• 68°

Investment, new jobs will bring life to shuttered facility

Rows of hemp plants, which will later be ready to supply hemp farmers, already line a warehouse room at the former Narricot building in Boykins. These plants are being cultivated by Bon Bon Farms LLC. — Stephen H. Cowles Tidewater News

Bon Bon Farms slated to invest $8.5 million, create 162 jobs

BOYKINS

A vacated warehouse-sized building in Boykins has a new occupant who’s already putting the space to use, and whose product will cultivate both money and employment in Southampton County. Franklin Southampton Economic Development Inc. announced on Friday that Bon Bon Farms LLC will invest $8,551,000 and create 162 new jobs to establish its new company in town.

The site is the former Asheboro Elastics Corporation facility, better known locally as Narricot, which closed this past June.

James Lee, who is Bon Bon’s owner, said in a phone interview that in its first to second year, the business will use the facility to grow and nurture hemp plugs that can supply hemp farms throughout Virginia and the Southeast. An expansion of operations is expected to start in the second to third year when crude cannabidiol, usually known as CBD, can be sold to other businesses that could refine it for product use such as oils, edibles and cosmetics. In years three and four, a clean room will be established to produce and refine its own oil.

Tyler Disk, left, and James Lee, hold up a large bag of hemp that’s been harvested and ready for shipping. — Stephen H. Cowles Tidewater News

Lee, 38, said about his involvement in hemp, “I’ve been in the cannabis industry in some form or another another for the past 18 years. I’ve done consulting on large-scale indoor grows in Colorado and California.”

Further, Lee said he’s been involved in ancillary products, such as specializing smoking pipes for vape shops.

The company name, he said as an aside, comes from the name of his daughter, Bonnie, who will be 2 years old in February.

“The initial cost of the plant can cost $8,000 to $10,000 per acre to grow,” Lee continued. “We’ll manufacture enough to issue on a credit type of system. That helps removes a barrier from entry [into hemp farming.] It kind of allows us to soften that burden.”

Depending on a strain, a hemp plant can mature with 120 to 160 days.

The company took possession of the site in mid-October and already has established multiple rows of hemp plants.

As for employment, Lee said that a job fair is planned for this January.

“Farming experience would be very helpful. Having a horticulture background and experience in government compliance for protocols,” he said. “A lot of this will be a learning curve. These are not traditional job skills. We’re looking for people that want to work. We can teach and train and we really want people that care.”

Asked to explain the differences between hemp and marijuana, the latter of which can be used both medically as well as recreationally, Lee explained that while the plants appear quite similar, viewing the buds more closely shows differences. More importantly, the chief difference is in the genetic makeup of the plants. Tetrahydrocannabinol, usually referred to as THC, has the psychotropic ingredient in marijuana and can produce a feeling of being high or peaceful in many users.

Industrial hemp, he continued, has under 0.3 percent of THC.

“Hemp has more CBD and less THC. Marijuana has more THC and less CBD,” Lee summarized.

He also noted that the fibrous stalks of hemp plants, which can grow quite tall, may be cultivated to make fibers to create hats, T-shirts and bioplastics. As far back as World War II, hemp was used for rope and riggings. “Hemp for Victory” is the title of an instructional movie about the plants flexible uses.

•••

Lee said of the reception his company has gotten so far, “The citizens and farmers of Boykins and Southampton County have been extremely welcoming, which has played a major role in our decision to do business in Boykins. We have also found the economic development team and government officials to be great to work with as we ramp-up operations. We are looking forward to partnering with farmers and organizations in Franklin Southampton so we can play an active role in charitable, community, and economic initiatives.”

Naturally, county and FSEDI officials are thrilled by the news of Bon Bon’s establishment in Boykins. In statements made through a press release:

“Today’s announcement is a great win for the Southampton County,” said Dallas Jones, Southampton County Board of Supervisors Chairman. “By supporting innovative, locally owned businesses like Bon Bon Farms, we can help bring economic vitality to the Franklin Southampton community.”

“This business attraction project is tremendous news,” said Brian Hedgepeth, FSEDI Board Chairman. “It gives life to a shuttered building in Boykins and provides much-needed jobs and economic vitality for our community.”

“A project like this provides a greater diversity of growing options for farms throughout our region and highlights one of the Commonwealth’s emerging crops, hemp,” said Doug Smith, president and CEO of Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance.

Jay Brenchick, president and CEO of FSEDI, stated, “Franklin Southampton Economic Development Inc., Virginia Economic Development Partnership, Virginia Career Works – Hampton Roads Region, and Southampton County worked in partnership on this project. The company has received both state and local benefits from the Virginia Enterprise Zone Program, which is administered by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development and Southampton County, respectively.”