Northwest of the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri, after the Mennonites in horse-drawn carriages, a winding road leads into a forgotten part of Missouri’s black history – Lake Placid.
The black-owned cabin retreat boomed in the mid-20th century. B.C. Turner, a Kansas City physician, designed it as a place of restoration and sanctuary for black families across the state during segregation. But over the decades, many cabins that were once in demand have fallen into disrepair.
“We have what I call ruins – buildings without walls,” said Brendalyn King.
Last year, she and partner Osei Doyle purchased 244 acres of tree-covered mountain land directly behind the cabins with the goal of rebuilding it with hemp materials.
The couple, founders of Salem Hemp Kings, are one of only 127 licensed industrial hemp producers in Missouri, and they plan to create the state’s first black-owned industrial hemp processing site.
The first-ever USDA survey of hemp production was released last month I found a stark diversity issue: Only 6% of cannabis growers are black in an industry worth about $825 million. Cannabis has been a tough market for people of color to break into, but some, including King, hope that cannabis offers a new avenue.
“We want to be a lion-owned cannabis healer. We want it to be part of our legacy,” she said. “We moved here for this. We were tracked a little sideways, little forks on the road, but it ended up being a nice trail to land on.”
King was raised in St. Louis, while Doyle was born in Brooklyn, New York, and raised in Trinidad. They met in Brooklyn for over a decade before deciding to pack up and pursue cannabis cultivation in the Midwest. In 2020, the couple moved to the St. Louis area on a promise to purchase land in Illinois.
But the two growing seasons were tough. First, they lost money because they didn’t have a buyer lined up to buy their cannabis flower. In the second season, a rainstorm destroyed much of the crop. Then all of a sudden, the land purchase faltered.
“We felt like we were driving ourselves,” King said.
The challenges to growing hemp for black farmers have largely remained the same since the crop was federally legalized for production in 2018, said Leon Moses, farm supervisor at North Carolina A&T State University. It helped bring in an existing industrial hemp program On Research into Historical History. Black Foundation in 2016.
“I don’t see many opportunities,” he said, “but I see opportunity.”
Moses said the biggest obstacle for black farmers is access to land and capital. A great loss to the land for generations He left to black farmers about 1% of the country’s total agricultural land.
He said that if the federal government wanted to increase diversity in the industrial hemp industry, it should provide the resources to purchase land.
“First of all, give either low-interest loans or grants or those kinds of things that make financing available,” Moses said. “If you want inclusivity and you want diversity in cannabis, my first thought would be, Look what you might do to help them engage, and you create opportunities.”
Angela Dawson is someone who is trying to open up opportunities for black farmers to grow hemp.
She is the co-founder and president of the Forty Acre Cooperative in Northern Minnesota, which operates a cannabis extension program for black growers in seven states, including Illinois and Indiana.
Dawson, who is also an organic food grower, said growing hemp is a good way to supplement income.
“We use cannabis as an economic foundation and a catalyst to create real opportunities for our business,” she said. “It’s really hard being an organic farmer. It usually doesn’t define in terms of income.”
Dawson said that growing hemp requires specific techniques and the right strain to thrive in the environment. It has spent the past three years developing a healthy cannabis strain that will not test more than the legal limit of 0.3% of THC, the psychoactive ingredient of the plant. Testing that is too high can cause farmers to lose their entire crop.
She teaches farmers how to grow hemp for CBD, a plant extract used in things like lotions and oils, on just under two acres of land. Most of the farmers you work with own 10 acres of land or less.
King and Doyle have more than 200 acres to work with in Lake Placid, a place they say they fell in love with as soon as they found it in 2020. With the help of friends, they manage to buy it and have plans to restore the land as a place of black serenity.
They still have a long way to go to realize their dream. Last fall, the Missouri Department of Agriculture denied their application for a synthetic hemp fiber processing grant, which they hoped to start their operation. Now, they’re planning a Juneteenth fundraiser.
They’re still years away from planting their first crop, King said, but it’s not going anywhere.
“I know it’s a lifelong process,” she said. “Knowing that we have a lot of ideas but also seeing my life horizon, I like, ‘Yes, I have 50 years to actively do this.’”
Their goal is to rebuild the community that once thrived and focus it around the possibilities of cannabis production.
Republished with permission from St. Louis Public Radio. The article can be found here.
Harvest Public Media reports on food systems, agriculture, and rural issues through a collaborative network of NPR stations throughout the Midwest and Plains.
Source: KCUR 89.3