Published first on the Progress News, September 14, 2020
“Locally sown, grown, and owned.” The emphasis on keeping things local ran throughout my conversations with the Gibson family as I continued to speak with them about their latest venture, hemp farming, and their line of medicinal hemp products, Penn’s Choice. Joe Gibson stressed the need to care for his family, friends, and neighbors. “We just wanted to do something that helped people, and wow, it feels so good to know that we are helping…hearing the testimonials from people who have gotten relief from our products.” Joe’s son, Steve, and Steve’s wife, Rebecca, both echoed the sentiment, noting that it was incredibly important for them to make a positive impact in the community – locals helping locals.
The entire journey from idea to business might never have gotten off the ground if it weren’t for the special brand of community we enjoy in this area. Family was crucial, of course. Joe has relied on the help of his wife, Betsy, and son fAe through it all, and Steve and Rebecca moved home from LA to focus on building the production side of the business. The web of friendships woven over generations played a key role, too. Joe noted that the first plants wouldn’t have even gone in the ground in 2019 without fellow farmer Lee Ralph, of Full Circle Fields, who helped navigate the permitting process and was integral to the first season’s harvest. Lee and Joe hadn’t ever worked together before, but their families had known each other for decades, and a favor here and a conversation there led to the two men coming together, helping each other build new businesses, and the foundation of a new local industry.
Many others, from long-time family friends to friends of friends, have pitched in over the last year and a half – in the fields, in the barn, in the workshop – to help bring the Gibsons’ vision to life. So, when Steve and Rebecca talked to me about their dreams for the future of the farm and the Penn’s Choice business, it was no surprise that everything came back to ‘community.’‘ They recently rented the Delisio’s Market building in Eau Claire – which was rebuilt after a fire in 2014 – to serve as their production headquarters, and they look forward to growing their business into the space. They envision a storefront in Eau Claire, as well, so that folks can see the entire process and experience the care and dedication that goes into each product, and where a strong team – a business family – can grow.
For the Gibsons, Penn’s Choice is not just a way to earn a living. Their long-term business plan includes agritourism to help people reconnect with nature and personal well-being, charitable ventures to support those battling cancer, and community ownership of a thriving local industry that gives back more than it takes. Cooperation, integrity, and adaptability – that’s what it all comes down to for this home-grown business.
Next week we’ll wrap up our focus on the Gibson farm with a closer look at the actual products in the Penn’s Choice line. We’ll discover the many benefits and uses of the hemp plant that made it such an important crop for so long, and explore how the local hemp industry is developing.