POWELL — A Powell business is set to become the first hemp production and processing operation in the state of Wyoming, though the company’s plans were nearly blocked by the Powell City Council Monday night.
GF Harvest, which produces gluten free oat products, announced this week that it intends to add hemp-based foods. The company has the distinction of being the very first licensed hemp producer and hemp processor under Wyoming’s new hemp rules, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved last month.
However, with GF Harvest’s facilities on East Washington Street lying on city-owned land, the city council had to give its blessing before any hemp processing could move forward. The council narrowly approved the request on Monday, with Mayor John Wetzel breaking a 3-3 tie to support the hemp plans.
The Powell Economic Partnership “has worked a lot on helping this industry, and the Legislature went through a long process to get the rules passed,” Wetzel said in an interview, adding that, “I don’t think I should stand in the way” of GF Harvest being involved with the crop.
Jill Smith, quality assurance manager and co-owner of GF Harvest, approached the council Monday to get approval to process hemp on city land.
Smith said the organization, in partnership with Mother’s Hemp Farms, has created recipes for hemp-based foods.
“We are starting with the food quality versions of high protein and omega ... to be added to our food lines that exist today, such as creating a Pure Hemp Oats line,” GF Harvest said in an announcement on the new venture.
The hemp will be grown on property that GF Harvest owns on Adams Street, located just south of its facilities.
However, because it was built with the help of economic development grants from the city and state, GF Harvest’s mill, warehouse and packaging facilities on Washington Street are located on city land. As part of the hemp licensing requirements, GF Harvest needs approval from the owners of any land where they plan to grow or process hemp.
At Monday’s meeting Councilor Steve Lensegrav asked if the facility would give off any odors or emit “byproducts.”
Jill Smith, who filled in for GF Harvest President Seaton Smith while he traveled to a convention, said she wasn’t entirely sure of the answer to that question. She said there were filtration systems available, but she wasn’t sure if the company would be installing one.
Councilor Lesli Spencer asked about GF Harvest’s timeline, and Smith said they were moving quickly as the growing season was going to be short.
Councilor Floyd Young asked if the fields were going to be inspected, and Smith said they would be. State inspectors will oversee all hemp grown in Wyoming, including the administration of licensing procedures for producers and processors; producers will need to report on all production and processing activities. Additionally, because hemp is a non-intoxicating variant of the same plant that yields marijuana, the state will test hemp plants to ensure they remain below a 0.3% level of THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
Councilors Tim Sapp, Young, and Spencer all voted against a motion to approve the request, and Councilors Jim Hillberry, Scott Mangold, and Lensegrav voted for it. Mayor Wetzel broke the tie.
The councilors did not discuss their reasoning prior to the vote.
Speaking after the meeting, Young said he is opposed to hemp production; Spencer explained she was uncomfortable approving the request because she felt GF Harvest provided vague or no answers to the council’s questions; and Sapp said he was concerned legal hemp was just opening the doors for legal marijuana.
“I’m not sure it’s a really good idea to bring it into the state,” Sapp said.
In its foray into hemp, GF Harvest is partnering with Dale Tenhulzen, who has a career in wealth preservation planning; Tenhulzen also is the president of Mother’s Hemp Farms, which is a partner with GF Harvest in the hemp venture.
GF Harvest’s announcement said Seaton Smith and Tenhulzen are working with local growers on the “best farming practices to grow this additional crop.”
Before embarking on any other hemp products, GF Harvest will be enhancing its current retail food products by adding hemp ingredients to their oat recipes — which, according to the company, will improve the products’ existing nutritional benefits.
The Powell company is also developing hemp-infused pancake mixes and instant pot meal kits and will also be using hemp for oils and hemp seed.
In the future, according to the announcement, GF Harvest will move into oil and fiber products made from hemp.