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Hemp Hootenanny Shines Spotlight On WNC Farm

Farmers and fans of Industrial Hemp are gathering across the country this week to rally support for the once illegal plant.  North Carolina is one of forty-two states that allows the crop through pilot programs or for research. 

A small farm here in the mountains was chosen to help kick off the week long national campaign. BPR’s Helen Chickering reports.

On a sunny breezy morning, Just outside of Asheville, in the scenic countryside of Leicester, a crowd gathered on a farm.  They were here to celebrate a plant come.

“Welcome to Hemp Hootenanny and welcome to Franny’s Farm!

The small organic farm is a big hemp advocate and was among the first in NC to put seed into the ground after state lawmakers, in 2017, okayed growing the once illegal crop– under a regulated pilot program – action that caught the eye of the Hemp Industries Association as they were planning their annual national campaign – Hemp History Week.   

Lauren Stansbury is the association’s communication director.

“Every year we find a farmer who has done an outstanding job educating for their community about hemp,” says Stansbury. “This year, Franny Tacy is our featured farmer, a way for us to show farmer s getting into this crop.” 

Franny’s Farm held a party to celebrate.

There was music, lots of vendors and hemp beer.   The highlight of the day was a three course vegan and hemp-infused meal created by Chef Jason Sellers and his team at Asheville’s Plant restaurant.

Blake Butler is co-founder of Asheville’s  hemp movement HempX and helped organize the event. Butler has big dreams for the plant that can produce everything from fiber to foods – to the popular dietary supplement, cannabidiol (CBD) oil.  

“We have around 215 people, I believe, that have been approved to grow hemp.” says Butler, ” A lot of farmers in Eastern NC will be growing large acreage, here in WNC, you’ll probably see small scale farms that will grow one or two acres.”

A line that caught the ear Asheville’s Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler.

“Especially for the area of Asheville, where we have a lot small farmers and it’s an urban environment, it might be able to help a lot of local farmers.” Says Wisler.

“Last year we grew a variety that was good for fiber.  This year we’re growing two different varieties that are great for CBD production,” says featured farmer Franny Tacy.  

She and her husband Jeff have under an acre of the green plants sprouting up through the gr0und.  Tacy says starting small is key in this re-emerging industry where there are a lot of unknowns.

“We’re all writing the history books on hemp in Western North Carolina. That’s why we say to farmers – start small, get to know your crop, get to know your land, how it plays into the picture and help build the industry and educate – so we’re creating a market for hemp,” says Tacy.

“It’s a cherry wine variety, there are six different phenotypes.”

And off she went  to help educate and help build that market,  leading a tour of this year’s newly planted crops  which should be ready to harvest in August or September – just in time for the next hemp festival,  HempX, held right here  at  Franny’s Farm.

Credit donnierex.com & hia.org

While we were at the farm, we ran into Jeanine Davis, Associate Professor and Extension Specialist in Horticultural Science at N.C. State University who works with new and emerging crops and organics. She and her team have been growing test crops at the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center in Mills River and the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville.

What's happening with Hemp in WNC? We get an update from Jeanine Davis, associate professor and extension specialist in horticultural science at N.C. State University.

(check out our earlier interview with Jeanine about hemp, hops and truffles)

Helen Chickering is a host and reporter on Blue Ridge Public Radio. She joined the station in November 2014.