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Local hemp processors innovate with new products, stores

Randi B. Hagi
A cannabis plant on display at Pure Shenandoah in Elkton.

From patent-pending products to new storefronts, hemp purveyors in the region are finding innovative ways to grow the industry. WMRA's Randi B. Hagi reports.

Last week, WMRA aired a story about some of the local cannabis companies that are eagerly awaiting a marijuana retail market. This week, I had the pleasure of visiting a few businesses that are innovating within the hemp market.

Randi B. Hagi
Rhonda Marshall stocks gummies, flower, and pre-rolls at her store and processing location in Blue Grass.

First up was Crystal Hill Cannabis, located in the community of Blue Grass, a town of just a few hundred people near the West Virginia border in Highland County. When I drove out on Tuesday, a perfect blue sky soared over verdant forested hills and fields dotted with plump hay bales. Rhonda Marshall was busy setting up products in the future-retail store side of her building.

RHONDA MARSHALL: I'm originally from Blue Grass, then I lived in Fredericksburg for about 22 years. I worked at Quantico, and I did multimedia development and military training.

She returned to Blue Grass to work remotely, but got laid off about six years ago.

MARSHALL: But then I started into the hemp industry when that became legal. Started, got my growers permit and my processor's license. Started doing test grows to see what I could do with the product, and how we could move products to the market.

She started with cannabis oil fragrances –

MARSHALL: … and that was my first product, when we were harvesting. [spritzing sound] But it has essential oils in it, too.

But she noticed how much of the plants were going to waste, and how hard of a time local hemp farmers were having making a profit.

Randi B. Hagi
Marshall holds up a package of her hemp firestarters.

MARSHALL: What are we going to do with all this mass? And then I started brainstorming. I said, "grind it down and make it – what?" … I was like, "well, people are burning it, hmm." They got all these big piles sitting out in their fields, and are like, "I guess I'll go burn it." I was like, "well, let's make a firestarter!"

The firestarters are little pucks of dried, ground up hemp that can be used to light campfires, wood stoves, and the like. Marshall said she has a patent pending, and is pitching the product to Amazon and the commissaries on military bases. She's producing all this out of an old, brick retail building with an upstairs apartment.

[sound of walking up wooden stairs]

MARSHALL: It has so many issues! But it's more than perfect for what I need.

She said other local residents have been very curious about what she's up to.

MARSHALL: People love the pain salve, the fragrance – the girls love that … and people are highly interested in the firestarter. So all the products, they've really welcomed with open arms. I think they see this as innovation. You know, trying to help the hemp industrial revolution, is what I call it. [chuckles]

Randi B. Hagi
The Pure Shenandoah store and manufacturing facility.

Another new storefront is holding a grand opening this Saturday – Pure Shenandoah in Elkton. They held an educational meet-and-greet on Wednesday for current and prospective retailers – namely, health and wellness stores that do or might carry their products.

ABNER JOHNSON: Yeah, we're looking to get CBD into the kind of stores where people are already trying to better themselves.

Abner Johnson is the company's managing director. He's one of nine siblings – five of them run Pure Shenandoah together. They moved into their current space on West Spotswood Avenue in 2019. The showroom has large windows, white brick walls, refinished hardwood floors, and a black ceiling that all give the space a trendy industrial vibe. It was originally a jeans factory, and then a printing press.

Randi B. Hagi
Abner Johnson is the company's managing director.

JOHNSON: And then it was empty for a while, until we just recently got back into it. It's just been sitting, so a lot of people are thankful. It's one of the biggest buildings in Elkton … so we're definitely just bringing a lot of life to this part of the town.

In one of the manufacturing rooms, I found Tristan Wells, a VCU business major who's working at Pure Shenandoah to get experience in the cannabis industry.

Randi B. Hagi
Employee Tristan Wells is a VCU student who's interested in joining the cannabis industry.

TRISTAN WELLS: So I'm putting QR codes on these boxes for these CBD oil droppers, just so you can scan it and know exactly where it came from, know which batch, when it expires …The terpene profile in this is more for like a balanced type of feeling, I guess, so whatever you're feeling, like whether it be anxiety or stress, it just really like chills you out and brings you to a baseline.

Skyler, another Johnson sibling, showed me around the manufacturing areas of the facility, where tote bins full of ground hemp flower get turned into thick, condensed crude, and refined into the oils and distillates that go into their final products.

SKYLER JOHNSON: [loud mechanical sounds] … and then put it in the extractor, and then it gets refined even more …

I was left unattended for a few minutes, which was a real gamble on their part. But my Mom always taught me to look with my eyes, not my hands.

Randi B. Hagi
Skyler Johnson holds up a tote bin of ground hemp flower.

REPORTER [on site]: I have just entered what I believe to be the gummy-making room, and I have to tell you, it smells like I just walked into, like, a Willy Wonka candy menagerie.

Some of their gummies contain CBD – others, Delta 8 THC – a compound that naturally occurs in very small amounts in cannabis flowers, but can be extracted and distilled. Unlike the highly psychoactive version of THC, it is legal to sell in Virginia.

Back out front, Abner walked me through their most popular products.

ABNER JOHNSON: CBD oils do really well, the topicals are next, and then edibles and smokeables just right behind those. People have been finding a lot of benefits, between sleeping, anxiety, pain relief, those are the main things that people are coming in for.

Their grand opening this Saturday will feature infused food and beverages, giveaways, tours, and music starting at noon.

Randi B. Hagi

Randi B. Hagi first joined the WMRA team in 2019 as a freelance reporter. Her writing and photography have been featured in The Harrisonburg Citizen, where she previously served as the assistant editor; as well as The Mennonite; Mennonite World Review; and Eastern Mennonite University's Crossroads magazine.
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