Large scale CBD oil, hemp-growing operation coming to St. James, Minn.

Tim Krohn
The Free Press, Mankato, Minn.

Jul. 19--A vacant lumber yard could soon be transformed into a major indoor hemp-growing operation that would manufacture CBD oil and produce hemp seeds.

“It’s a very large building. It fits our needs perfectly,” said Mathew Willner, of Mankato, who with three others is planning a hemp business called Native Girl Farms. They are working on a purchase agreement for the building.

He said a large portion of the former Overson Lumber facility in St. James, Minn., will include LED lights and a drip system to grow hemp on multiple levels of the building. Another area will produce the hemp seeds that they can use to grow hemp as well as sell to farmers and others who want to grow hemp. Another portion of the building will be for CBD oil production.

“It’s an emerging market, it’s young and has a really good potential,” he said of the hemp and CBD oil sector.

Willner, a Blue Earth native, knows how to do market studies. His Mankato business, Data Noir LLC, does market research for private companies and the government.

“In the next three years retail sales are supposed to triple in size. But I imagine in five years or so there will be a tapering off.”

He said the pharmaceutical market is probably the most stable moving forward as drug makers do research to produce new medical uses for CBD oil. “We’re working with one that’s looking at curing muscular dystrophy. They need a certain CBD strain to accomplish that.”

Willner has three partners with different expertise. Investor Paul Reese has done many commercial development projects.

Scott Wacha has experience growing cannabis in Colorado, one of the first states to legalize medical and then recreational marijuana. His wife, Jayme Wacha, is a member of one of the Minnesota Native American bands, thus the Native Girl Farms name for the business.

Willner said it will take a few months to convert the building, including adding a high-capacity electrical system to run the LED lights. They hope to be up and running by late this year.

After a year of operation, they hope to recruit area farmers or others to grow hemp for them.

“We want to make sure our process is good to go and then we can build greenhouses for farmers all over southern Minnesota. Because the ag community has been hit really hard as of late, it’s something good to bring to a farming area.”

While hemp can be grown outdoors, Willner said growing it inside ensures the plants are organic and not accidentally hit with any pesticide or herbicide.

“We’re really excited. The city of St. James has been wonderful to us and warmly brought us into the fold.”

Jamie Scheffer, economic development director for St. James, said finding a tenant for a large vacant building and the promise of up to 50 jobs is a boost to the city.

“It would be a great benefit to the community — jobs and taxes.”

She worked with the partners to get their special-use permit for the project so they could operate an industrial facility in an area zoned mostly for retail.

She said one thing the business has to address in the future is parking. There is no on-site parking lot and businesses need to have an off-street parking space for each employee. “One of the conditions of the permit is once they have more than 10 employees, they will have to bring a parking plan to the council.”

Scheffer said that at a Planning Commission public hearing on the special-use permit, “there were only positive comments.”