrepreneurs who have partnered with AURI to build capacity and successfully commercialize new and emerging crops.


Q&A with Margaret Wiatrowski at Hemp Acres

AURI: What is your involvement with the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI)?

MW: Riley Gordon at AURI was very involved with Hemp Acres when we started up, helping to develop our hemp seed oil process and source equipment. Riley also spearheaded a grant research project funded by Minnesota LCCMR that is testing the efficacy of our hemp stalk material to prevent soil erosion during MNDOT construction projects. We’ve made good connections throughout the industry at AURI events like the New Uses Forum. AURI staff, particularly Harold Stanislawski have connected us with businesses and individuals in various areas of interest.

AURI: What innovative agriculture path are you blazing?

MW: We are one of the first hemp processors in the U.S. to process the entire hemp plant, from the flowers to the grain to the stalk. We are committed to producing safe, quality food and as such we recently obtained SQF certification. We differ from other hemp processors in that we are an ingredient manufacturer; we sell everything wholesale. We’ve developed a diverse portfolio of products with a lean, dedicated workforce.

AURI: What does success look like for you?

MW: Success for us would be achieving holistic and regional sustainability. With commodity prices high right now, it’s a challenge to recruit growers to grow hemp, which for many would be a brand-new crop. We are sourcing raw hemp grain and fiber from all over the Midwest, but ideally in the future all of our grain would be grown within 300 miles of our facilities in Waconia, MN. We want to support the local farming community by providing an outlet for raw hemp, encouraging crop diversification and organic farming in our backyard. We also are one of the only hemp companies in the U.S. to process all parts of the hemp plant, allowing us to gain knowledge of how to process each component of the plant. Hemp Acres’ long-term goal is to continue innovating different processes and building on the vast array of ingredients and end-use applications the hemp plant has to offer. Ultimately, the success of Hemp Acres will look like a company that was built on the idea of sustainability both economically and environmentally. The future will look like thousands of acres of hemp growing across the Midwest and millions of pounds of sustainable hemp ingredients, which throughout their lifecycle, all have a carbon negative, healthy, “green” impact on the planet.

AURI: What is the biggest challenge in your industry?

MW: There are many challenges, but a few stand out. Because this is such a new crop, there are no industry standards or specifications in the U.S. for many of the products that we make. That means we have to do a lot of research and testing ourselves, and also educate our customers about quality concepts that may be different from other crops they’re used to. There is no FDA Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) statement for CBD, and regulations vary from state to state. Hemp seed oil, protein powder and hearts are legal for sale as human food but not yet for animal feed.  And while public knowledge about hemp has come a long way in the last few years, there still exists a stigma around the cannabis plant. Finding affordable, reliable banking and insurance services is a struggle for us even though we deal solely with legal hemp.

AURI: What inspires you?

MW: I’m inspired by all of the excitement surrounding hemp and cannabis in general. When I started working with hemp six years ago, very few people were aware of myriad uses for hemp, and most people still conflated hemp with marijuana. We would get questions like “Will this get me high?”

Cut to today and there is so much more awareness of such things like CBD, hempcrete, hemp seed oil, hemp milk and protein powder. We frequently receive inquiries from construction companies that are building their first home out of hempcrete and looking to source hemp hurd. It’s incredibly exciting and rewarding to have so many people intrigued by this thing that we’ve been proselytizing for. It’s rewarding to know that we are one of the companies trying to do its part in bringing healthier ingredients to people for a healthier life.

AURI: How can AURI’s readers and supporters purchase your products, connect with your business online and/or help your business thrive?

MW: The best place is our website at hempacresusa.com. We’re also active on Instagram and Facebook. Be sure to sign up for our monthly newsletter by clicking ‘Contact Us’ on our website.


Funding for this project was provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR).