David Payne is one of the original founders of Kingdom Harvest, a farm-to-table hemp company in the Appalachians. He and his business partner have a vast and ever-expanding range of goals for the company they founded in 2017, but one stands above all others.
“We want to be the benchmark of excellence,” Payne explained.
And, though assigning one’s own nickname isn’t the norm, Payne has one in mind: The Willy Wonka of Hemp.
“Willy Wonka made the best chocolates in the world, but he never told anybody how he did it. He wasn’t doing it because of greed, he was doing it because he didn’t want quality adulterated. That’s our concept.”
The 143-Year-Old History of the Kingdom
Payne is the fifth generation of his family from Asheville, North Carolina. His lineage is made up entirely of builders and farmers.
“We’re used to the old Mountain way of working,” Payne explained.
His grandfather, in fact, was a tobacco farmer – a crop Payne now swears is much easier to manage than the venture he’s taken on.
His business partner, Shelle Rogers, also grew up in a fairly blue-collar family, but the two of them worked in the corporate world for most of their adult lives.
The partners were helping people in a myriad of ways related to real property management when Payne stumbled across the property that would become the home of Kingdom Farms.
He found the property in 2015 and fell in love with it instantly.
“This guy brings me up to this property and says, ‘I’ve got too much land. I want to sell this.’ And I said, ‘Doc, you don’t want to sell this property. It’s too good.’ But he insisted and I made the decision right then and there to buy the land.”
Payne called Rogers to let her know about the purchase.
“I said, ‘well, now we’re going to have to figure out what to do with it.’”
Payne knew he didn’t want to develop the land because the area was too pretty. What’s more, the property has an incredibly historical significance he wanted to preserve.
The land Payne was buying was once a community of freed slaves known as the Kingdom of Happy Land. Historians say that around 1876, a wandering group of about 50 slaves headed from the South searched for a place to develop their own village. Through their travels, more people joined their troupe, until the group numbered around 200 freed slaves. Eventually, the group arrived on a plantation in North Carolina called Oakland. The 200-acre plot in Henderson County owned by Colonel John Davis, who died in the War of 1812, and left the same without anyone to run it. Davis’ widow took pity on the travelers and told their leader, Robert Montgomery, the group was welcome to stay on the land if they helped work.
The group began creating their own collectivist community, building cabins, and beginning careers as farmers, carpenters, seamstresses, and so on. Montgomery served as their King, handling all money earned and allocating it based on the needs of each individual. His sister-in-law, Louella, became Queen.
In 1882, Montgomery and the other freed slaves purchased 180 acres from Davis’ family, establishing the Kingdom of Happy Land. Some historians believe the thriving community grew to about 400 people at one point, with King Montgomery hailed as a 19th century Moses. The Kingdom didn’t last long after that; as the community grew in number, people started migrating out.
Another family bought the property in 1910 and the last person involved in that community passed away in 1918. From there, it fell into the Bell family, and then to Payne and Rogers, who created the company known as Kingdom of the Happy Land Farms, LLC.
When Payne bought the land, he vowed to protect its memory.
“I have graveyards on the property. Where the old village was, I rebuilt a cabin in honor of their memory. It’s got a little spring. It just kind of takes you back to what they were living like.”
The property wasn’t outfitted yet with electricity, running water, or any other modern trappings. Payne’s crew built it from the ground up.
When it came time to decide what to do with the land, Rogers had an idea.
Rogers’ son Tyler is a grower in Oregon. High Times Magazine recognized his work in 2019, awarding him a “Grower of the Year” nod for his CBD.
“We started kicking around the concept of growing hemp here under the pilot program. Of course, [Tyler] was all excited.”
By 2017, Kingdom Harvest was churning out some of the highest-quality CBD in the nation.
Though the Kingdom of Happy Land has faded to be remembered solely in history books, the courage and tenacity it took to create the village are highlighted on each page documenting the civilization’s success. The Kingdom was for free people and created by free people; a people who longed for a new life and built one from scratch.
Payne tries to ensure the spirit of Happy Land lives on through Kingdom Harvest.
“We want to celebrate everything these people went through. We want to celebrate the goodness of the property and the land. We utilize everything that’s here.”
A Spirit of Freedom
“The property is rich with a spirit of freedom,” Payne mused. “You have to picture this 200-plus acres of just beautiful, old, mountain timberland with this massive field at the top of the mountain that they cleared. Our concept from the inception was to preserve the property.”
Payne’s ode to the Kingdom of Happy Land doesn’t stop at the name of his business. He pours his heart and soul into Kingdom Harvest, hoping to create something that allows other people to be free of their ailments. From seed to flower to tincture, Kingdom Harvest treats its product regally.
“We don’t source them from third-parties, where we wouldn’t really know what we’re dealing with. That’s important. You keep the plant from the inception to the processing, and then you can pass on the consumer the best product, which you can certify.”
You can think of this product as the Wagyu beef of CBD.
Everything at Kingdom Harvest is done organically and by hand. The hemp isn’t organic-certified however, simply because Payne doesn’t feel the need to spend money in order to get the certification.
Hemp is a difficult plant to grow. They’re susceptible to mites, grubs, diseases, and more. Even still, Payne refused to use any form of herbicide or pesticide on his crops.
“We know the plant well enough now. For example, if I have a mite infestation… we utilize predatory mites – good mites! They eat the bad mites. As opposed to taking some chemical spray and spraying my field.”
Kingdom Harvest does its own cloning, so it knows where the plant is coming from. Every single plant is potted by hand and raised in Kingdom Harvest’s own greenhouses. Those greenhouses run on solar energy. The sun heats water barrels on the back, and that heat flows through the greenhouse, rather than a diesel generator or electricity keeping the plants alive.
The plants are fed by hand, and their diet is kingly. Each plant is cared for individually, not in a group.
Payne says the plants need nitrogen, phosphorus, calcium, and potassium.
For the nitrogen, Payne feeds the plants organic fish oil. To get them phosphorus, he collects dead trees, burns them, and sprinkles the ashes over the field.
“It’s like them drinking a chocolate milkshake every day. They really like it, you can see the difference.”
The entire process is hugely labor-intensive.
“Once they’re processed, we know no one else has touched anything. In this industry, I think that’s a benchmark of excellence. At least, I would hope it would be.”
During the peak of the harvesting season, Payne brings in about 30-40 hired helpers, each of whom the partners know and trust. The rest of the year, he does most of the work himself, with help from the company’s lead botanist.
“When we go to harvest, we harvest the whole plant and dry them in our barns. Then we hand-trim all of our plants.”
Payne doesn’t allow visitors to the farm. The growing technique is proprietary to the land and very different from the norm.
“It’s not that I’m antisocial,” Payne explained. “My position is, the last thing I want to do is have someone come up here and attempt to mimic what we’re doing and then put it out on the market and say, ‘You can get the same thing as a Willy Wonka chocolate bar, for half the price.’ Well, that’s because they don’t put all the sugar in it – all the care.”
Whole Spectrum Hemp Extract
Today, Payne feels Kingdom Harvest has the number one best CBD tincture on the market.
The company brought its first hemp clones from Colorado. They started with 6,000 T-1 Indica-Sativa crossed clones, which Payne says performed phenomenally well. By year 2, the company was up to about 30,000. Today, Payne and Roberts’ team has managed about 150,000 plants.
“At one point, we were the largest resin-producing farm in the state of North Carolina.”
After talking with chemists about how to best extract the CBD from the hemp, Kingdom Harvest started cold-pressing its flower to get the most out of its cannabinoids. That’s how Payne says they pioneered whole spectrum hemp extract.
“If you take a piece of broccoli and you eat it raw, you’re going to get everything that that broccoli has in it at that point. However, when you cook it, a lot of nutrients are killed, because of the heat,” explained Payne.
“When you get a bottle of oil or one of our products, it is the effort of a lot of work. But you get everything the broccoli has to offer.”
Larger companies have offered to buy the company out, but Payne isn’t having it.
Shelle, the Renaissance woman
Payne says Shelle Rogers is the mastermind behind Kingdom Harvest’s merchandise diversity.
Once the flower was perfected, it came time to incorporate the CBD into products for the market. It was Rogers’ idea to expand past tinctures. Today, there is a myriad of products for sale on Kingdom Harvest’s website, each of which is made entirely with Kingdom Harvest flower.
The company sells several different varieties of pain-relieving creams and salves. They sell blood sugar support and women’s wellness pills. They have creams to help with eczema and a salve to soothe poison ivy burns. They sell gummies, tea, and honey. They have smokable hemp, sold in loose flower and CBD pre-rolls. They offer body butter, goat’s milk soap, luffa soap, bath bombs, sugar scrub, and hot-spa botanical melts for feet. There are treats, tablets, and oil for pets. They even have hand sanitizer.
It’s painstaking work. In some cases, the team goes back to the drawing board hundreds of times before deciding on a final version of a product.
“Shelle is personally responsible for every single one of those,” said Payne. “She’s kind of an amazing person. I call her a Renaissance woman because things seem to make sense to her and she is constantly creating.”
As an example, Payne brought up that Rogers’ granddaughter had a diaper rash that wouldn’t go away. She looked at the product her family was using and was horrified by the artificial and synthetic ingredients packed into the cream. So, Rogers decided to develop her own, using Kingdom Harvest’s CBD. The rash cleared up after just two days of using that new cream.
Once Rogers has the idea for a product, she turns to the company’s partners for help.
“Obviously we don’t have degrees in medical fields or chemistry,” Payne joked.
One of their partners owns a line of natural pharmaceutical stores in Florida. He has a team of chemists, doctors, and physicians with who they collaborate with. They also have a local partner with a doctorate in nutrition who they sit down with when creating a new product.
“If you were to get, for example, some of our pain salve, and you read the ingredients, you’d see a breakdown of everything natural. For example, we needed a good base for our new pain salve that would not leave a residue on the skin so that someone could put it on, put their suit on, and go to work… So we utilized clay. For some crazy reason, the epidermis layers – they absorb it very quickly. And, there you go!”
Payne and Rogers want their product to help people.
“A lot of this product development is a direct result of listening to people. We can put our scientific group together and we can come up with a best-laid plan, but if people aren’t getting the relief or if there’s a problem and it’s not being addressed, then we want it fixed. That’s where Shelle really comes in.”
Rogers fields almost all the calls that come into the company and donates her time to try to make sure people are able to achieve their desired results.
“If there’s an issue, a complaint – ‘Hey, this isn’t working like I thought it would’ – she’ll do a questionnaire with them, work them through it, and say, ‘Hey listen, you may not be taking the right strength. Let’s try this.’”
Payne says that extra care keeps customers coming back.
A Wonderful Vitamin
Rogers’ granddaughter isn’t the only person Kingdom Harvest is fighting for or keeping in mind when they create new products. And the partners’ decision to start a CBD company wasn’t entirely out of the blue, even beyond Rogers’ son’s talents.
“We have close relatives who suffer from mall seizures – epileptic seizures. For years, they’ve struggled, and it’s so sad. They try to live a normal life, then the next thing you know, they can’t drive, they can’t operate equipment, they can’t do this or that because they never know what’s going to happen.”
The duo decided to look for natural alternatives to that.
“We wanted to make the world a better place for the people we love.”
Payne brought up the pharmaceutical Epidiolex, the first FDA-approved CBD prescription, which is used to treat seizures. He says Epidiolex customers have used Kingdom Harvest CBD in-between prescriptions and been blown away at its efficacy.
Payne and Rogers also have friends who suffer from anxiety so severe, they’ve been hospitalized for it repeatedly. The partners both wanted to create something that could ease the pain those friends go through on a daily basis.
“I guess our quest began with some personal concerns for our loved ones, as it related to what we saw them suffering with, and really looking at alternatives.”
Payne has personal experience that pushed him to the CBD market as well. For years, he suffered from insomnia, rarely getting more than four hours of sleep a night. In 2013, on a trip to Florida, he purchased a CBD product that helped immensely.
Payne admits the idea of a hemp farm may have been in the back of his mind when he purchased the Kingdom of Happy Land plot.
“You could grow tomatoes, you could grow whatever. But I’d really like to grow something that actually helps people.”
North Carolina legalized hemp in 2015, but it took a while to get the program off the ground. Kingdom Harvest started getting moving in 2017, as the 54th company in the state to get its license to grow hemp.
Marijuana is still illegal in the state.
One of the new things Kingdom Harvest is trying to jump into is Delta 8. Delta 8 is a phytonutrient component of the flower, just like CBD and THC. It’s hemp, and right now, it’s legal. The “8” refers to the placement of the chemical bond.
Kingdom Harvest sourced their Delta 8 from their sister department in Oregon. It’s hand-extracted, like everything else at Kingdom Harvest.
Companies are marketing Delta 8 as giving a natural high – one that doesn’t involve any paranoia. Payne and many others feel it’s a new alternative to THC.
“When I say natural high,” explained Payne, “people are likening it to an extreme warm calming effect.”
Kingdom Harvest is starting to spray some of their hemp flower with Delta 8 and are offering it in pre-rolls or vapes.
“There is no Delta 8 natural hemp flower. It’s a byproduct, a component. When you pull it out, it comes out in a form that looks like a thick, gummy syrup. What you do is, you take it and mix it with MTC (coconut oil) so it’s more viscous and you can use it.”
They add extracted marijuana terpenes to give it flavor.
“You mix that and use a high-pressure spray applicator – almost like an aerosol – and spray that directly over the hemp flower. It crystallizes over the flower-like frosted flakes.”
Delta 8 is not marijuana and, so far, is not regulated in the same way.
“We searched intently for that. So, we’ll continue to market it. We think it’ll survive. But the easy road for the government would be to lump it all in. They’ve done that before,” Payne said, pointing out that hemp was once listed as a Schedule I controlled substance, comparable to heroin and cocaine. “That’s what we’re afraid of that knee-jerk, carte blanche [reaction].”
Payne and Rogers have a lot more up their sleeves.
Right now, they’re working on a vineyard, which should come to fruition in the Spring.
Kingdom Harvest is also working on developing new product flavors. Rather than adding terpenes later to create a palatable flavor, Payne says he wants to create a flower with a stronger natural terpene with a good flavor.
“It’s like painting, but the canvas never stops.”