ORANGEBURG, S.C. – Last year, the devastating effects of COVID-19 deprived many people of their necessities, one of those essentials being hand sanitizer. So, Kevin Summers, a farmer partner for the South Carolina State University’s 1890 Research & Extension Industrial Hemp Program, started making hemp hand sanitizer and donating it to the Bulldog Pantry.
The Bulldog Pantry is a Student Government Association project that provides essential items to students in need. Summers’ inspiration for donating the hemp hand sanitizer came from his horrible experience from contracting COVID-19.
“When I caught COVID last year, it was as simple as – I went and had a meeting, and I dropped my guards. I didn’t have any hand sanitizer, I didn’t have a mask on at breakfast and I ended up with COVID. It is such a nasty disease,” Summers said.
Hemp farming research is among the activities of SC State 1890 Research & Extension’s new demonstration farm in Olar, South Carolina, which is shown here at a ribbon-cutting in March 2021.
During that time, it was hard for Summers to get hand sanitizer because many stores were out of it, and the ones that had it charged too much. So, he wanted to create an affordable hand sanitizer that he could share with others, was FDA approved and met CDC guidelines.
“The CDC recommends hand sanitizer to be at least 80 proof, but because there was such a high demand, a lot of people started manufacturing hand sanitizer at 60 percent and then charging consumers a lot of money for it. I wanted to make a hand sanitizer that helped people and was affordable, but also had that 80 percent level of standard,” Summers said.
The hemp hand sanitizer is infused with CBD oil extracted from hemp, which helps the sanitizer moisturize your hands while killing germs. CBD is not only good for the skin, it also has medical benefits. It has been found to ease pain and calm the nerves of people who are epileptic by reducing the frequency and intensity of their seizures.
Summers is the CEO of bRISE located in Branchville, South Carolina. bRISE is a health and wellness-based company started on a 7th generation family farm.
“We do everything from genetics to farming here in Branchville. We’ve created 40 different products and have six different brands. The hemp hand sanitizer is one of them,” he said.
Products created from bRISE focus on alleviating pain, anxiety, insomnia and muscle relaxation. The purpose of the company is to form partnerships, and help people grow their businesses by providing innovative formulas and products made from hemp.
When Summers partnered with SC State, he was excited because many of his family members attended the university.
“We’re really excited about everything we’re doing and the opportunities for the students to help us out on the technology side and to help us out with the farm practices. We’re just glad we could partner with the university and 1890,” he said.
Summers started working with Dr. Florence Anoruo, director of the 1890 hemp research initiative, in 2018 when hemp was first legalized in the state. The industrial hemp program was established in fall 2020 and started its hemp research this year.
“Right now, our research initiative is to look at genetics and environmental conditions because with the hemp research, one of the things that farmers are still struggling with is which areas are best for which varieties and if those varieties can thrive in different states,” Anoruo said. “We’re also looking at which varieties are best for CBD oil and varieties for fiber.”
The research program is also evaluating different growing conditions and new trends for hemp. This research is just the beginning of the initiative. Once they complete their research, the program plans to send that data to local farmers to determine which varieties are best suited for the state’s climate.
“Right now, our research is strictly based on looking at environmental conditions that would give maximum production of CBD, which is what a lot of people are looking for,” Anoruo said.
A part of the initiative is studying the fiber produced from hemp. Anoruo gave various examples of how the fiber can be used in many different sectors including the textile and automotive industries. As society leans toward an eco-friendly economy, the 1890 industrial hemp research program is looking for ways to substitute certain materials used for construction with hemp fiber.
“Hemp is not going anywhere. Hemp is known to have over 50,000 different uses. We’re actually talking to a few private companies right now about the development of a house built by hemp products,” said Dr. Louis Whitesides, vice president and executive director of the 1890 Research & Extension Program. “It has so many different uses that we had to be in this space not only for us, but to be able to advise our constituents. The only way to do that is to get involved and conduct the research.”
Whitesides said because the hemp crop is fairly new to the area and not legal in all states, farmers are more likely to run into roadblocks while trying to cultivate it. Therefore, the 1890 program is partnering with more minority farmers to help expand their knowledge and profits.
“With the sheer volume and interest of folks, especially minority farmers that we deal with, we knew we had to get out front and make sure we could develop some standard operative procedures and put ourselves in a position to be able to advise our farmers on the proper way to grow it, harvest it and sell it to the processors,” he said.
Whitesides shared that even though the program is still in research phase, they have future goals of genetically producing their own hemp seed and clone that they can say is developed by SC State. They want to be able to cultivate those seeds in different soils to monitor and learn the different outcomes of growth so they can know which soils are best for their crops.
“Hemp is an exciting crop. It’s probably the newest crop that has gotten a lot of potential within the last 50 to 100 years, so a lot of people are excited about it. As it continues to grow and develop more products, there’s more profitability to come from it,” Whitesides said.