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By: Jennifer Walker Jennifer Walker reconnects with her hometown friend and musician, George Nektarios Lagis of the Thrash band Aftermath and owner of Lathokambos Industrial Hemp Grower, to discuss his family-run business.  From Illinois to Nevada, the similarities within a booming industry resonate with growers from every part of our land.   JENNIFER WALKER: What […]

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By: Jennifer Walker

Jennifer Walker reconnects with her hometown friend and musician, George Nektarios Lagis of the Thrash band Aftermath and owner of Lathokambos Industrial Hemp Grower, to discuss his family-run business.  From Illinois to Nevada, the similarities within a booming industry resonate with growers from every part of our land.  

JENNIFER WALKER: What a crazy, full circle story…when we last spoke, I had just gotten started working within the cannabis/hemp space with my own endeavors in Nevada, and you were one of my first supporters- all the way from Illinois.  I remember reconnecting with you online and over the phone because not only were you intrigued to hear what I was up to, but you yourself had ambitions within the cannabis/hemp industry. Previous to to 2018, I don’t think you and I had seen one another since I moved away from our hometown some 15 or so years ago! I’m looking at your hemp grow photos right now and thinking, how did my former classmate from high school turn his idea into a reality? But, you did it!

GEORGE N. LAGIS: Yes, I remember we spoke on the phone right when you were first starting up with your work endeavors.  Thank you, it is slowly becoming something that I would like to become as large as I can create it.  It’s all baby steps.

J: We grew up together in the same town, went to school together, and both had interest in cannabis, hemp and that culture.  Twenty-five years later, we find ourselves in this business in different capacities.

G: Right

J: It’s such a weird parallel. I’ve been working for the cannabis magazine and I started to notice this trend growing in 2016/2017 with CBD.  I didn’t know anything about it, it was brand new and I thought, how am I going to get into this?  I’m here in Nevada, I have access to this kind of information, and at that time, this side of the country was ahead of the game with recreational cannabis legalization as well…

G: If anyone was going to be one of the first, I would assume Vegas was, especially with all those tourists visiting.

J: I totally agree. It was Colorado, California, Oregon, Nevada – we were all kind of one after the other.  You and I both have this entrepreneurial way of figuring things out.  Some people have that ambitious streak.  We just kind of throw caution to the wind and say “well, I see some potential here, let’s figure this out.”  You were really interested in learning about hemp and farming and willing to put in the time and effort to do it right.  Let’s backtrack a little.  What got you interested in starting the farm?

G: Well, I spend a lot of time at my father-in-law’s farm land.  He’s got around 350 acres in Illinois which my family goes out to for recreation as well as do some of the chores.  Do some hunting and what not.  My father-in-law has livestock and has a farmer rent his acreage for corn.  I’ve always entertained the idea and learned about farming here and there. The Farm Bill in 2018 passed in Illinois to grow (hemp) and I found out about it because I am a member of Cook County Financial Insurance – they insure my house and my vehicles and they give me a newsletter which I read.  I was intrigued by an article that was included at the time regarding the Farm Bill passing allowing hemp to be grown in Illinois after approximately sixty or so years, after it was not allowed to be grown.  And, I just kind of immediately got into a two plus two scenario – I have access to the land, I know nothing about growing hemp, this sounds like a good idea!

J: (laughs) I love it!  So, remember when I first started West CBD Oil and you ordered some products from me…we started talking, and I had sent you a couple little hemp seeds from Nevada…remember that?  

G: That’s right…

J: We weren’t sure if they were going to take in your climate.  I had no idea about the horticulture of it.  Were you ever able to grow those seeds?

G: I planted those seeds outside in my yard (Cherry Wine hemp seeds) in little separate styrofoam cups. I think there were 12 seeds and I grew them.  You know, I waited a few days for something to sprout.  Nothing happened.  I had to leave town and was away for about a week.  When I came back after that trip, 8 of the 12 had sprouted and were about an inch to a half of an inch tall and were displaying a couple of small leaves…

J: Wow…

G: I was just, eyes wide open, thinking hey these might actually grow!  I monitored them and they were growing and at the time, I didn’t know anything about fertilization or light cycles or any of the scientific requirements to get these growing to optimal potential.  I just watered them and left them in the sun. So, 8 plants grew and the only information I knew was general stuff about male and female plants.  I wasn’t concerned with having the males.  If they were going to turn male, then so be it.  As it turned out, as they grew, I think 2 of the 8 plants turned out to be male, 6 of them were female and I just watched the males pollinate my females one day as a bee went to snoop around.  I saw pollen and I was just like a proud father!  I watched the males pollinate the females and I was very happy and I just kind of saw things happen. Here in Illinois the soil is so fertile, it just holds and retains water after the rain so we don’t need to irrigate here as much, if at all.

J: That makes sense.  I remember from being a kid, when we had backyards in Skokie, it’s true that the soil is so fertile and there’s so much moisture to work with. You really are in a great area for doing what you are doing.

G:  Yah, part of the major corn belt.

J: So you were just feeling your way through it but ultimately, once you started putting in crops and really getting some organization on the farm, are you now growing hemp for cultivating to sell off to people? Are you making products?  Are you distilling it and making oil?

G: I would have to say, yes I am to the C part of the question…I think you had an A, B and C question.  2019 was my introductory year and a very late start in the year and I grew in a very untraditional, midwestern fashion.  I grew kind of an old Aztec or Mayan method of farming called “chinampas” which is in the ground.  I dug trenches into the ground and I had my plants in pods so I flooded the trenches to water my plants rather than water my plants on the ground.  A trench contains water for a couple days allowing me time to not water as often and it drains as well.  This year we have expanded to growing in the ground with minimal tillage which seems to be kind of a trend in farming.  The thing is to minimally till the ground, keeping as much carbon in the soil as possible to not let it just emanate in the air and disappear.  And I grew about an acre-and-a-half or so worth of plants.  My focus this year was a lot of time spent learning how to grow and tend to the plants that are growing and alleviate males from the females for obvious reasons.  My intent this year was to grow plants to their biggest potential and I will be processing to oil soon.  I currently have not a huge amount, but I have about 150 pounds of biomass which is a very introductory level.  But, it’s a stepping stone to where I need to be in the next few years.  I am looking forward to the next 3-5 years from now, and how I need to take those lessons and accomplish the goal. So, I will be processing oil this year.

J: So, because the land belongs to your family, you have the freedom in a way for trial and error; to learn as you go.  

G: Yes.  God bless my father-in-law for allowing me a little bit of land to play with.  He’s very supportive in my experimental endeavor.

J: That’s amazing.  Weren’t you one of the first people in Illinois to get licensing?

G: I think the first year of licensing in 2019 there were 570 some odd licenses.  I was number 435 or so, so I was one of the first hemp growing licenses to be given.  At that time, if you wanted a license in Illinois, applied and paid for it, you were pretty much given a license.

J: Likely a lot of people applied and you were in that first 500, so that is insanely cool!

G: Very cool, yah

J: Since you are on family land and working, do you have your family members helping you?  Would you say this is a “family run” business?

G: I’d say yes, Lathokambos is a family owned and operated hemp grower.  My wife helps me out a bit in the field.  All 3 of my kids help me in the field. I’ve also spent a lot of time in the field with my father, as well.  

J: It’s really a family story in a way, which is wonderful.  The name is Greek, what does it mean?

G: Lathokambos derives from my father’s village in Greece, the name of the village is a little bit different from my business name, but basically under Turkish rule, a Turkish soldier stumbled upon the valley as he was patrolling the region and coined a term which means “olive tree grove”…it’s a vast valley of olive trees that grew as far as the eye could see.  The main product that the village was producing was olive oil due to everyone in the village having portions of acreage.  They would grow, harvest and take their olives to the mill and then press olive oil.  As I was fertilizing my plants one day last year knowing that I wanted to create oil, it kind of just dawned on me that would be a great name for my hemp business.  It just made sense – oil is oil.

J: That’s a beautiful story because it is such a personal thing and there’s history to it.

G: Yah, it ties it really close to heart.

J: Some people talk about hemp like it’s this new and trendy thing, but hemp is probably the first crop that we’ve grown on this planet!

G:  Yes, for many years.  China has produced for thousands of years.  We here in the United States are far behind on a few agriculture aspects that may help the rest of the planet if we just kind of toned down the dial on how much we exploit the ground.  We could be doing a hell of a lot better.

J: I completely agree and pretty much everybody in this portion of the industry agrees with you there.  A lot of regulations and federal stuff getting in the way. This is the most indiginous part of our human history, truly…

G:  Yes, this one goes back a long way.

J: As far as the market in Illinois, I know there are hot spots around the United States.  Industrial hemp grows are definitely flourishing in the midwest now. Do you find you have a lot of competition in your market? 

G: I’ve dabbled here and there with some other farms in Wisconsin who also have ties to some guys in Kentucky and Tennessee, so I have witnessed with my eyes a warehouse that contains currently 500,000 pounds of biomass that was unable to be moved from 2019.  What I’ve seen is more or less a flooded market on the CBD side.  That kind of took me by surprise.  Midway through my grow this summer, I had to really reassess what it is I am aiming for.  And, of course, other cannabinoids like CBG are kind of more pronounced now- a lot of people are growing CBG as well as other cannabinoids or at least isolating them when they do process oil.  Depending on the process (chromatography for example) can separate each of the cannabinoids and kind of get more out of one harvest than just focusing on CBG.  I just need to reassess where I’m at, where I’m going and how I need to get there.

J: CBG is definitely in demand. CBN is another one.  Indica-dominant cannabis strains can have a high CBN profile which is the hot cannabinoid for sleep and pain relief at the moment…

G: There’s so much information out there. The Illinois Hemp Cooperative has a lot of information and is quite a supportive group and when people have questions, including myself, people are supportive with their answers.  No one is really negative and everyone is trying to help each other out.  There are some bad apples in there that kind of throw some stink in the wind but you gotta get past that, that’s life.

J: Putting your business name out there in a completely different part of the market (here in Nevada) has the potential to yield interest from buyers or investors- people can come out of the woodwork when something like this happens.

G: I know I am on a small scale, personally.  However, I am working with a few people as part of a network, a co-op, and each of us are growing certain strains and trying to figure out which of the ones we are all trying to grow work best in the midwest, especially in Illinois.  We are trying to figure out which strains work best for CBD value or CBG value and in order to grow more of it while remaining compliant.

J: Aside from hemp cultivation, you are also a musician.  You were always someone who was into music and art.  Obviously the story of how the Lathokambos name came to be is sort of a romantic idea – do you incorporate any other of your artistic identity into the business? 

G: I don’t have any merchandise yet but I did design my logo.  I have a graphic arts degree, I have a multi-media production and design degree which I use here and there.  So as it happened, I used my degree for my own business to design my own logo!

J: I figured there would be some cool tie in with that because you were definitely an artist in school…

G: I still do some design work for some close friends.  As far as music is concerned, I happened to be introduced, or offered, an instrument to be played.  I play bass in a Thrash band currently, Aftermath is the name of the band.  That came about by accident.  My daughter and the band manager’s daughter were in kindergarten together and, overnight, I became their bass player.  I’ve been playing with these guys since 2018 but they’ve been around for a lot longer.

J: Had you ever played bass in a band before or was this the first time?

G: I have always gravitated towards base lines in music. Although I played a little bit of guitar, I have always played a bass line on the guitar. 

J: This couldn’t be a more inspiring time for you, for your business, for your hemp grow, for your music.  It’s also a very challenging time due to COVID-19, obviously.  There’s no live music and there are all these restrictions and limitations on things. As far as Aftermath is concerned, are guys in the studio working on stuff?  Have you done any live streaming?

G: We are currently writing new material.  The album that we released last year, early 2019, is called There is Something Wrong a concept record per se. What’s currently happening in government now, was being unleashed on this record.  It is kind of unbelievable how the timing just makes sense.   And, we released this year a cover of John Lennon’s Give Peace a Chance that we turned into kind of a Thrashy version.  It’s a message of hope and that timing couldn’t have been more apropos as rioting happened soon after that song was released.  And, listening to it while watching the news, you can create your own video, but there is video out on YouTube for it, as well. 

J: Yah, you guys got hit really hard in the midwest with riots.  Way more than we did here in Nevada.

G: Yah, it was not a fun time to be watching television.

J: It was so great catching up with you.  You’re very informed and inspired by what you’re doing and that makes it easy to root for your success.  Between the two of us, with our Niles West High School education, we’ve figured some things out in life! (laughs)

G: Oh girl, we’re lucky we graduated (laughs)…

J: Right?! Somehow, we made it! 

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