For four years, Blake Butler and Jill Lieberman have co-produced HempX Asheville — two years at Highland Brewing Company and two years at Franny’s Farm in Leicester, near Asheville. But now that Butler is executive director of the N.C. Industrial Hemp Association he says after this weekend’s event it’s time to switch things up.

“I’m winding down HempX so that next year, as the industry association, we can do something bigger to boost the industry,” Butler says.

HempX Asheville is an annual industry conference focused on North Carolina’s burgeoning hemp industry.

“The reason HempX is important,” says Butler, “is that North Carolina — in its second year — has more hemp growers and processors than any other state. People are interested and they’re starting to realize this could well be in our DNA from our tobacco heritage.”

According to Butler, North Carolina has over 400 hemp farmers and more than 90 processors. Butler says educational events like HempX are key if the state is to be a leader in the hemp industry.

Blake Butler at Carolina Hemp Festival 2018

Blake Butler following his talk at the Carolina Hemp Festival in Aug. 2018. The “42-6” sign is one he displayed during his talk. It represents the N.C. General Assembly Senate vote that established the state’s industrial hemp pilot program.

In a video posted on HempX’s Facebook page in July, Butler says, “If you’re interested in getting into the hemp business, or already in it, you need to attend the fourth and final HempX Asheville.”

“We’ve been involved with Blake since day one,” says Jeff Cartonia, former executive director of the NCIHA and vice president of marketing at Founders Hemp, North Carolina’s first licensed hemp farm.

HempX has been very well run since its inception,” Cartonia says. “Go and support the industry and Western North Carolina. It’s a great hands-on event at the farm.”

HempX runs from 2 p.m. until 10 p.m. on Fri., Sept. 21, and from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. on Sat., Sept. 22. Day tickets are $25 for most and $15 for students. On Friday, the ticket price includes a welcome dinner. Butler says proceeds benefit the NCIHA.

What to Expect at HempX

“What makes this year different is that the majority of us are growers now,” says Butler. “We’re bringing in experts on soil science, on processing and on testing. You know, so many elements of the industrial hemp industry that interest our growers; and we want to be sure they’re following the letter of the law.”

Attendees can expect information on many aspects of the hemp industry including textiles, lab testing, legal issues and even personal stories from some of North Carolina’s farmers who are participating in the N.C. Industrial Hemp Pilot Program. Those personal stories should be especially interesting following Hurricane Florence, which threatened this year’s hemp crops and forced some farmers to harvest early.

“I am attending HempX for the first time this year and I couldn’t be more excited,” says Rachel Grano, communications director for NC NORML. Grano is also the owner of Cannabliss Health in Murphy, N.C.

“I think it’s important to learn about all aspects of any industry you want to grow in,” says Grant, “and as a cannabis educator, I am very excited for the two days’ worth of speakers. I am particularly looking forward to the ‘Women in Hemp’ panel at 3 p.m. on Friday.”

Grano says she looks forward to putting faces with the names she’s encountered via the internet. “I finally have a chance to meet people in the industry that I have already had the pleasure of working with online, and also those I hope to collaborate with for future endeavors,” she says.

Earlier this month, Rolling Stone magazine reported that the cannabidiol (CBD) market is predicted to hit $22 billion annually by 2022.

CBD is a product derived from hemp. It is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid.

Camping and Music

For those wishing to camp Friday or Saturday night, the charge is $10. You can pay when you arrive.

Butler says to bring your tent and other camping gear. While there are four eco-cabins and a glamping area available, when we spoke Tuesday there was only one space left.

There are full showers and bathrooms available for all campers. There is also an eco-kitchen and a fire ring.

“Franny runs a great ecotourist operation,” Butler says of Franny Tacy, the owner of Franny’s Farms where the event is held.

Each night the event winds down — or up, perspective depending — with live music.

The bands Hard Rocket and Coy Wolf are playing Friday night, and on Saturday AnnaChristie Sapphire is playing. She’s followed by The StumpMutts.

The Hempy Hour

During the Hempy Hour, lawyers Rod Kight and Bob Crumley, CEO of Founder’s Hemp, are going to host a forum on hemp.

“Bob and I are going to cover a lot of different topics about hemp,” says Kight. “We each have different roles to play in the industry and have no shortage of things to talk about. We’ll talk about what’s on our minds, then we’ll answer people’s questions”

Both men recently won a Golden Hemp Leaf award at the Carolina Hemp Festival in Raleigh, N.C.

Butler says CBD mocktails, CBD water and CBD kombucha will be available during the forum.

HempX “fosters a lot of cross-fertilization,” says Kight who paused to laugh at his farmer joke, continuing, ” …of growers and processors and retailers.” He says the casual atmosphere fosters the creation of business relationships.

Kight fronts the band Hard Rocket that is playing Friday night at HempX.

Rod Kight playing guitar

Rod Kight playing guitar. [Photo via Facebook.]

Bob Crumley CEO of Founder's Hemp

Bob Crumley, CEO of Founder’s Hemp. [Photo courtesy Founder’s Hemp.]

HempX Asheville History

“Before, when we first started (HempX), we would spin hemp on looms” and things like that says Butler.

“While all of that is important,” he says, “the key now is ‘how do we make this industry sustainable?’ So, we’ve tweaked our programming to be sure people are learning in a fun environment and that it resonates with them even after they leave.”

Brian Bullman, co-owner of Carolina Hemp Company, in Asheville, says, “HempX has been very special to us for many reasons.”

“In late 2014, we hired Blake’s PR firm to help us get some traction here in Western North Carolina. In early 2015, Blake and I met downtown to discuss a hemp festival here in Asheville and HempX was born. His efforts in pulling together the event, for 2015 and the subsequent years, have had a large impact on the perception of hemp and cannabis.”

“For us, acting as the primary sponsor each year and participating in all of the auxiliary HempX events, we have had the good fortune to be at the center of the industry as it has exploded on to the scene,” says Bullman, adding that the festival has given him the opportunity to meet and collaborate with “some of the most innovative and influential folks in the industry.”

“When we first started we knew nothing. We’ve come a long way.”

What’s Next

At the NCIHA annual meeting in November, Butler says he plans to ask members what they’d like to do, event-wise, going forward.

Butler says he would like to see three association events across the state each year, ” … one out west, one in the middle and own down east.”

He says he and Franny Tacy, of Franny’s Farms, are also thinking about quarterly events at her place.

“You know, we could have people come out to the farm for a weekend and we can just do hempcrete for two days,” Butler says, adding, “The next quarter it might be on product creation.”

“Not to take anything away from HempX, but it’s become so big … the HempX men and women began the hemp movement in Asheville,” he says, reminiscing. “When we first started we knew nothing. We’ve come a long way.”

BY Rhiannon Fionn

BY Rhiannon Fionn

Editor & Publisher

Rhiannon Fionn is an award-winning journalist based in Charlotte, N.C.

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