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Ayden-Grifton Football

Ayden-Grifton’s Micheal Webb runs the ball during a game against Kinston last season.

Walmart latest retailer to require customers to wear masks

A woman pulls groceries from a cart to her vehicle outside of a Walmart store in Pearl, Miss.

City seeks input of pool users in identifying new location

Pool lovers were evenly divided over where a new aquatic center should be located in west Greenville.

Parks planner Mark Nottingham talked with 21 people at the Greenville Community Pool on Wednesday to get their feedback on whether a new aquatics center should be located on city-owned property along Albemarle Avenue or the Eppes Recreation Center/Thomas Foreman Park located on Nash Street.

A second survey is scheduled for 1:30-4:30 p.m. on Saturday at the pool. An online survey should go up in the next week and a virtual community meeting is planned for the future.

“It’s a community pool. It’s a large expenditure of public dollars so whenever we do that we like the public’s input,” Nottingham said.

The existing pool, which is nearly 50 years old, is starting to deteriorate and would need costly renovations. Its current Myrtle Avenue location isn’t large enough to expand facilities.

The city wants to build an outdoor aquatics center featuring a lap pool and recreation pool with play equipment and zero depth entry. It’s also proposed that the facility have shade areas, locker rooms and a possible concession stand.

“It is good for the kids, so the kids will have something new to do,” said Jamie Andrews, who had brought his 4-year-old granddaughter, Chasity Clark, to the existing community pool on Myrtle Avenue.

“Kids love water,” Andrews said. “We come every chance we get, when we get time off work, we try to do things with her.”

He liked the idea of shade areas and the play equipment proposed for the recreation pool.

“I wish I had that when I was a kid,” Andrews said.

The two locations both have positives and negatives, Nottingham said.

The Albemarle Avenue site is a large, flat grassy area that is open, he said. However it’s in the city’s former tobacco warehouse district and property there has been contaminated in the past, he said. Also, accessing Albemarle might not be as easy as accessing the Eppes center, which is off Memorial Drive and West Fifth Street.

Along with easier access, the Eppes center already has facilities and amenities on sight, Nottingham said. Since that facility is being renovated, construction of the pool can be carried out at the same time. However, those existing facilities may make it difficult to locate the pool on the property.

An engineering survey is planned to identify problems at each location.

The Jackie Robinson Baseball League has a facility on the Eppes center property.

League President Frankie Atkinson and treasurer Norma Warren said the Eppes center/Foreman Park location was their choice because children already use the facility’s baseball field, basketball courts, gymnasium and recreation center.

“Bringing the swimming pool there will make it all-inclusive,” Warren said.

Atkinson said it also would be easier for children living in Moyewood and other surrounding neighborhoods to access a facility at Eppes.

They suggested that Notthingham consider identifying the Eppes Center site with the Jackie Robinson League baseball field. They said more people recognize the location by that name than as the Eppes center.

Kristian Dawson-Chadwick, whose son is a former Jackie Robinson League player, said she preferred the Eppes center as the new location.

“Driving on N.C. 11, coming into Greenville and seeing something like that, it will be beautiful,” she said.

Untapped potential: Keeping crop 'legal' challenges hemp farmers

At first glance, raising hemp in eastern North Carolina seems as though it could be the saving grace for farmers seeking to replace crops like tobacco that are no longer as viable as they once were.

Demand for hemp oil, (cannabidiol, commonly abbreviated CBD), is growing by leaps and bounds annually. CBD users attest to its ability to alleviate symptoms of anxiety, insomnia, and a myriad of chronic pains, although few studies have been conducted to back up the claims.

It is expected that consumer sales in the United States of cannabidiol products will reach around $1.8 billion by 2022 — an increase up from about $500 million in 2018. By 2025, it is projected to be a $26 billion business, according to market analysts.

Because of this rising demand, it seems growing hemp, a crop suited to eastern North Carolina’s climate, would be a foregone conclusion.

Unfortunately, the reality is not so cut and dried.

Laws, regulations

Many laws and regulations surrounding the once outlawed plant are still being debated and can be confusing. Federal and state laws don’t always agree.

State farmers — who must first obtain a license — have been allowed to grow the crop since 2017 under a pilot program with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture (NCDA).

Paul Adams, Industrial Hemp Program manager with the NCDA, said there are gray areas within existing laws. Forming policy around hemp, still considered an emerging crop, could take years, he said.

Hemp is still without established planting, fertilizing, and disease-repelling protocols. Approved pesticides and fungicides are very limited and all must be organic.

One of the most challenging aspects hemp farmers face concerns the chemical make-up of the plant. Because marijuana and hemp stem from the same genus, both plants produce cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is the main psychoactive compound in marijuana.

For hemp to be considered legal, it can only contain a trace amount of THC, no higher than 0.3 percent. By contrast, marijuana’s average THC levels range between 4 and 17 percent, and can it contain levels up to 28 percent.

Hemp farmers want to maximize the level of CBD in their crop, but a high level of CBD also can mean a high level of THC.

A number of factors can cause THC levels to spike. According to Bertie County farmer Kirk Copeland, it is the biggest risk farmers face during growth.

Copeland, who owns Featherstone Farms with his brother, Sid, said that many times the circumstances that raise THC levels are out of the farmer’s control.

Factors such as weather, plant stress, climate, soil type, a plant’s genetics and even the time of harvest all can affect levels.

Tyler Mark, a production economics professor at the University of Kentucky who researches hemp, said it’s possible hemp can go “from being a legal crop one day to being an illegal crop the next, in terms of THC content.”

If a crop tests “hot,” (over 0.3 percent) it becomes marijuana and under the law it must be destroyed — the entire field is burned to the ground. The testing — and destruction if deemed necessary — are added costs for the farmer, on top of losing any profits he might have seen.

“You don’t need to lose the family farm just because a plant went off the rails, through no fault of the farmer,” Copeland said. “For instance, last year we had 33 days of dry weather. And although hemp is not tobacco, it is similar. Dry weather on tobacco will make it thicker, leathery. It has the chance to do the same thing to hemp — but it could make it test hot because it gets stressed. Even the wrong fertilizer feeding, I understand, can make it test hot.”

Copeland feels the 0.3 percent law is unfair and penalizes farmers who are doing their best to only raise hemp.

“We are trying to grow a great product and we want it to have as much (CBD) oil as possible, and we are doing due diligence,” he said. “But we do not want to lose the opportunity to grow hemp. I don’t want to grow ‘hot’ hemp. I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize my license. “

Copeland, like many advocates for the crop, would like to see the legal limit of TCH in hemp be raised to 1 percent.

“This amount would still be well below the amount that could induce a high,” Copeland said. “If someone is trying to grow marijuana, they want the TCH level to be somewhere in the teens.”

Besides giving farmers more leeway, setting the legal limit to 1 percent would give the United States a better position competing globally. THC caps vary country to country, and many have already set the legal limit at 1 percent.

“The future of hemp is 1 percent max THC, if farmers are going to be able to compete in a global market,” said Richard Rose, who has worked in the hemp food industry for 25 years.

Another unreasonable law, according to some growers, is the mandate to harvest a field within 15 days of collecting samples for THC tests. Producers say 15 days is not enough time to get a lab test report and harvest the field.

Risky business

Farmers also have to be wary of suppliers and buyers looking to get rich on the CBD oil craze.

Copeland describes the current hemp market being much like the Wild West. Because there are so few industry regulations, farmers are susceptible to disreputable companies selling plants and seeds allegedly of one kind, that turn out to be another.

Also, in the last two years, many farmers have been plagued by buyers not honoring contracts, which resulted in lawyer fees and stockpiles of unsold hemp. In storage, mold can become an issue and CBD levels can begin to decline.

Copeland is in litigation with a grower for selling him a different plant than the one he expected.

“This past year, we had reputable companies tell us it was one plant, and when it came down to harvest, it was not that plant at all. We now have a full-time lawyer,” he said. “It gets expensive.”

Copeland still has hemp left over from last year to sell; the difficulty is in getting a fair price.

“We’ve had offers that are ridiculously low, but we are losing time,” he said, noting the CBD oil content could be diminishing.

“The price is well below what the input is,” Copeland said. “But at some point, some money is better than no money.”

Copeland said it is highly doubtful he will plant hemp this year.

In fact, he doesn’t know of any farmers planting the crop this year, “though there may be some farmers out there willing to risk it one more year,” he said.

Many of his peers who gave the crop a shot are getting out of the hemp business completely.

Not giving up

Copeland said he and his brother are not ready to give up on hemp.

“We would be open to a good contract. It is a great plant — I know from personal use. I continue to use it for my ailments, because I’m getting old,” he said, laughing. “It is a wonderful thing.

“We still want it to work. We are pulling for it,” Copeland added. He said it is not just a passing health fad.

“There are too many people in their 50s — even their 30s — who use it on a regular basis,” Copeland said.

He thinks CBD oil will one day be a common household item, as prices come down more and more.

“But it is not quite there yet,” he said.

Bertie County Extension Agent Billy Barrow said he does not see hemp being grown extensively throughout the county in the future.

“You won’t see as much of it grown here as you have in the past,” he said. “We won’t see the returns on it that we had early on. There is a lot of uncertainty in the industry. But there are few farmers that are not ready to give up on it just yet.

“The laws keep changing and continue to be reinterpreted,” Barrow said. “Some think the changes in laws make it easier, some think the new laws will make it much harder to grow. I just tell people to be carious going into it.”

Michael Bowman, founding chair of the National Hemp Association said growing hemp is the dawn of a new era.

“But, we need infrastructure, education and genetics,” he said. “We have a lot of work ahead of us, but there is a very exciting future for those who want to be a part of that community.”

Copeland said, “Hemp has got its place here. We just really don’t know where it is right now.”

Free testing hours modified

Pitt County reached 1,000 reported cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, the same day local health officials modified their free testing program because of unexpectedly high turnout.

Data from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services placed Pitt County’s lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 right at 1,000.

The Pitt County Health Department’s figures, which typically are higher than the state numbers, had not been updated on Wednesday because employees were working at testing sites and unable to compile the updated numbers.

“While 1,000 COVID positive cases is by no means a celebratory milestone, it is important to highlight that this total case number comes after five months of active monitoring and response efforts,” Pitt County Manager Scott Elliott said.

“Additionally, nearly 800 of these have been estimated recovered,” he said. “Given the length of time and the number of estimated recovered, the relatively low active case count that results speaks volumes to the tireless dedication, response, and public awareness efforts of (public health director) Dr. John Silvernail and our health department staff.”

Starting today, the hours for the mobile testing sites are from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

The department has a permanent mobile site at J.H. Rose High School and a site that moves among the county’s smaller towns. The rotating site will be at Ayden Middle School today and the Winterville Fire Station on Friday.

The department also is opening a walk-up only site with no drive-through option, at the Greenville Housing Authority Moyewood Center, 1710 W. Third St. This location will operate from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday-Friday.

Testing at the health department offices will continue to operate from 3-6 p.m. on Tuesdays.

In inclement weather, all sites will transition to walk-up-only operations.

The health department on Monday started offering free COVID-19 testing to Pitt County residents.

Staff estimated they would collect 150-160 nasal swabs daily, Silvernail said.

Instead, 440 people were tested at J.H. Rose High School and Farmville Community Center on Monday and Tuesday saw a similar turnout. Wednesday’s numbers were unavailable.

“It has imposed a tremendous strain on our staff,” Silvernail said. “We thought our staff would be able to go inside structures, cool off between sampling, but because of the volume of sampling our staff has just been out in the heat, in the sunlight and we really have some concerns about our staff suffering heat-related illness such as heat stroke, heat exhaustion.”

The unexpected volume also has made it difficult to label and process the samples so they can be shipped to Vidant Health for testing.

Once a sample is taken, there is a three-day window for lab testing to be performed, Silvernail said.

It was the goal of the health department and Vidant to have results returned in 24 hours, but that hasn’t been possible at this time.

Silvernail did not have information on how many tests had been completed, but 24 positive results had been identified.

Kimberly Hardy, the health department’s director of nursing, encouraged people to make appointments to be tested. Appointments can be made by calling 902-2449.

“Even though we maybe compressing the schedule and doing less hours in the field we will open up our capacity for the morning scheduled for free testing,” Hardy said.

Additional testing

The health department will be assisting the Andrew A. Best Medical Society, Old North Medical Society and Koinonia Christian Center with a free drive-up COVID-19 testing event scheduled from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday at the Koinonia Christian Center parking lot, 1405 S.W. Greenville Blvd.