The grass is greener in Litchfield

STEPHEN RICCIO

Going from living in Armenia to owning a construction company in Laval is not a typical life path for many. Going from that to owning a 93-acre hemp farm in Litchfield is even more unusual, but it happens to be the journey of 20 year-old Arman Nalbandyan.
In 2018, while working with his company Construction Armani, Nalbandyan became aware of what he felt were unsustainable materials and practices being used in the construction world. Enter hemp, a plant often associated with marijuana because of its membership in the species of cannabis sativa.
“I found out about hemp and [how] you can make hempcrete, which replaces your insulation and makes your house basically eco-friendly,” he explained.
Hempcrete, according to Nalbandyan, is created by taking the inner part of hemp stalk, called hurd, and then mixing it with a lime binder and water to create a solid form that can last up to several hundred years.
Upon finding out about hempcrete, Nalbandyan’s initial idea wasn’t to purchase a hemp farm in rural Quebec, but rather just to buy enough hemp so that he could build his first home.
After discovering that hemp growers were few and far between, he and his mother, Anzhella Paronyan, decided to purchase a 93-acre property in Litchfield.

The stalk of a hemp plant is made up of something called hurd, and this is the substance that is combined with a lime binder and water to make hempcrete. Nalbandyan hopes to rebuild a house that is on his Litchfield property using hempcrete.

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“So we found [out] about the Pontiac and there was land here which hasn’t had any cultivation on it except hay for 40 years,” he explained. “It was certified organic and it seemed really good, so we got the land and we started the project.”
He now calls that land ‘Ferme Enchanvré’ and it is located on chemin Ridge just a few minutes off of Hwy. 148.
Having purchased the farm last year but being unable to do anything on the land during the early months of the pandemic, Nalbandyan purchased hemp seeds from a seller in Cobden and planted them in early July.
“[The seller] gave us a sample of hempcrete, it was the first time I ever held hempcrete, and it was so light,” he explained.
With his main goal being to make hempcrete, he was hoping for seeds that had thicker stalk and less flower. The fast-growing plants did sprout up with the thick stalk he was hoping for, but he was surprised to find that they also sported an abundance of hemp seeds and CBD flower.
CBD stands for cannabidiol, and it is a non-pscyhoactive compound commonly extracted from cannabis plants due to its health perks. There is scientific evidence that suggests it can relieve pain and reduce inflammation, among other benefits.
Nalbandyan is currently living out of a trailer on the property as he harvests the hemp. What he sees every day upon stepping outside is already evidence of a hemp farm, as there are 14 acres of rows on rows of human-sized plants, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to what he hopes to have harvested this time next year.
On the other side of his trailer is an additional 16 acres that he has plowed and has prepared for next year.
Given the lateness of Nalbandyan’s planting this year, not all his plants grew to their full potential.
“Since I planted on July 1—the hemp [had pollinated on] the 31 of July and the first of August—it grows really well, like four inches a day for like a week,” he said. “Since we planted late, the best we got was seven feet four [inches]. But if it was an early seeding then we would have got them all [at least] seven feet.”
He added that he still has a lot to improve on, noting that the seeder that he used caused many of the plants to grow awfully close to others.
“When they are planted separately, they grow thicker since they have no one else around,” he explained as he pointed out examples. “The roots try to get as much space so it can grow stronger. When they are alone like that it grows stronger for the stalk and there are more of the hurds in the middle.”
While it would be no surprise to Pontiac residents that Nalbandyan was greeted by kind and welcoming neighbours when he arrived during the summer, it was a pleasant awakening for him.
“A lot of it wouldn’t be possible if I didn’t get the help from my neighbours,” he said.
Many neighbouring farmers have lent him equipment to help him with clearing the land and harvesting the hemp. Nalbandyan has even started joining one of his neighbours at a farmers’ market every Saturday morning, an outing he said he looks forward to every week.
“They always tell me, they started like that too and they didn’t get much help,” he said. “The only people who helped them was their neighbours.”
Feeling like he had to do something to return some favours, Nalbandyan has already started putting his harvest to good use, giving one neighbour’s wife CBD oil to help with her shoulder pain. “You can use [CBD] in the food market, you can use it in the industrial market, beauty products,” he said. “All of them are clean, ecological products which matched with my intentions.”
He has already begun making soap, oil and tea using the CBD from the plants’ flowers. For the time being, he plans to put products on display in whatever way he can. Eventually, he said he would like to have a website set up that sells the products.

A bar of soap that was made from a hemp plant, using the CBD. Nalbandyan hopes to continue making many more products like this as his farm operation grows.

Right now, Nalbandyan said that he is using one of his construction company’s buildings in Laval to store the hemp over the winter. He plans on building a shelter on the other side of the property where he can store his harvest next year.
Not one to shy away from lofty goals, he said that his ultimate plan for the farm is to offer some form of agritourism to show people how wonderful hemp is and to offer people who otherwise wouldn’t have a glimpse into the beauty of country living.
While the charming nature of farm living is something he didn’t anticipate when his family moved to Canada 16 years ago, he speaks fondly of how his mother told him she had always dreamed of one day owning a farm.
He now shares that dream, and he’s closer than ever to making it a reality. “There’s a house here and it’s pretty old,” he said of his future plans. “I’m hoping that next spring, I can take it down and build a new house with hempcrete. I’m planning on living here, for me it’s basically like my home now.”

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