Marijuana leaf

APACHE COUNTY — Apache County’s going to the hemp side.

The Board of Supervisors last week approved an application for a 40-acre hemp farm, the third operation to launch in the county since the state made it legal.

Hemp won’t get you high – but can be used to produce oils and edibles with assorted health benefits. Advocates say it’s a great source of fiber that doesn’t rot and could replace plastic bottles, cotton and all sorts of other materials.

The latest application involves four greenhouses on 40 acres just outside of St. Johns on Witch Well Ranches, owned by Gregg Levendoski and Tawanna Wright.

The other previously approved hemp growers said they’d ship the harvested crop to other locations for processing. But the Witch Wells operation would process the plant on site. In an innovative twist, the applicants will also turn some of the crop into bricks for homebuilding. One of the many odd and useful qualities of hemp is a resistance to decomposition, which is why most sailing ships once made their sails out of hemp. Frank Lloyd Wright used hemp to make screens for his groundbreaking homes, since it won’t break down in sunlight.

Industrial uses of hemp plunged in the face of the drug wars, when it became associated with marijuana, a close relative. Starting in 2018, state law defines hemp as a cannabis strain with less than .3 percent THC and removes it from the list of Schedule 1 controlled substances.

Levendoski noted they will snip the buds with scissors then cure them to “ensure the flavors.” They’ll lock the flowers in a storage container and seek a broker for this part of the product “at this point we are playing it by ear – learning as we go like everyone else.” Eventually, they want to market their own brand of CBD hemp oil, used as a remedy for many ailments.

The stalks and leaves will go into hemp bricks, for use as a building material. They want to build a small house on site and offer workshops on how to grow and make hemp bricks “thus educating others in our areas on the incredible uses of industrial hemp.”

The operation will involve four greenhouses, each 36 feet wide and 110 feet long. The growers will use an existing well and rainwater harvesting, roughly 1.5 miles from Highway 191 and 25 miles north of St. Johns. The property’s now mostly grassland, with scattered juniper. The owners will dig a new detention basin that’s about two feet deep and 155-feet by 60-feet wide, to keep floodwater from running off the newly developed area and onto neighboring properties, according to the drainage study. The detention basin can capture up to 10,000 cubic feet of water – which should handle a projected 100-year storm on the 4.5 acres around the proposed greenhouses.

The owners filed an impact statement indicating it will take a couple of years to get everything up and running, which will include bringing the existing well back into service. The operation will initially involve two on-site employees. There’s a 40 acre parcel next door, but the owners only spend two weeks a year on the property. The owners also maintain their own dirt road to the ranch.

The owners held a required neighborhood meeting – which drew eight people. No one raised objections, said Levendoski in documents submitted to the county.

He noted he bumped into one neighbor who struck up a conversation about hemp “where he proceeded to tell me that he is on the fence with this hemp thing, but $500 could persuade him. I would normally have taken this as a joke, but due to past relations with them I thought I would include this discussion.”

Peter Aleshire covers county government and other topics for the Independent. He is the former editor of the Payson Roundup. Reach him at paleshire@payson.com

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