Accustomed to moving at a thousand miles an hour, Blühen Botanicals’ Joe Fox—known in his family as “Go-go Joe”—has an intense work ethic that is well-suited to Tennessee’s rapidly-evolving hemp industry. “This market is evolving lightning-fast and if you don’t move quickly you will get left behind,” Fox says. A natural networker and ideas man, he is backed by a team of collaborators, scientists, financial supporters, and consultants all with their eyes on the same goal: to develop Blühen into the front-running producer of high-quality CBD products through their focus on research, genetics, and farmer education, growing a sustainable agricultural economy in the Southeast United States. The team is on their way to massive name recognition thanks to their recent sponsorship of the inaugural Southern Hemp Expo in Nashville, TN, which helped them promote their brand and solidify their role as researchers, educators, and innovators in the hemp and CBD industry.
Blühen is German for “bloom” or “flourish,” which is a fitting verb reflective of Fox’s ambition. The company was founded by Fox and his partner Erich Maelzer—the Director of Horticulture—and made possible in part by contributions from partners at various real estate ventures including Segal Drummond, Mike Mangione, Tyler Fogarty, and Luke Kendziorski. Fox himself is a man of action, a capital-D doer, and his initial approach to the still-blossoming sustainable agriculture industry was no exception.
As the new kids on the block at the Southern Hemp Expo, Blühen rolled in with distinctive branding and a fast-paced marketing plan, making a splash on the scene while remaining deferential to the companies and individuals who paved the way in sustainable agriculture before them. Fox is grateful to those trailblazers, and gushed about his favorite aspect of being at the expo: networking and collaborating with established industry veterans. “We lean on people who have been around longer than us, and make sure they’re our advisors,” he said.
Blühen will be the largest hemp biomass extraction and production facility in Tennessee, occupying a 100,000+ square foot processing warehouse and a nearly-complete 18,000 square foot research and development facility, both located in Fox’s hometown of Knoxville, TN. Known locally for his passion for historic preservation, Fox rescued an old manufacturing building for the processing and extraction space, a landmark which formerly housed Charlie’s Pie Shop. He had it gutted and repurposed it to the necessary specifications for legal, compliant extraction and processing of hemp biomass—taking the building from a pie factory to a “high factory” (though nothing developed at the location will, in fact, get anyone “high” as Blühen works only with hemp and CBD products—not the THC-rich varieties of plants grown legally elsewhere in the U.S.).
Blühen’s core focus is education and support of their farming partners. “We’re educating folks on what hemp is, why you should grow it as a farmer, why you should be okay with it as a consumer, and why you should utilize it from a health and wellness standpoint,” says Fox. As the market for hemp, cannabis, and CBD products grows, Blühen attracts new farming partners by offering guidance on cultivation, genetics, pest prevention, and regulatory compliance. This lays the groundwork for trusting, stable business relationships that Fox hopes will take much of the guesswork out of a crop that is still new to most farmers. A lack of consistency with crops year to year can make them hesitant to take a chance on a new plant like hemp, which is less familiar to farmers than mainstays like soybeans and cotton. But Fox hopes to clear up some of the murkiness that plagues questions of best practices and state laws.
Moving at a faster-than-usual pace is also how Fox plans to stay out in front of inevitable forthcoming regulations, many of which will be clarified with additional amendments to the 2018 Farm Bill. By building and operating facilities that already meet compliance standards for regulations in Oregon and Washington, Blühen will save time and money through self-regulation, positioning them to presumably avoid any large-scale adjustments that would disrupt their production schedule.
With over a dozen farming partnerships already established, Fox took like a fish to water at the Southern Hemp Expo, pursuing at least three dozen more with the various farmers and students in attendance. The convention also provided Fox with the chance to interview potential full-time employees to add to his stable of 18 in-house and remote consultants. Fox is looking forward to bringing on new team members specifically for plant genetics research, and has had success with recruiting from students at the University of Tennessee’s Institute of Agriculture, a program that produces graduates well-suited to help analyze and advise on hyper-local issues critical to farmers in Tennessee.
“What works in Oregon doesn’t necessarily work in Tennessee,” Fox cautioned. “And what works in eastern Tennessee won’t work in central Tennessee.”
2019 may bring a launch of high-end CBD pharmaceutical pain-management and cosmetic products from Blühen, which will be marketed as top-shelf merchandise to help shake the stigma of cannabis-derived products: picture a health-conscious soccer mom grabbing an elegantly-packaged product off the shelf at Whole Foods. But Fox won’t set a concrete timeline for that phase yet—he’s still charging forth with the consumer education, genetics, farming consultations and processing/extraction components of Blühen, and wants to take a deliberate, measured approach to the company’s foray into pharmaceuticals. Farmers’ needs remain Blühen’s top priority, whether they independently own and operate a two-acre outfit or run an 8,000-acre corporately-owned field. If Fox continues to direct the company’s profits back into plant genetics, it’s easy to imagine the sustainable agriculture industry at large will reap the benefits for years to come.
For more about the Southern Hemp Expo (SHE) visit southernhempexpo.com and follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Attend its Colorado cousin, NoCo Hemp Expo, in Denver March 29-30, 2019. Visit nocohempexpo.com or follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for program details.
Stay tuned for the latest news from the hemp community, plus sustainability and planetary wellness updates in our print issue ONE coming soon to stores near you!
Katie Stromme is a Honeysuckle Staff Editor. She is writer and editor who has previously served as creative nonfiction editor of Mud Season Review and assistant editor of Hunger Mountain journal. She holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and lives in Brooklyn. Follow her on Instagram at @strommesalami.