WILBURTON — Kaben Smallwood runs his finger to smooth a line in a plant bed before positioning each hemp seed in an exact spot along the path.
The professor at Eastern Oklahoma State College focuses as he demonstrates how to plant hemp in preparation to teach a course in January at the college’s greenhouse on how to grow and process organic cannabidiol.
EOSC Board of Regents members recently voted to approve an agreement leasing the greenhouses to Symbiotic, LLC — of which Smallwood is also a co-owner and chief executive officer — with rent payment listed as 25 percent of the revenue generated from plants grown in the facility.
Smallwood said Eastern will offer a CBD production course, but his focus is developing entrepreneurial opportunities.
“The goal of this facility is job creation and entrepreneur training for the community,” Smallwood said.
CBD oil is made from hemp and contains trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which induces the high associated with marijuana. State law allows for three-tenths of a percent THC in CBD oil.
Oklahoma legalized in 2017 the selling of CBD oil and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Epidiolex — a drug made from CBD oil for treatment of seizures — but CBD oil is not recognized by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.
House Bill 2913 was signed into law in April to legalize growing industrial hemp in Oklahoma and the state’s Department of Agriculture opened applications a month later for an industrial hemp program.
The program allows colleges and universities to oversee research of the crop’s industrial potential, and individuals can contract with the institutions to produce hemp.
Kenny Naylor, the food safety and consumer protection services division director with the Oklahoma Dept. of Agriculture, said research needs to be done on the versatile product.
He said in addition to medical benefits, hemp can be used in cosmetics, insulation, fiberglass, concrete, drywall, replacing plastic bags and more.
Naylor said the crop has the potential to help the state’s agriculture industry.
“Hemp gives farmers another opportunity to help make their farm work through diversification,” Naylor said.
Institutions participating in the hemp pilot program include: Langston University, Redlands College, Northern Oklahoma College, Northwestern Oklahoma State University, Panhandle State University and Murray State College. Connors State College plans to participate in the program next year, Naylor said.
Eastern Oklahoma State College President Dr. Stephen Smith said the college was not ready to commit to a hemp pilot program.
Instead, Eastern has leased its greenhouse and partnered with Symbiotic, LLC, which partnered with Redlands Community College under the hemp pilot program license.
But he didn’t rule out applying for the program in the future.
“I think we’ll see what happens with the pilot and two years and if there’s any kind of a niche that we can jump in there and do, we’ll probably do that,” Smith said.
“If it looks positive, we’ll apply for a license so we can have the oversight of it and do it, but there’ll be a lot, a lot of research to be done,” he added.
Eastern launched its Agri-Business Incubator Program in 2017 to offer training in aquaponics, a process using a closed, re-circulating water system to grow organic produce.
After partnering with Symbionic Aquaponic and Smallwood, Eastern’s incubator program became the first of its kind in the state by offering courses involved in obtaining organic certification.
Eastern received organic certification status this year from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for basil, cauliflower, lettuce, parsley, rosemary, sage, tomato and several transplants.
Organic plants currently being grown at the greenhouse include chives, basil, rosemary, oregano, mint and more, according to Smallwood.
He said enrollment is open for the 90-day CBD production course that offers farmers training on how to grow the crop, in addition to business procedures, licensing and more.
“We’re also going to assist them with setting up for the legal entity, so if they need an LLC or a nonprofit or a corporation, all that will be included in the class,” Smallwood said.
He said students will complete course work online and will have a plant bed in Eastern’s greenhouse for harvesting.
Smallwood said after cycling out a crop a the facility, staff begins solarizing crop beds with a layer of film to increase temperature and repel insects and eggs.
Students will then learn to harvest and process the product on their way to becoming licensed professionals.
Contact Adrian O’Hanlon III at firstname.lastname@example.org