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‘A wild ride’ brings new industry home

South Boston News
Work has begun to retrofit the Blue Ridge Beverage building for Blue Ribbon Extraction.
SoVaNow.com / June 22, 2020

The name for Halifax County's future hemp processing facility, the first large-scale operation of its kind in Virginia, harkens back to a piece of Halifax County business history: Blue Ribbon Creamery.

The county’s newest industry is Blue Ribbon Extraction, which will process cannabidiol oil for the fast-growing market for CBD-infused consumer products. One of the two founders of the new company is Sterling Edmunds Jr. of Halifax, grandson of Paul C. Edmunds, owner of Blue Ribbon Creamery.

“It’s been a wild ride,” said Edmunds of the genesis of Blue Ribbon Extraction, which expects to begin operations in the fall as a regional processing facility for Southside Virginia’s expanding hemp farming sector. It was only nine months ago when Edmunds began looking into the idea of investing in a hemp facility in Powhatan. “I wondered why Powhatan and not Halifax County,” he said.

Edmunds, former president and chief executive officer of SunTrust Mortgage Corporation and currently a partner in Edmunds Private Capital, LLC, a money management firm, said he was looking at firms interested in expanding into the hemp business, “but most of them were under-capitalized.” So, “we educated ourselves and got our own CBD company.”

The Blue Ribbon Extraction name is passed down from Edmunds’ grandfather, famously known in Halifax County as “Ice Cream Paul” for his success with the local creamery. “My grandfather helped gain lots of industry in the county, like Westinghouse, and carrying the name Blue Ribbon is history which means something to my family,” said Edmunds.

Edmunds, who lives in Richmond, happened to reconnect with Rick Gregory, also a Halifax County native who has gone onto business success in commercial development, at a restaurant in Richmond. With Gregory’s knowledge in “infrastructure, lots of capital, and local ties to Halifax County, he was on board,” said Edmunds. The partners felt they needed someone in the community to run the company on the day-to-day basis, and brought local businessman Steve Mize, founder of Team Nurse, on board.

By hiring Tricia Walker as plant manager, Edmunds said the team for the start-up operation will be strong and committed to the community. “She will be starting Monday.”

Walker, a native of Halifax County, graduated from Virginia Tech and returned home for a career with ABB for the past 13 years, focusing on operations and engineering. “I’m excited to use my technical skills and operational skills working with the Blue Ribbon team,” said Walker.

Blue Ribbon Extraction, which will operate from the former facility of Blue Ridge Beverage, will be equipped with the most advanced technology, Edmunds said. “We can do anything a customer may request,” he said, adding the company already has partners in Seattle — a reflection of the high market demand for CBD oil products on the West Coast.

With other extractions business nearby, “we were worried about competition and didn’t want to lose these farmers” locally who may have looked elsewhere for hemp processing, said Edmunds.

Collaborative efforts have been made with the neighboring agriculture industries. Contracts totaling $1.2 million have been struck with 75 hemp farmers in Pittsylvania, Mecklenburg, Charlotte, Lunenburg, and Halifax counties.

“We are more than just a hemp company, we are investing in rural communities,” said Edmunds, who added the start-up will be a way for those who left after high school to give back to Halifax County.

Mize joined Edmunds and Walker for a meeting of the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority on Friday to herald the company’s arrival. “I will be the boots on the ground, everyone will be seeing me,” said Mize.

Mize expressed he came late into the game on this investment, but it’s a great team with strengths in three business sectors and “all type-A personalities” — “Sterling, Rick and I have a great relationship,” said Mize.

“We are really happy to have Tricia on board. We hope to have really great talent, we’ve worked really hard on the marketing to sell some of the product. Plus we will bring in some product from other parts of the country, do what they need, and send it back to them. I’m the cash flow guy and in case we don’t sell anything, I want to make sure we’ve got the money coming in.”

“We have interest here, Halifax County, it is a business, but it is personal. Quite frankly no one could have done anything, but versus making charitable donations that go away, I chose to invest in this industry because it will have a longer positive impact on the community,” said Mize.

Mize, originally from the Martinsville area, said “Halifax County is dear to my heart,” and his involvement in the venture has helped him learn more about the significance of the Blue Ribbon Creamery in local history. “I have an antique Blue Ribbon ice cream cup in my office in the middle of the credenza. I had no idea that would have meaning years later.”

“We are thrilled to be here [Halifax County] doing work. The attitude here is, ‘If the farmers go back to work, everybody goes back to work,’” said Mize, with positive spinoff effects felt throughout the community.

By Friday, construction was well under way at Blue Ridge Beverage building, now Blue Ribbon Extraction, located in the Houghton Industrial Park.

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