By Rachel Nelson
Frank Rodriguez and his family have paid the ultimate price for farming marijuana. Collectively, Rodriguez said his father, his brothers and himself have spent decades in federal prison for their crimes. But today, Rodriguez is redeeming his family legacy through his legal business, Gulf Coast Hemp Farms in Harlingen, Texas.
“I spent 10 years in federal prison for doing what I’m doing now,” he said. “This is very, very important to me. … It means the world to me. I’m very passionate about what I do. I love my job. I love the scientific part of the plant. I love to research the cannabinoids, terpenes, flavanoids.”
When it comes to his farm, Rodriguez said there’s no place on Earth he’d rather be.
“I live here on my farm. I don’t really leave too much from my farm. I’m here 20 hours a day, every day. I really don’t sleep. I’m just kind of vibing with my plants.”
When he launched his current business, Rodriguez said he tested seven different seed strains from Halcyon Seed Company in Colorado to see which would work best in the South Texas drought-prone climate.
“Out of my seven strains, four did well,” he said.
According to Rodriguez, planting 2,500 plants per acre is a widespread best practice in hemp farming. However, he said he came up with a way to plant 9,000-10,000 plants on a one-acre plot of land.
“Everyone was telling me I was crazy and wouldn’t be able to do it,” he said. “I have a beautiful field right now. I don’t have patches or dead plants. My field is complete.”
While there are concerns about the lack of essential air flow in overcrowded fields — which can lead to root rot — Rodriguez engineered a way to make it work. In late September, he began harvesting 85,000 plants from his 10-acre farm.
He also nurtures his plants with plenty of TLC, even playing music for them.
“Whatever I’m vibing to, whatever I’m feeling, I just play something that makes me feel good,” Rodriguez said. “I figured plants are alive, so they work off the vibration. So, you just put some good vibration for them, and they’ll be fine.”
Rodriguez said the yields from his hemp farming operation in Harlingen are used to create CBD-infused oils, and he works with a business partner in Oklahoma to grow cannabis.
“I have 10 greenhouses and a 6,000 square-foot warehouse, and I grow all my high-quality flower up there,” he said.
Plants over pills
Rodriguez said his nephew’s journey with post-traumatic stress disorder ignited a passion for exploring hemp’s medicinal benefits. He said his nephew served in the U.S. Marine Corps and is haunted by horrific wartime experiences.
“He spazes out a lot, and the medicine I make really calms him down and makes him a totally different person. The VA prescribed him so many different pills, and he was a zombie.”
Lately, Rodriguez said he has been working with a few doctors and cancer specialists to develop products for patients.
“The sky is the limit as we’re discovering what all the different cannabinoids do. I just want to keep pushing and keep discovering and see how I can make existing medicine better or create a new medicine from my plants.”
When he was shopping around for land to start his business, Rodriguez said he experienced a special synchronicity when he learned that a prospective piece of property was owned by Dr. Nadeel Sarhill, a medical oncologist. The pair worked out a lease-to-own agreement in a seemingly meant-to-be transaction.
“This is God’s plan. I can not see it any other way,” he said. “I’m growing a CBG strain, and it’s doing very well. It’s known to help with brain cell reproduction and chronic pain.”
Rodriguez noted that there are many cannabinoids inside the hemp plant, but only a few have been researched.
“I just want to push forward and continue to grow and to help move our industry to a better spot,” Rodriguez said.
An evolving legacy
For Rodriguez, his passion for farming hemp and cannabis stretch much further than providing a quality product to customers.
“My mom’s really sick. She had a heart attack last year. She’s felt her whole life was a failure because my dad, brothers and I did so much time in prison, but she didn’t fail. She didn’t do anything wrong. It was us; it was the laws.”
Looking back, Rodriguez said he tries to put himself in his mother’s shoes.
“I could just imagine what my mom went through as a mother,” he said. “Imagine always having to defend your kids, your husband, your whole family. Eveyrone’s talking down. Just imagine what it was like for a single parent. I just couldn’t even imagine being in her shoes and what she went through, and I just want to bust ass and make things better for her.
“I want to make her proud. I want to make her feel like what she went through wasn’t for nothing. To make the remainder of her years as joyful as possible — that’s all I care about.”
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