The longtime Barberton company once known as Yoder Bros. was known for growing mums.
Now, the horticulture business is thinking of growing a very different kind of plant — a specific strain of medicinal marijuana.
“We have the knowledge base and the assets for growing the crop,” said Bill Rasbach, president and CEO of Aris Horticulture, formerly called Yoder Bros.
Aris Horticulture, whose national offices are on Third Street Southeast in Barberton, is one of the nursery companies on a list of those meeting requirements to grow the Charlotte’s Web strain of medical marijuana in Florida. Aris Horticulture has three farms in the southwest region of Florida where it grows azaleas and other plants.
Earlier this month, the Florida legislature passed a law legalizing the use of the specific marijuana strain to treat epilepsy and cancer.
Charlotte’s Web is a low-THC strain of cannabis. THC is the psychoactive compound that gives a marijuana user a high. The strain is named for Charlotte Figi, a Colorado girl whose parents say that use of an oil extracted from the plant’s leaves reduced the girl’s seizures from 1,200 a month to two. The girl suffers from a rare form of epilepsy.
Under the new Florida law, only companies who have had nurseries in Florida for at least 30 consecutive years can qualify to grow the strain.
Aris Horticulture has had operations in Florida since the 1960s. The company, then called Yoder Bros., closed its last Barberton greenhouse in 1978. The company’s headquarters are in a former dairy barn. The building was part of town founder O.C. Barber’s farm operation.
Rasbach said Aris Horticulture has a lot of work to do in deciding whether to apply to be a grower of the Charlotte’s Web strain.
“It sounds like it could be a help to us,” Rasbach said, “keep more people employed year round” in addition to “being a good thing for the people” who would use the strain.
The state will allow one nursery in each of five regions to grow the plant.
Rasbach said Aris Horticulture will be working with Florida’s health department, and other state entities to determine whether to apply for a certificate.
“Everybody is kind of new to this, and we’re just going to look at it as a possible new product for one of our farms,” he said.
He said if the company were to apply and get the go-ahead, it would consolidate operations at two of the three farms and devote a single farm to production of marijuana. The company’s farms cover more than 300 acres in Florida where it grows azaleas, hibiscus and mandevillas.
The company sold its pot and garden chrysanthemums and aster genetics and breeding programs in 2008 to Syngenta Flowers, a worldwide agriculture company headquartered in Switzerland.
Potential for growth
In Florida, Aris Horticulture employs as many as 400 employees, depending on the time of the year. Rasbach said the marijuana would be grown in greenhouses and presumably would be a year-round crop.
“One aspect of this potential new product is its year-round demand,” Rasbach said, possibly allowing for more employees to work throughout the year. The company employs about 30 people in Barberton.
The oil would be derived from the plants for use by those obtaining prescriptions, Rasbach said.
On Nov. 4, Florida voters will consider an amendment to expand the legalization of marijuana, allowing for use by “individuals with debilitating diseases as determined by a licensed Florida physician.”
Would Aris Horticulture consider growing other types of marijuana if the amendment were to pass?
“That’s probably premature” to discuss, Rasbach said. “All we’re doing is focusing just on the Charlotte’s Web.”
Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or email@example.com.