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Hemp Farm expands operations in Macon

Noah Miller, assistant farmer manager, separates hemp buds through a sifter at Appalachian Growers. Jessi Stone photo Noah Miller, assistant farmer manager, separates hemp buds through a sifter at Appalachian Growers. Jessi Stone photo

An industrial hemp farm will be expanding its operations into the Macon County Business Development Center after commissioners approved a lease agreement for Appalachian Growers. 

Appalachian Growers hasd been operating on the Raby Farm in the Cowee community since 2017. While the business grows about 10 acres of hemp and has a 4,000-sqaure-foot metal warehouse on the property for drying, sorting and packing, the lease with the county will give owners Lori Lacy and Steve Yuzzi another 900 square feet of space to use for packaging and distribution. 

“They are licensed through the state’s industrial hemp program and they organically produce wholesale materials and CBD oil,” said Economic Development Director Tommy Jenkins. “The hemp industry is expected to grow from $668 million in 2016 to over $1.8 billion in 2020 and that’s primarily driven by two factors.”

The hemp boom can be attributed to the passage of the Agriculture Improvement Act in 2018, which changed the classification of hemp from a schedule 1 substance to an agricultural commodity. In North Carolina, the industry is growing thanks to state’s pilot program through the extension office. 

“Although hemp and marijuana are both qualifications of plants in the cannabis genus, hemp produces a nearly nonexist amount of THC — the mind-altering chemical in the plant — while marijuana can produce up to 30 percent THC and is still a schedule 1 drug,” Jenkins said. 

The farm operation employees anywhere from 10 people in the off season to about 50 during the height of harvesting. Lacy told commissioners the business development center would employ three full-time employees and three part-time employees. 

“I’m hiring people right here in the county because I believe in utilizing the local abilities we have here,” she said. 

Educating the community and other farmers about the benefits of the hemp industry is also a top priority for Lacy, who said she’s seen the many benefits hemp and CBD products can have on people. It can be an extra income for struggling small farmers and it can be a natural pain and anxiety reliever for consumers. The last few years have been a learning experience for her as well — before starting Appalachian Growers she was a personal trainer. 

“I had never been a farmer — it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” she said. “We’ve done a lot of education in the community. We’re showing other farmers how to make hemp into biomass for the oils to make extra money. There is a huge market out there and it’s helping people from rheumatoid arthritis to Alzheimer’s and early dementia to Parkinson’s disease.”

Commissioner Ronnie Beale said growing the hemp industry has been a goal of the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners because it can be used to replace the tobacco crop and can generate new revenue in the state. On a personal note, Beale said CBD oil has been beneficial to him for neck pain for the last several years. 

“Educating folks about it has been the biggest thing,” he said. “And we’re gonna see more regulations of it in the future.”

Lacy agreed that more regulations will be forthcoming from the state. She is actually working with officials in Raleigh on forming those regulations as a member of the North Carolina Industrial Hemp Association.

Appalachian Growers already does a lot of the testing and quality assurance protocols that will probably be codified in the future. Lacy said they test the hemp product for mold and other contaminants. They also are able to track every bottle — which are all child proof — that leaves the operation and are in the process of getting their organic certification. 

Commissioner Karl Gillespie said he was also supportive of the industrial hemp industry because it allowed small farmers in the west of the state to compete with larger farmers to the east. 

“Hemp grown in the mountains is high quality and brings more money than those growing it in the east,” he said. “We see a lot of value in this product because it allows our small farmers to compete with big farmers down east.”

The lease agreement was approved unanimously. 

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