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First Harvest At WNC Hemp Farm Dodges Hurricane Florence’s Flooding

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Lilly Knoepp
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Hurricane Florence stood to take out about half of Appalachian Grower's crop of hemp.

  

  As Hurricane Florence barreled toward Western North Carolina, businesses and homeowners alike battened down the hatches. Farmers though had a different job - saving a product that is always at the mercy of the elements.

Appalachian Growers in the Cowee Valley outside of Franklin just put their first seeds in the ground in April. Last Friday, they were rushing to get their first harvest in from the fields before the storm.

“I have new found respect for farmers - no doubt. It’s hard work, stressful, the weather, bugs and pests,’” lists owner Steve Yuzzi. He and his girlfriend and business partner, Lori Lacey, own the business on land leased from a supportive friend. The pair met while he was a card dealer at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino.  

Both were entrepreneurs with no farming experience when they started this project about 10 months ago. But their product inspired them to give it a try. They aren’t growing the traditional corn or tobacco of the area. Nope, they are growing hemp.

Josh Brandes is the farm manager, with a background in plants he’s been learning about hemp on the fly as well. He’s been i n charge of organizing the team of over 20 part-time workers to plant, harvest and dry what they hope will become over 10,000 lbs of hemp. The farm is part of North Carolina’s Industrial Hemp pilot program.

Brandes toured Blue Ridge Public Radio around the nine acre property.  

“We’ve just gonna drive through. Over there you can see all the blank head - that’s what we’ve harvested,” says Brandes. “It’s hard to believe there’s a hemp farm in Franklin North Carolina. If you had asked me even two years ago what I would be doing. Hemp farming?  Yeah right.”

 

Hemp is a member of the cannabis family but it doesn’t have the psychoactive THC chemical which makes you high. Instead it produces CBD which is quickly becoming a health craze. Proponents says that it has similar positive effects as medical marijuana such as reducing anxiety and managing pain. One difference - it’s legal.

Appalachian growers has two fields. Flooding on the lower field and wind hitting the upper field were big concern as they stood to lose about half of their total crop which was still unharvested. That’s equal to about $300,000 dollars, according to Lacey. That’s almost as much as their $400,000 investment in the farm.

“I’m gonna take you down to the lower field. It’s right down on the Little Tennessee River,” explains Brandes. They plan to keep focus on harvesting the upper field to prepare for the storm.  “We’re just gonna roll the dice because we have some flower in the upper field that is just primo right now. And these are a little behind,” he says.

The heavy rainstorms didn’t make it over the mountains this time. Appalachian Growers say they didn’t see any flooding. They hope to finish their harvest in the next two weeks.

 

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