Vernon native taps into hemp industry

Tucked back in rural Jackson County sits Bokey Farms where Washington County native Jared Bourkard operates one of the area’s first hemp farms.

Bourkard, a 1997 graduate of Vernon High School, came back to the Florida Panhandle in December 2020 after being gone for more than 20 years. During his absence, he served eight years in the U.S. Marine Corps in the field of counterintelligence, completing three deployments during his tour of duty. Bourkard says he then went on a journey to find what he would do with his life that could bring fulfillment. He worked as a consultant, first for military intelligence and law enforcement and then with “big energy” companies. After earning his MBA from the University of Tampa, the Covid-19 pandemic hit full force, leaving Bourkard to face an unknown workforce. 

Bourkard says because of the unknowns and the fragile state of global supply chains, he changed directions. 

“No community should ever have to go to a store and find empty shelves,” said Bourkard, who combined that belief with his love of plants and nature to decide farming would be the right choice for him.

When Florida legalized cultivation of hemp, Bourkard recognized a virtually untapped market. He found just over 10 acres in Jackson County and went to work. Licensed under the Florida Department of Agriculture, Bourkard grows several different varieties of hemp including a strand that is 0.00 percent THC.  

18 months later, Bourkard has made large strides in his field, including garnering an exclusive contract with Southern Fields Brewing in Campbellton for their soon to be released hemp-infused IPA. He is also in talks with a national hemp farming company to start an academic pilot program that will test the viability of fiber and grain hemp genetics and their suitedness for North Florida climates and growth conditions. 

Bourkard says hemp is coming to the mainstream. 

“Hemp has been around for a long time, but now it is coming in a big way,” he said. “Hemp will change agriculture significantly. I know I’ve made the right choice to farm, both for my mental health and that I now have a purpose and a mission to make the world a better place. It is a bonus that I get to do it at home in the panhandle.”

In addition to hemp, Bokey Farms also cultivates food such as tomatoes, squash, cantaloupe, pumpkins and peppers. Bourkard says he doesn’t use any chemicals on any of his crops. “I make my own fertilizer and insecticide with what I have on the land,” he said. “While I can’t put the word organic on my crops, I will put any of my fruits and vegetables against something labeled organic, and I guarantee mine will be better.”

Beginning this summer, Bourkard is starting a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Summer Share Program. The program is a way for families to support local farmers and receive high quality fruits and vegetables in return. Packages are between $500 and $800 and come with 7-12 different types of fruits and vegetables. Bokey Farms also has day of sales at the Panama City Farmers Market. 

For more information on Bokey Farms or how to be a part of the Summer Share, program call 715-628-0636 or find them on Facebook at Bokey Farms.