"The goal was: We're going to make the first, domestic, homegrown hemp paper, as a brand," says Beegle of HempStalkPaper, "and that's what we've done."
Utilizing a Fort Lupton hemp processor and a Boulder-based paper manufacturer, Beegle has turned his vision into a reality. Admittedly, it's on a small scale, at present: 2,000 sheets for a first run. But, for Beegle -- and the Colorado hemp industry -- it's a start.
"You truly have a very very eco-friendly paper in comparison with everything else that's out there on the market," says Beegle, citing the problems of the tree farms used for paper manufacturing: "Those things have devastated eco-systems across the whole planet. Nothing grows there, except their genetically modified trees that take eight to 12 years to grow."
For Beegle's HempStalkPaper, Colorado-grown hemp is processed into pulp in Fort Lupton. Then, in Boulder, the hemp pulp is mixed together in a 50/50 blend with additional pulp made from post-industrial, recycled materials. The hand-formed sheets go across conveyors, draining out the water. They're then dried, using a heat temperature stop.
Beegle says, "After a couple of days, you have a whole bunch of hand sheets that you can then start printing [on] or doing what you want with."
For now, HempStalkPaper is largely a "proof of concept" endeavor. The paper is a thick, 110- to 120-pound, off-white, coarsely textured product. Which makes it especially attractive, Beegle says, for business cards, bookmarks, wedding invitations, and art posters. He describes his product as "high-quality, handmade paper, very expensive, very boutique."
Since 2013, Beegle has been selling paper made from 25 percent Canadian hemp. (The paper was used to print a brochure promoting this year's upcoming Hemp History Week.) But it's the opportunity to now use Colorado-grown hemp that excites Beegle.
Eventually, Beegle would like to see the 50/50 paper made completely from hemp: "We can do the 100 percent hemp, it's just a lot more expensive. Because the hemp [pulping] is done in a pilot-scale processing facility, it's really expensive." Presently, a 13-by-19-inch sheet retails for $5. With printing, it runs $6 to $8.
Some of the first art posters made with HempStalkPaper will be for sale at the fourth annual NoCo Hemp Expo, taking place in 2017 on March 31 and April 1 in Loveland (where Beegle attended high school and lives). The event -- founded and organized by Beegle -- consists of workshops, panels, a host of speakers (including former CIA Director R. James Woolsey Jr.), and an expo. It's not just a conference, he says, but something with a bit more of a carnival-like flair.
Beegle possesses a long history in music promotion, packaging, and distribution. He attended CSU in the '80s, before spending several years in Georgia and California, working in music merchandising for Handleman Company. Beegle, 50, returned to Fort Collins in '95, where he learned about hemp at a local store specializing in products, such as clothing, made from imported hemp. Around the same time, he established Hapi Skratch Records, which was involved in contract CD and DVD production. "I worked with thousands of indie bands from the mid-'90s through 2010," says Beegle.
Not long ago, Colorado law changed to allow hemp cultivation, and interest in hemp cultivation has increased among Colorado farmers. Beegle recalls thinking, "Somebody's got to establish the NAMM show or CES of the hemp industry." NoCo Hemp Expo gives vendors a chance to spotlight hemp's uses for food, fuel, paper, fabric, building materials, and medicine.
Beegle says he brings the same qualities to promoting hemp that he once did to promoting music: "Energy, passion, the ability to bring like-minded people together around a cause. The cause was local and indie music -- and now the cause is hemp. Making the world a better place."
And Beegle aims to do just that -- one expo, and one sheet of hemp paper, at a time.
Challenges: "Price," says Beegle. "You can go to Vistaprint and pay a lot less [for business cards, for example]. It's like going to Walmart: Do you want to spend $6 for organic strawberries at Whole Foods or do you want to spend $2.50 at King Soopers for regular ones?" He says his customers enjoy the "moral satisfaction" of purchasing hemp paper.
Opportunities: "I think the people looking for an alternative [to paper from trees]," Beegle notes. "There's not much competition at this point. There's a tremendous opportunity for growth in natural, specialty papers, if we can scale the production to a point where the pricing can get a bit more competitive. There's an opportunity here to really grow this sector from being pretty small, right now, to doubling or tripling in size, in three to five years. And maybe that doesn't become a huge thing -- but it does for my business. If I can double or triple my business for the next several years, that's good for me."
Needs: "Funding would be one," says Beegle. "And adequate hemp supply, fiber supply. And less government regulation surrounding industrial hemp."