WILTON — Rocky Hill Landscaping/Wilson Stream Business Park will be growing in more ways than one in the next year. Owners want to raise public awareness about their project.

The Blacks purchased the former Wilton Tannery in 2015. They later changed the facility’s name to Wilson Stream Business Park.

The tannery started out as a tenement building in 1901 for masons and other workers brought to build factories in town. It became a tannery in 1959 and operated for 38 years.

“We’ve incorporated some original pieces of the property in the design to keep historical elements,” Corey said.

“We’re using the old bones of the building, building on top of them,” John added.

The company is expanding its soil business to keep up with demand. Worm composting is the basis for Earth

Wilson Stream Business Park in Wilton is expanding its facility to keep up with the demand for its Earth Keepers products. (Submitted photo)

Keepers Castings. Earth Keepers Complete is a soil blend requiring no additional soil amendments.

John Black poses with some of the hemp seedlings that will be grown this year in Franklin and Somerset counties. (Submitted photo)

The Blacks have created a new corporation, New England Hemp Institute as part of its plan to add large scale commercial hemp production to its operations.

NEHI will be leasing cornfields from farmers in Franklin and Somerset counties and converting them to organic hemp production. 840 acres will be put into hemp production. 1,300 miles of irrigation will be used.

John said hemp will provide a new use for land from dairy farms that have gone out of business.

“You can’t get high on hemp. It’s a totally safe crop. Farmers were happy to have a higher per acreage price for leasing their land,” Corey said.

“People don’t know the difference between marijuana and hemp,” John said. “We’re meeting with selectmen where we’re growing hemp as a courtesy, to keep them informed.”

NEHI has started a 7,000 square foot space for hemp packaging and handling. A 12,000 square foot

expansion is expected to get underway in September or October. When completed, the facility will house a commercial dryer and tissue culture lab. The dryer is capable of drying 20,000 pounds hemp per hour.

“The drying facility is really important for the hemp industry in Maine. The number of permitted growers in Maine went from 80 to 212 this year. Farmers need a way to dry their crop. There’s no other facility in Maine,” Corey said.

John said the dryer will take up a footprint of 30 feet by 90 feet. It is 28 feet tall.

“It will be the largest in the country,” he added.

“With tissue culture we can eliminate chemicals or disease in plants by taking a tissue sample, growing it in a Petri dish and reverting it back to its original genetics. Basically, every seed is different. Once we find that perfect plant we can take a tissue sample and reproduce it exponentially in the tissue lab. It’s like cloning,” John said.

“In the lab we will be able to produce one million seedlings at a time. That facility will also do research development and genetic storage.

“That’s huge in the hemp industry,” Corey added.

John said the lab would feature a state of the art cryogenic freezer to store genetics.

“There’s nothing like it on the East coast. It’s another tool we’re using for farmers. They can come here to buy genetics, plants,” he said.

John said they are licensed to grow almost one-fourth of all hemp acreage in Maine this year. They will be using new technology such as drones, to map the fields, and row guidance on their tractors. The satellite system knows where every plant is.

“It can go for a mile and only varies about an inch. We don’t even drive the tractors, just turn them when we come to the end of a row,” he added.

The Blacks are working with several other entities and companies on other products such as flour, seeds and wood fiber.

“We named it NEHI because we want to learn, pave the way for new technologies. Because we’re so large scale, we can provide a lot of different products and services,” John said.

The Blacks, through the Town of Wilton, are applying to the State of Maine Community Development Block Grant program for a 2019 Economic Development Program Grant in the amount of $330,000. That money would fund the hiring of 11 new employees. On May 7 voters authorized the grant application, which must be submitted in the next two and a half weeks.

Corey said the 11 new employees was a conservative estimate. They will work in the businesses at Wilson Stream Business Park.

“One of the biggest factors in this grant is our commitment to the community,” Corey said. “Our grandparents are from Wilton. Our parents went to Wilton Academy. We’re giving priority to Wilton people for staff. Our focus is Wilton.”

The Blacks have given back over the years. John has served as a selectman, Corey has been part of the recreation and events committees. They sponsored the Marigold project and designed and planted the garden in East Wilton. They can be found at Black Acres Farm events.

“We really want to see Wilton doing well,” Corey said.

The Blacks said a ribbon cutting would probably be held later this year. After all the renovations are completed, a celebration is expected in 2020.

For more information call Rocky Hill Landscaping, 207-645-5381 or visit www.newenglandhempinstitute.com.

 

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