There are multiple required steps to enter the bunker on the Rish family’s property in Wewahitchka.
Shoes and socks must be removed outside. Then hands and feet are misted with alcohol, and the outside door is closed tight, requiring visitors to stand in the dark, cramped entry room before the interior door is opened to reveal a bright, multidimensional light.
Nathan Rish has just gotten his hemp business, Da Bee’s Knees CBD, up and growing in the facility, and he is not going to risk his crop contracting parasites or diseases.
In rows carefully set up for irrigation sit about 40 hemp plants of different strains, all legally acquired.
Setting up the facility, Rish said, has meant missing out on several nights of sleep. But as he carefully monitored the irrigation system, which he had finished setting up the day before, Rish expressed his hope for the future of his business.
“It’s been like three or four hours here and there, so my internal clock is messed up,” he said. “But this is going to allow us to engineer our plants to eventually be able to do well in a field.”
Rish has the process down to a science. The room stays between 72 and 76 degrees, and a humidifier regulates the air’s moisture. Each of the plants has been submerged in hot water to rid them of parasites.
The irrigation was going to need some fine tuning, but Rish didn’t catch any leaks.
He exited the bunker, after his inspection, taking care to prevent the plants from coming in contact with the outside air. The grow lamps can get hot, and Rish recommends people spend no longer than 20 minutes in the room to avoid getting sunburned.
His family has been in the Wewahitchka area since the mid-1800s. They are beekeepers, passing down the expertise for generations.
“I’m the fifth generation with the honey. We’ve been doing it as a way to survive,” he said. “I learned at the age of three that you can’t hold a bee ‘cause she’ll sting you.”
Rish moved back in with his father, James Rish, after graduating with agriculture degrees from the University of Florida.
His goal at that time had been to get back into the family business and help his father where he could. But Rish said that CBD has always been an industry that interested him.
After growing the low THC and THC-free strains of cannabis was legalized in Florida in 2018, he began looking into how to break into the hemp growing game.
Delta-8 and CBD strains of cannabis are legal, as per the 2018 Farm Bill which distinguished hemp from marijuana, even without medical prescriptions.
Hemp and marijuana come from the same species of plant, but hemp can’t contain more than 0.3 percent delta-9 THC – the main psychoactive ingredient that provides the “high” when ingesting or smoking cannabis.
CBD strains have been found to provide some of the relaxation and pain relief benefits of cannabis without producing a high.
Rish’s business partner, Ryan Ostrihonsky has been growing hemp in Hawaii and California for years. He said that getting a small hemp business off the ground in Florida, where the industry is less established than in other states, has been challenging, but that he is excited to be working within the Gulf County community.
“I really liked the area, and I wanted to see people out there kind of moving that way” Ostrihonsky said about the industry. “You guys have honey out there and all that land in perfect weather for it. And I was surprised that I was one of the first people to kind of claim that.”
Since starting Da Bee’s Knees, Rish said he has noticed more of the community getting involved in the industry. He mentioned that a cousin of his had just started growing hemp up the street.
“I like competition,” he said. “It keeps us all honest.”
One day, the beekeeper hopes to grow Da Bees Knees to be able to support the Rishes’ friends and family who are in need of a job. And after some recent land acquisitions, Ostrihonsky said he is confident that the business will be able to expand their operations in the near future.
But until then, Rish said he is happy to be working on a project that will allow him to better connect with his family and the community where they have lived for hundreds of years.
“They say home is where the heart is, right? It’s what you’re into,” he said. “And for me, right now, that’s hemp and honey.”
This report has been updated from an earlier version to correct an error regarding Rish’s alma mater and to include more specific information regarding legal hemp.