TV pitchman Anthony Sullivan didn’t plan on becoming a farmer.
The Englishman you’ll recognize from the OxiClean commercials and who starred on the Discovery Channel’s Pitchmen alongside the late Billy Mays, ran a successful business from his home in St Petersburg, Florida for almost three decades.
But when Sullivan’s eight-year-old daughter Devon became seriously ill with a rare genetic disorder, the TV star’s life was turned upside down.
Aggressive treatments, including surgery, left his little girl in a zombie-like state – until they tried CBD, or Cannabidiol, one of the chemical compounds found in cannabis.
The hemp-based treatment alleviated many of their daughter’s symptoms.
Inspired by the positive effects CBD products have had on his daughter, Sullivan has set up his own hemp farm – a sprawling 116-acre plot near the tiny town of Plainfield in Vermont.
The move has been life-altering for the pitchman left devastated by his daughter’s plight and in an exclusive interview with DailyMailTV he reveals how the career change has made him rethink what’s important in life.
From OxiClean: Pitchman Anthony Sullivan is best known for promoting brands of household products, perhaps most notably, OxiClean, in dozens of TV commercials
To hemp: In an interview with DailyMailTV, the 50-year-old, who is originally from England, has unveiled his new business venture: a massive cannabis farm in Plainfield, Vermont
Sullivan was inspired to take up farming after seeing the effects CBD – a non-psychoactive chemical compound in the cannabis plant – had on his daughter Devon’s (pictured) rare genetic disease
Devon’s condition is so rare it has not yet been given a name, just a numeric code used by geneticists.
And in her short life she’s had major heart surgery, ongoing cognitive issues, challenges with eating and is regularly struck with aggressive seizure-like episodes.
‘The day she was born, I knew that something wasn’t right,’ Sullivan said.
‘I remember holding her, this tiny little thing. And she just looked like she needed help. She almost looked like she wasn’t gonna make it. For the first four days of her life she was in the NICU [neonatal intensive care unit], with every pipe and sensor strapped to her.
‘Her life has been filled with struggles. We’ve had her in speech therapy, occupational therapy, behavioral therapy, eating therapy,’ he added.
‘For six and a half years, every night when I put her to bed we had to put an oxygen tube up the back of her pajamas and stick a cannula on her to help her with her breathing. She had a hole in her heart that got repaired when she was four and a half.’
Sullivan, 50, said when Devon began to have seizures about two years ago, a neurologist prescribed a drug that prevented the seizures, but at a terrible cost.
‘The medication stripped her of her personality, she was a different child, I hated what I saw, it was heartbreaking,’ the doting father explained.
Sullivan, who has run a successful business from his home in St Petersburg, Florida for almost three decades, teamed up with business partner David Christian, bought 75,000 cannabis seeds, and launched Montkush with no prior farming experience
Sullivan admits they are ‘rookies’ but have had support from the local community. He says this particular strain they are harvesting contains below 0.3% THC, meaning it does not have a psychoactive effect
‘As we increased the dosage, I don’t want to use the word zombie, but my kid went from being a very fun kid with special needs to not even being there. She was vacant, unresponsive, she lost her appetite.
‘I remember saying I would rather quit work and be there for her and catch her every time she fell in the event she had a seizure, rather than her be on this drug.’
THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THC AND CBD
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are both derived from the cannabis plant.
Together, they are part of the cannabinoid group of compounds found in hashish, hash oil, and most strains of marijuana.
THC is the psychoactive compound responsible for the euphoric, ‘high’ feeling often associated with marijuana.
THC interacts with CB1 receptors in the central nervous system and brain and creates the sensations of euphoria and anxiety.
CBD does not fit these receptors well, and actually decreases the effects of THC, and is not psychoactive.
CBD is thought to help reduce anxiety and inflammation.
After extensive research, he and Devon’s mother, from whom Sullivan is now separated, hit upon CBD, or Cannabidiol, one of the chemical compounds found in cannabis.
To their delight, they found that the hemp-based treatment alleviated many of their daughter’s symptoms.
After several months they took Devon off the medication and saw her health improve dramatically and her vivacious personality return.
‘I’ve managed to wean my daughter off nearly every single pharmaceutical. The only medication she’s on is CBD and that in itself to me speaks volumes,’ Sullivan said.
‘I sleep at night knowing that she is not whacked out of her mind on chemicals and pharmaceuticals.
‘She’s benefiting from plants, and there can’t be much wrong with plants.’
Sullivan – best known for promoting the H20 Steam Brand, Nutrisystem, Arm & Hammer and Swivel Sweeper in dozens of TV commercials as well starring alongside the late Billy Mays in Discovery Channel’s Pitchmen – had to battle Devon’s neurologist over the alternative treatment but he knew it was the right thing for Devon.
Then a few months later in 2018, while on a road trip to Vermont, he happened to visit a hemp farm.
Standing in the middle of the field, the TV entrepreneur began to hatch an unlikely business scheme.
‘I literally had a moment of clarity,’ he said. ‘I thought, I want to do something different. I’ve entered a stage of my life where I’m looking for something a little bit different, to do something that really has some meaning. I feel like starting again.’
The doting dad says Devon’s condition has made him rethink what is important in life. The young girl’s disease is so rare it does not have a name, but has put her through major heart surgery, ongoing cognitive issues, challenges with eating and aggressive seizure-like episodes
Neurologists prescribed an effective medication for Devon, but the drug ultimately ‘stripped her of her personality’ and turned her into a different child, Sullivan revealed
After using a hemp-based treatment, Devon’s health improved dramatically
Inspired by the effect of CBD products on his daughter, Sullivan set up his own hemp farm in Plainfield in Vermont.
Despite having no farming experience, he and his business partner, David Christian, snapped up the huge parcel of land and bought 75,000 cannabis plant seeds.
Though their brand name is Montkush, Sullivan named the farm Devonia, after his daughter. One year later, the pair run one of the biggest independently-owned hemp farms on the eastern seaboard. But their success was by no means guaranteed.
‘I’ve never actually farmed anything outside of a tomato plot and some broccoli plants,’ Sullivan admitted.
‘My partner Dave and I didn’t just dip our toes in the water. We have jumped in the deep end, butt-naked.
‘Thank God that people have been fantastic up here, that the locals have been very fun, friendly and very welcoming. But we are in deep. We’re rookies.’
Living out of decrepit RVs which Sullivan compared to the mobile meth lab from TV show Breaking Bad, the ad man and his business partner had to dig a well on the site that had no running water, erect two 9,000ft greenhouses, and hand-sow 75,000 seeds, each one prodded into a soil tray using their little fingers.
Adding to the uphill struggle, this year they faced the wettest spring on record, and were ‘up to their knees’ in mud.
Beginnings: Sullivan – best known for promoting the H20 Steam Brand, Nutrisystem, Arm & Hammer and Swivel Sweeper on TV commercials
After moving to America with precious little cash, he built his business to become the face that sold a billion dollars of product in the past 26 years
Sullivan has been pushing products on TV screens for years, but admits he has never had ‘a passion and a belief in a product’ like he does for CBD. Above he is pictured in 1998
‘The local Vermonters came to our rescue. The neighbors brought round beef and pies. The word in the village was that we weren’t going to make it,’ Sullivan said.
‘But we have 75,000 plants in the ground right now and they’re growing about an inch a day. We have about 60 days before we have a tsunami of hemp coming at us, and we have to get all of it out of the ground and dried.
‘We have to mobilize about 200 people to harvest this. We have to go down to the village, make friends with the locals, and get some passionate people to help us take these plants out of the ground one at a time.’
Sullivan is no stranger to grind and hustle to make his businesses work. His first job back in his home country, the UK, was selling $12 car washes and he also ran a market stall selling $5 Chamois leathers in his home town Croyde, North Devon.
After moving to America with precious little cash, he built his business to become the face that sold a billion dollars of product in the past 26 years.
‘I always had a dream of taking that skill and getting on television and selling my wares to millions of people,’ he said.
‘I came to America with absolutely nothing. I lived in the back of my van, which technically made me homeless.
Sullivan met friend and business partner Billy Mays (right) in the 1990s. Mays would later become the face of OxiClean until his untimely death in 2009. Above they are pictured with Conan O’Brien in an undated photo
Sullivan said he believes CBD could have even saved his friend Billy Mays (pictured in an undated photo) who died at 50 from heart disease and cocaine use
‘I’m extremely grateful for everything that’s been given to me, but this is something new. I find a little bit of peace out here, a little bit of harmony.
‘I have never had a passion and a belief in a product like I have in this. This is basically nature at it’s best. This is something that can not only help my daughter, it can potentially help millions of other families who are looking for an alternative to pharmaceuticals.’
Sullivan said he believes CBD could have even saved his friend Billy Mays, who died age 50 in 2009 from heart disease and cocaine use.
‘There’s not a day that goes by when I don’t think about Billy. He’s one of my closest friends. I loved him. We had so much fun together,’ he said.
‘I sometimes think had this been available to Billy at the time, Billy may still be around.
‘So there’s a little part of me that is doing this for Billy as well.’
The commercial star said he is not interested in smoking marijuana, and was keen to point out the difference between the potent drug smoked for recreation, and his plants.
‘This crop at about six weeks from now is going to look like cannabis. It’s going to smell like cannabis. It’s going to feel like cannabis. And if you didn’t know better, you’d think it was cannabis. But this particular strain is bred to be below 0.3% THC, so there is no psychoactive component to anything that we’re growing on this farm,’ he said.
‘I’m not a stoner. I’m really coming at this from the wellness angle and trying to make a difference and doing something that’s fun that has meaning. But it is a little scary to know that if I did this in Florida, I would be arrested. If I did this in England, I would 100 percent be in handcuffs. I like that.
‘Still, I think there’ll be some kids up here trying to take some of these plants. But they can smoke them till the cows come home and they will not get high.’