On a three-acre plot near Kutztown, researchers on Friday planted hemp.
It marked the first time in 80 years that the cousin of cannabis, once a common cash crop in the state of Pennsylvania, had been legally sown in the state.
"We would have like to have planted it a few weeks ago, but the seeds — from Italy and Canada — were held up in customs," said Diana Martin, spokeswoman for the Rodale Institute in Berks County.
The Rodale Institute, a hotbed of organic farming studies, was one of 16 organizations granted permits by the state earlier this year for industrial hemp research. Rodale agronomists hope to develop ways of using the plant to manage weeds and enhance soil quality.
Unlike medical marijuana, which will be grown in warehouses under lights when production begins in Pennsylvania next year, industrial hemp will be allowed to flourish under the natural light of the sun.
Rodale's first hemp harvest should be ready in early September.
"It can grow 10 feet tall in about 100 days," Martin said. "So, in a few months we'll have a sizable hemp crop."
The hemp research at Rodale is being largely funded by Dr. Bronner's, the manufacture of organic peppermint soaps.
Hemp, a variety of cannabis that has no discernible psychoactive properties, was outlawed in 1933 when the federal government banned its close cousin, marijuana.