After closing down in 2019, there’s a new plan for part of the old Gedney pickle plant — one of the largest hemp grain processing facilities in the nation.
The Chanhassen City Council approved a request for a conditional use permit last month that would allow Hemp Acres, a Waconia-based hemp growing and processing company, to utilize 50,100 square feet of what is now the River Valley Business Center to work with the grain.
It would also permit the construction of six 35-foot-tall silos on the property, although Hemp Acres and the center are still negotiating lease terms, so the deal hasn’t been finalized.
The Gedney facility, located in southwest Chanhassen near the Chaska border, was turned into a 180,000-square-foot office/industrial/warehouse building last year. A 40,000-square-foot portion of the center is also being used by International Parts Supply to store decommissioned military equipment, according to the facility’s co-owner Joel Buttenhoff.
Hemp is a high-cannabidiol (CBD) variety of the cannabis plant. However, hemp contains less than .03 percent of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a psychoactive compound of cannabis.
Hemp is primarily grown for its derived products, which can range from industrial textiles, food, building materials and body care.
While hemp has been grown for thousands of years, it has battled issues with legalization for decades. The government briefly re-legalized hemp during WWII and heavily subsidized it — War Hemp Industries, one of the largest processing hemp facility in the world, was located in Hutchinson, Minnesota. (The building is now a 3M plant.)
But after the war, hemp reverted back to its illegal status. In 2015, Minnesota passed a law allowing cultivation of hemp as part of a regulated pilot program, and hemp was legalized nationwide under the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018.
Hemp Acres founder Charlie Levine was in the process of converting his grandparents’ Waconia farm from raising Black Angus cattle to growing apple trees for hard cider. But when hemp became legal in 2016, Levine jumped on the opportunity and said the operation is now the biggest hemp processing facility in Minnesota. The farm sells to wholesalers and has its own direct-to-retail brand.
“This is a brand new crop and a brand new industry. I’m the first one to stick my neck out, I guess,” Levine said.
Grain production also has minimal effects on the surrounding community. There’s no waste, Levine said, because anything that can’t be turned into a protein powder makes for great livestock feed or fertilizer. And while there’s a marijuana-like smell when processing CBD, the facility will only work with the grain, which has no odor, he said.
The expansion to the business center means his farm can now focus exclusively on CBD processing and move its grain operation elsewhere. They also won’t grow the majority of the grain themselves — Levine will contract with Minnesota farmers to buy 5,000 to 10,000 acres worth of hemp.
The move is a huge jump; the Waconia farm is around 1,600 square feet and has three employees. But after years of trailblazing hemp processing in Minnesota, Levine is ready to triple his staff and scale his operation. Ultimately, Levine hopes to acquire the entire building.
“I think it’s a great opportunity,” Chanhassen Planning Commission Chair Steven Weick said in a meeting last month. “It’s certainly a market that is growing, and it’s nice to have someone using that old location for a new purpose.”
If the business center owners and Hemp Acres agree on lease terms, they expect to move in by October and begin operating by January of next year, Levine said.