Wednesday, April 8, 2015
Having secured an option on eight acres in the Henry County Commerce Park for a hemp food products processing facility, entrepreneur Chad Rosen will turn his attention to raising capital for the project estimated at more than $4 million. Rosen met members of the Henry County Fiscal Court's Economic Development Committee April 2 to sign the paperwork and pay the $4,000 for the option. The agreed to purchase price is $5,000 an acre.
Rosen, who recently leased an apartment in New Castle, found about 20 potential sites across Kentucky suitable for the hemp processing facility idea. He had interest from big tobacco processors in Lexington who are looking to make a transition to hemp, but in the end he felt most welcomed by Henry County.
His first point of contact was Tommy Tingle, the real estate agent who helped pursue potential sites. "I told him about the project, and he said, 'You should talk to our judge, John Logan Brent -- he's a neighbor and a friend. He might be interested. He's a farmer, and he might have an open ear.'" Rosen recalled.
He followed that tip, and it led to meetings with state representatives and senators about the project, as well as an opportunity to work with the Berry Center. "It's unlocked all sorts of doors that I wouldn't have been able to walk through without having the support I did here in Henry County," he said.
Rosen has a history in developing sustainable products. He started a California company called Vetrazzo that recycled glass. That process reused glass as a base for polished cement -- an alternative to natural stone. When that company was bought out, he moved to Atlanta to continue to oversee the processing.
His latest idea involves processing hemp into food products like flour and oil, Rosen said. Hemp oil is good for salad dressings and pesto and pasta dishes.
One thing that makes hemp a good substitute for traditional foods arise from its being high in Omega 3s, which often comes from fish oils. Hemp is also one of the few plant proteins that can provide nine essential amino acids. He plans to bring samples of these products to Harvest Showcase and he's got farm-to-table chefs in Louisville working on recipes. Rosen also intends to observe Hemp History Week from June 1 to 7 giving out educational materials and samples in front of the Henry County Courthouse.
"Once people start to understand what the nutritional profile of hemp is, it's going to be one of those products, we hope, that is a staple in their diet," he said.
Kentucky has a history of raising hemp, and he's found growing support among politicians in making this state a leader in hemp production again as a way to provide farmers with another crop to turn to as tobacco declines. "I've always kind of marched to a sustainable drum beat and that really fits in line with what we're trying to accomplish here... work with family farms, develop sustainable agriculture and economically viable farms to bring farmers back to their land," Rosen said.
But before this project would seek to buy hemp from local farmers, his business plan calls for partnering with an established hemp food processor from overseas and importing their brands, he said. This will help Rosen get established in the hemp food market while making preparations to source hemp from local and regional farmers.
If successful, this would make this project the first hemp foods manufacturer in the United States, he said. Right now, the main players in the $600 million hemp foods North American market are two processors in Canada. With major retailers like Whole Foods and Kroger making space for hemp foods on their shelves, Rosen believes the demand will be there.
Signing the option agreement is a first step in making this project a reality, Rosen said. Now, he will seek capital to fund the development of a processing facility with a capacity of up to 1,000 tons of grain a year. If the project moves forward, the processing facility could employ about 15 people."It makes a lot of sense for a lot of reasons," Rosen said. "There's a lot of momentum at the political level to provide our farmers with another crop that they can profit from."
With the meat processing plant locating at the Henry County Commerce Park, the hemp foods processor would be a good fit, Judge-Executive John Logan Brent said. This may attract other companies that can add value to locally grown farm products. While hemp can't totally replace tobacco, finding new crops to help farmers generate revenue is the way to go. Brent said creating jobs and supporting farmers is a double win.
"Hopefully, that will pave the way for other facilities that would potentially manufacture and enhance the value of local farm products, as well as provide jobs," he said. "It's obviously a win anytime you have a facility that's going to create jobs and then supports our local farmers."
Chad Rosen signs the option agreement for eight acres in the Henry County Commerce Park as members of the economic development committee for Henry County Fiscal Court and Steve Dale of regional economic development group Kentucky Connected watch.
PHOTO: Chad Rosen signs the option agreement for eight acres in the Henry County Commerce Park as members of the economic development committee for Henry County Fiscal Court and Steve Dale of regional economic development group Kentucky Connected watch.