MJ Business Reporter CEO Interview- Leslie Hoffman, Co-Founder of Asheville Hemp Project

The hemp industry is growing at an annual rate of 14% worldwide. Driving this growth are countless small operations taking advantage of changes in laws and the decline of other business due to economics and new consumer behavior. One of these businesses, Asheville Hemp Project in Asheville, North Carolina, is bringing its first product to market, a CBD-infused chewing gum. Leslie Hoffman is one of the AHP’s co-founders, and she shared her past and present with us to get an idea of her vision of the future – and it’s a bright one.

Asheville Hemp Project is launching its first commercial product, a CBD gum. Can you tell us about it?

HOFFMAN: We chose CBD Gum as our first product to bring to market from AHP because of its super-effectiveness as a delivery method. A product with a bit of ‘Wow — Interesting’ opportunity to educate the consumer, while bringing our farm-based brand to the market.

What other products are in the AHP Pipeline?

HOFFMAN: Soon our 10-pack pre-rolls and our full spectrum extract, which are both straight from our fields, will be introduced and available for purchase. The products are compliant with the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018. This means they both contain less than .3% THC. We are also releasing an organic hemp lip balm which has no CBD or THC at all. We are providing products that can appeal to the broadest range of customers regarding the incorporation of cannabinoids — from none to CBD only, to THC compliant.

What is your background in the hemp industry?

HOFFMAN: I have been in this space for a very long time. I became aware of the history of the prohibition of cannabis in the mid-80s, and I started a hemp fashion company with 2 partners in the early 90s. The fashion business is tough regardless, and the quality of the hemp textiles at that time was hit and miss. We had our full line at Planet Hemp, a small shop in Soho in NYC. When Woody Harrelson came in and bought it all, it was an easy exit for us! This was in the mid-late 90s. I ran a nonprofit organization that launched a FutureFashion Initiative in 2004, and it was a great opportunity to include introduce hemp to many of the biggest fashion designers in the world.

How did you and Scott Brinkley team up?

HOFFMAN: Scott and I first met when he and his family lived in a small log cabin on my farm. When the NC Industrial Hemp Pilot Program was launched in 2017, we jumped to apply for a license. That was the beginning of the Asheville Hemp Project.

Why set up shop in Asheville as opposed to Colorado, for example?

HOFFMAN: NC is a good agricultural area in terms of water, weather and soil. It had traditionally been a tobacco-farming region and has a lot of valuable infrastructures — from the farms, equipment, drying barns, and talent to the tobacco product manufacturing capability. We like the idea of using what is old and available, as well as putting to work some of the people who have lost so much as tobacco has retreated as a booming local industry. Additionally, the progressive community spirit in Asheville provides a great ecosystem for AHP. They say ‘828 is great!’ – and it is. [Editor’s note: 828 is the phone area code for Asheville and environs.]

What are the biggest challenges AHP faces?

HOFFMAN: As we are all aware, this is a nascent and volatile industry. The regulations have not yet been coordinated to make all states and the federal guidelines align. Farmers across America are moving to grow the crop now that it is legal, yet the USDA and FDA have yet to finalize and establish their rules. So, many states are working under pilot programs, and others have yet to allow hemp cultivation. The net result is quite a bit of volatility in the space.

Additionally, consumers are just becoming aware of the potential of cannabinoids to improve their own health and wellness.

How do your values influence your business approach and strategy?

HOFFMAN: I love EF Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful, and we exemplify that spirit. We are a small farm, have farmed hemp successfully for a few years, and are now bringing high-quality hemp products to consumers. So, we stay connected to the ground — soil, weather and hand-work — and incorporate that into our message. Our tagline “Take a Moment: Look Inward, Look Outward, Look Homeward” indicates our belief that a sense of calm and soothing is both an inner-facing practice, as well as a connection to nature. Look Homeward references Thomas Wolfe’s 1929 novel Look Homeward, Angel, which was written in Asheville about Asheville.

What are your near-term goals and objectives?

HOFFMAN: We are focused now on getting our products distributed broadly to make them accessible nationwide. Of course, we are also selling online so that, wherever the postman goes, Asheville Hemp Project products are available.

What are your long-term goals and objectives?

HOFFMAN: Scott and I aim to build a solid company that always keeps customer satisfaction, and the need for relaxation, focus and calm, as our central purpose. We started as farmers and are now excited to deliver the benefits of the hemp plant for personal health and wellness. We may well include fiber and seed at some point, but for now, we are focused on products from the flower and extracts.