Ready to transplant their first rows of hemp are, from left: Clay Condon, R.W. Burns and Adam Craten – owners of KinFolk Farms in Hillsboro. The trio has 22 acres in which they will plant 30,000 hemp plants to harvest for CBD products. Photo courtesy of Marlyn McClendon

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

Motorists traveling on Lobelia Road have noticed many changes in the past few months as a 22-acre field has been cultivated, lined with plastic and plowed into rows in preparation for a new crop.

What is the crop?

Hemp.

The field – owned by the KinFolk Farms trio of R.W. Burns, Adam Craten and Clay Condon – is the first large scale hemp farm in Pocahontas County.

“We all got together through connectivity and friends, and being of like mind with medicines and treatment, and the way we want Pocahontas County to be – which is kind of like trending, new and smart,” Burns said, “we were like, ‘let’s really jump into the hemp program big’ because we think we can do it better than anybody else. We know we can be the biggest producer in Pocahontas County.”

Condon has been in the hemp business on the small scale for several years – he holds the fourth permit issued by the West Virginia Department of Agriculture – and Craten began his own small hemp crop last year. The two joined Burns in creating KinFolk, which is a full-scale hemp processing business.

It all begins in the greenhouse, where the trio planted 30,000 hemp plants, which were transplanted into the field last week.

“An important part of hemp farming is genetics,” Craten said. “You want to source a good genetic line that tests consistently under 0.3 percent THC. We went with a couple companies that are known in the industry, and we purchased around 28,000 seeds of one variety and a few thousand of a couple other varieties.”

The seeds were planted in mid-May and will continue to grow in the field until September, when they will be mature enough to be harvested and move on to the next step.

During the growing process, the plants will be tested to ensure they remain within the federally regulated criterion for amounts of THC.

“The thing is, to be compliant with the program, when we’re about thirty days from harvest, part of the protocol that the state has set up is we call them in and they do samples,” Burns explained. “They have to ensure that the product under their program meets their compliance.

“What we do at our operation that, again, puts us ahead of a lot of people, as soon as that plant starts to flower, we’ll do a five-day sample,” he continued. “As a farmer, we get paid on the percentage of the CBD in the plant. So, our goal is to drive CBD as high as we possibly can, but as you’re driving the CBD, the THC will follow.”

With the testing, the farmers will know for sure that while they are pushing the CBD to rise, the THC has remained below 0.3 percent.

Once the plants are harvested, it is time for the drying process, which will take the hemp from the field in Hillsboro to the Edray Industrial Park, where KinFolk Farms has rented space for hemp processing.

“Our plan – we’re pretty much using this year for drying our own product,” Burns said. “The next year, we’re looking to bring in machines that, as Pocahontas County farmers or neighboring farmers come online, we’re going to be able to offer a drying service for them. Then in year three, we’re doing drying services and moving into processing where we can take raw hemp biomass and turn that into crude oil or other products.”

Adam Craten, left, checks on a single hemp plant as his business partner R.W. Burns and his dog, Martha, walk among the rows of 30,000 plants in the KinFolk Farms greenhouse in Hillsboro. S. Stewart photo

The business partners are unfolding their plan in phases, knowing that all business ventures come with risks, but while staying cautious, they are also confident they will have a successful business that will continue to grow and make Pocahontas County known for its hemp production.

“We want to be the group in Pocahontas County that handles that business,” Burns said. “We work pretty hard on it. These guys know their genetics. We’re smart about what we’re doing. We think this is going to be pretty good for Pocahontas County.

“This is sustainable, too,” he continued. “As hemp products and CBD become more mainstream, there’s going to be a demand for it.”

Burns compared it to the popularity of craft beers and small batch breweries, stating that the small, grassroots hemp businesses are going to be the successful ones because it won’t be commercially processed and will have a more regional appeal.

“We’re not going to be a big commercialized hemp grower,” he said. “We’re going to be very specific in what we’re growing. We’re going to do it better than anybody else and it may be the same stuff, but our process and how we treat our plants and how we treat our product – it’s going to be more of a craft or artisanal kind of mix.”

Hemp has become more and more popular as an agricultural enterprise, and West Virginia was one of the states that saw an opportunity for innovation and ran with it.

In West Virginia – according to the West Virginia Department of Agriculture – the hemp research initiative began in 2002 when the Legislature tasked the WVDA with creating a program to support industrial hemp production and research. Not much was done with the initiative until Congress passed the 2014 Farm Bill which allowed industrial hemp research pilot projects to be established.

Jumping on the bandwagon, West Virginia expanded its own plans in 2017 to allow cultivation of industrial hemp for commercial purposes. The following year, Congress legalized hemp on a national scale through the 2018 Farm Bill.

Despite all that, there are still a few regulations that have yet to be passed that will decide the future of hemp products.

“We’re waiting for the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] to tell us which way they are going to go,” Burns said. “Are they going to call this a food supplement or are they going to call it a drug. When you launch a product – the labeling, the testing, the protocols, the recalls are different for both of those.”

As well as building their own business, the trio of farmers want to help others – whether they are fellow Pocahontas countians or from neighboring areas.

“Our services range from helping people with the procurement of their seed to helping them grow out their plants to helping them pull beds,” Burns said. “We’ve got a little bit of money sunk into the equipment – let’s share this. Let’s grow together.

“As we continue to be the leader in Pocahontas County, we’re going to need different processes along the way, and we want to be able to say, ‘Hey we’ve got a dryer; we’ve got that half a million dollar processor; come on board,’” he continued. “It’s good for all these guys and girl farmers out here. As this thing grows, there’s going to be a need for more people, which is great.”

Burns added that KinFolk wants to ensure that future generations will go into the hemp business, so they have developed a scholarship to help students take their agriculture and forestry studies and turn them into a thriving business.

“That’s another cool thing about our company – we have that program that’s going to be coming online soon that we want to feed this all right back into the county,” he said. “We want to get some new kids coming in every year. We want new farmers, so the more there are of us, the better we are.”

The farmers also understand the importance of education in what they are doing for the general public. Burns said they have an open door policy and want people to ask questions because they would rather spend time explaining what is actually happening than to waste time dispelling rumors that they are growing illegal substances.

“I think it’s important to do that,” he said. “It’s a part of the conversation. I think part of us as a leader company is to have open doors. We’ve told and will always tell any kind of law enforcement, ‘you come when you want to.’ We want to tell the economic people the same thing. This is very important for our success for everyone to know what’s going on and buy into it. Support it. We need people in this county supporting us and saying, ‘Go get them, guys.’”

The farm is on its way to being a success and, in September, when the first crop of hemp is harvested and turned into biomass, KinFolk is ready to either sell the product or create its own line of CBD products.

“That’s our goal – we want to create something that is year-round,” Burns said of the business plan. “When we process under our label, it’s going to have very high testing. We’re going to make sure it’s the best stuff on the market. When we put it into a product, we’re going to make sure that product tests consistently.”

Groups interested in touring the farm are asked to schedule a visit through email at info@kinfolkfarms.com

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