As the cannabis industry spreads in Virginia, Piedmont producers ponder the future.
By Jennifer Waldera, photos courtesy of Joe and Leigh Ann Kuhn
In 2019, Joe Kuhn transitioned out of his role as a long-time land steward and environmental scientist, taking time to reflect and pinpoint his new direction. With a diverse background including various aspects of environmental science work, antique Volkswagen and vehicle restoration, live music and event work, outdoor adventuring, farming, and radio DJ-ing, there were a number of options available for Kuhn’s next move. At the suggestion of, and in collaboration with, a close friend and neighbor, Kuhn made the move to found Albemarle Cannabis Company with his wife, Leigh Ann.
While ACC was begun with an initial vision of growing, consulting, and assisting farmers with hemp cultivation, ACC soon went through an organic growth period that Kuhn says gave birth to a retail brand of locally grown, sourced, and partnered hemp-based products.
“As this growth continued, we quickly realized that the nature of the business was rapidly developing in the retail hemp and CBD industry. We then revisited how we wanted to continue to serve both needs—those of retail with ACC, as well as the agriculturally rooted origins of Virginia Cannabis Services. That essentially led to the formation of VCS,” the couple says.
Formed in July 2020, Virginia Cannabis Services was started originally because the Kuhns saw a shortage in support for farmers, including themselves.
“Farmers of all skill levels had a desire to get involved in the hemp industry. There was, and still is, a need to have the space and know-how for navigating crops from seed to shelf,” Joe says.
Initially, VCS wanted to help in harvesting hemp with individuals who did not possess the infrastructure to house and dry their plant material, starting small and trying to handle only up to about 5,000 plants at a time.
“After we handled our first harvests, we discovered people really craved additional assistance that had to do more with planning, finding plant materials, and assistance in growing a crop that hasn’t been present in the agricultural world in decades,” according to the Kuhns. “Essentially, we expanded our services so we could provide additional support.”
Since then, VCS has begun providing viable feminized hemp seeds and seedlings to clients and creating comprehensive planning for planting. They also provide consultation during the growing period, as well as assistance with harvesting and drying all across the Commonwealth.
“Our mission is to provide knowledge from our staff, along with comprehensive services, with the skill sets of talented farmers in the Commonwealth, to produce the highest quality hemp cannabis possible. We strive to integrate the knowledge of current hemp and cannabis ‘plant science’ in our business approach, in order to help people understand the amazing capabilities of cannabis in our society,” the Kuhns explain.
As both businesses have grown and flourished, they have added a number of products and services. ACC sells locally made, locally sourced, and locally partnered hemp and CBD products via e-commerce, in-person market and pop-up events, festival events, and through local wholesale partnerships. ACC also aims to provide comprehensive cannabis information to all in need.
Meanwhile, VCS conducts site assessments and planting plans for people of all skill levels including soil testing, soil amendments, tilling, mounding, and laying of plasticulture (if warranted), to provide a good basis for the hemp to grow. They also design and install simple irrigation systems and provide seeds and seedlings for farmers across Virginia. VCS currently can produce about 10,000-to-15,000 seeds and seedlings for various clients. Providing farmers with hemp seeds, seedlings, and or clones to be planted in their fields across Virginia, VCS also provides labor as needed for plant installation and harvest.
While VCS works primarily with farmers around the Commonwealth, ACC’s commitment is to serve all in need of legal hemp-based cannabis products.
“Our largest client base tends to be folks in the 40-70 age demographic, followed by the 21-40 age group, and dove-tailed by a group we support as ‘cannabis curious,’ newcomers who are seeking natural alternatives for a variety of needs,” say the Kuhns.
As to recent state legislative changes regarding cannabis, the Kuhns are hopeful that many more individuals will become more comfortable engaging in conversation about it, in growing it, and in beginning to break down negative stigmas associated with it.
“We also feel that personal growth and possession will continue to bring to light the need for integrous, professional, supportive resources in the cannabis industry. We have concerns that the many hard-working smaller locally owned businesses in Virginia could get overshadowed and overpowered by big pharma and big business,” the Kuhns say. “We continue to stay up-to-date on currently developing policy, formation of regulatory agencies, and laws on all levels, as those continue to occur.”
The couple also expresses hope that more clarity will be provided regarding applications and retail/cultivation permits as well as how to navigate that process.
“Additionally, more concrete timeline information would be beneficial for those of us on the retail and/or cultivation side of this developing industry. Finally, the formation of professional development supports are essential, to help guide the industry soundly and safely,” they say.
While some of the impacts of the legislative changes may not be entirely clear yet, what is clear are the goals that Joe and Leigh Ann have for growing both ACC and VCS.
“We would love to expand our product reach to all of Virginia, the Mid-Atlantic, and beyond. We are also very dedicated to being a trusted comprehensive legal cannabis resource for all. Also, we deeply value how we can contribute positively to our locality and to the greater Commonwealth in any way possible,” they say of ACC.
Joe says of VCS, “We would love to become the Central Virginia Home for Biomass Storage, product manufacturing and development, and be an indoor mariujuana cultivation and production house that is integral in supporting the rich agricultural base in the Southeast. We also want to continue to support and empower farmers—they provide the backbone we all rely on and deserve our dedication.”
Working together to build ACC and VCS, as well as to reach their future visions, the Kuhns point to each other for their success. Leigh Ann praises Joe’s wealth of diverse skill sets that help to make the business flourish. Meanwhile, Joe credits Leigh Anne’s strong background in education, language, and communication as well as her expertise involving gardening, helping people connect to nature and outdoor based practices, beekeeping, and supporting others in the community through volunteer work. Both appreciate the teams that they have at both ACC and VCS.
“ACC is a diverse mix of family, long-time friends, and newly formed collegial professionals who are all passionate about the benefits and potential for cannabis in today’s world. VCS started with just a few friends; as we got further into the 2020 growing season, we hired folks from different backgrounds and experience levels to create a well-rounded team who each have their own ideas, and skill sets to bring to the table,” they say.
Overall, Joe and Leigh Ann Kuhn are committed to helping those that they serve and passionate about doing so.
“We want all people to feel comfortable to ask questions. We want people to know that, even if they choose not to use legal cannabis, they can still support beneficial outcomes that cannabis can bring to others. We want people to know that we are here to contribute positively and humbly. It is something we live, not just something we do,” they agree.