An inaugural "meet and grow" for Kern's burgeoning hemp industry Thursday night drew a standing room-only audience that included representatives from some of the county's most prominent farming families.
At least 150 people — investors, lawyers, seed suppliers, soil-amendment vendors, growers — crowded into The Links at RiverLakes Ranch to make business connections and hear presentations geared toward increasing local production of the marijuana-looking plant behind the modern cure-all known as CBD.
Discussions open and private ranged from tirades against strict federal guidelines to expectations that Kern's statewide leadership in registered hemp acreage will lead to increased investment in a plant county officials see as a valuable crop-diversification opportunity. Because of cross-pollination effects, local officials also view the nonintoxicating plant as a deterrent to illegal pot fields.
"It looks like here you're interested in doing a lot of different things," said Bari E. Smith, chief operating officer of Imperial CBD Extraction, who made the trip to Bakersfield from the company's headquarters in Imperial. She said it appears county officials seem to be open to processing of hemp for several different uses.
"I think you (Kern County) are in an ideal location for that," Smith said.
Among the local farming interests on hand to learn more about local hemp-growing opportunities were representatives of the Banducci and Zaninovich families. One local farming company, Jasmine Vineyards, sent people from its hemp-growing arm, EcoHemp of California LLC.
Locally prominent lawyers were present as well, along with a local human resources firm, Worklogic HR, which paid for a chance to promote its new hemp-oriented arm, Greenleaf HR.
Vice President Jason Thomasy told the audience the new company offers a full complement of human resources services, from benefits and payroll to risk mitigation to workers' compensation.
The meeting was organized by Bakersfield-based Hemp Access and convened in a small meeting room where the dank smell of skunk was so strong that windows were thrown open to let in fresh air.
Kern's brief experience with legal hemp has been somewhat bumpy. A researcher from Indiana who contracted more than 500 acres of hemp production recently saw his entire crop destroyed by the Kern County Sheriff's Office, in cooperation with the FBI, after samples of his crop tested above the federal limit of 0.3 percent THC, the high-inducing chemical in marijuana.
The destruction resulted in a $1 billion claim that has since been rejected by the county and is expected to end up in court.
A presenter at Thursday's meeting, Farmtiva Quality Hemp Seed CEO Chris Boucher, called the 0.3 percent threshold "ridiculous." He noted that the hemp industry is pushing for a looser, 1 percent limit, which many growers say would allow them to preserve keep of their crop without leading to misuse by pot smokers.