Chris VanDusen and Shelly Wolanske; Partners at the Helm of Empire Hemp Co.

An entrepreneur, furniture maker, contractor, bicycle mechanic, tour guide, and father of three, Chris VanDusen’s history with cannabis dates back to the nineties during his battle with cancer. It was the intense effects of chemotherapy, in particular, that pushed him to explore alternative methods of recovery from the side effects of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma treatment.

“During that time, California had just legalized medical marijuana for cancer and AIDS patients, and I was having a tough time with chemotherapy,” shared Chris. “It relieved nausea and the terrible feeling I had from the chemicals being pushed through my veins and allowed me to have a level of normalcy in my life. It was like night and day, and I could go back to work. I knew at that point there was something about this plant that had some serious healing. It was life-changing.”

Shelly Wolanske had a more unconventional path to the hemp industry. While working full-time and earning her Master’s degree, she also dabbled in gardening, foraging, and crafting. As an amateur herbalist, Shelly enjoyed making homemade teas, salves, and bug sprays. With a background as a former policy-maker in the Alcohol & Substance Abuse Prevention field, Shelly was initially apprehensive of cannabis. Through research, education, and learning of the positive experiences individuals were having with CBD, she warmed to the hemp industry when Chris came to her with the idea of infusing her slaves with hemp-derived ingredients. 

The pair had been selling Shelly’s herbal creations out of Chris’ former bike shop. Once government approvals made it possible for hemp and cannabis-derived products to hit the shelves, they did not hesitate to bank on their joint experience and capitalize on their skills to help others. 

Product development grew exponentially, and since 2018, Empire Hemp Co. has served as a go-to provider of a wide range of hemp-derived CBD products designed to promote happiness, health, and wellness. As proud research partner in the initial New York State Industrial Hemp Research Program, the company focused their efforts on whole plant CBD-infused topical skin care products and operates with the goal of cultivating the highest quality, CBD-rich, industrial hemp grown with sustainable practices.

While Empire Hemp Co. hasn’t been in the game for long, it has already managed to secure a coveted spot in the competitive and saturated wellness space thanks to its impressive selection of products, which includes oils, lotions, salves, balms, and gummies. Its rise through the ranks can also be credited to the vision and leadership of Chris VanDusen and Shelly Wolanske.


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