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Hemp being used to help redevelop Aby's complex in downtown Rapid City
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Hemp being used to help redevelop Aby's complex in downtown Rapid City

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Rapid City’s newest claim to fame is hempcrete. The environmentally friendly building material is transforming a portion of the Aby’s Seed & Feed complex downtown.

Owner Jeremy Briggs hopes to open Aby’s at the Seed by mid-July. Located at 406 5th St., Suite 500, Aby's at the Seed sits behind The Cave Collective. The former grain elevator loading dock will become a beer and wine bar, while a corner building will be a recording studio and band rehearsal space.

“It’s the only hempcrete recording studio in the world, I’m told,” Briggs said.

Briggs has served as the spokesperson for the South Dakota Industrial Hemp Act initiative and was the promoter for the local Hemp Hoedown festival. As a hemp advocate for more than 20 years, Briggs knew about the benefits of hemp as a building material.

“I always had a passion for hemp because of its sustainable, environmentally friendly nature,” he said. “Hemp is easy to grow, requires less water, grows without the use of toxic chemicals, and sequesters carbon, because carbon from the air is literally built in the wall. … It’s totally non-toxic to be around, and it sets a good example (of sustainable building practices).”

New hempcrete walls were constructed at Aby’s at the Seed between June 14 and 20. Hempcrete is created by mixing shredded hemp hurd, which is the woody inner core of the hemp plant, with water and lime.

To build the walls, hempcrete was put into the space between wall studs. The hempcrete was gently tamped down to fill the space provided by plywood supports attached to the outside of the studs. After about 10 minutes, when the hempcrete was sufficiently dried into its final shape, the plywood supports were moved up the studs and the process was repeated.

Working with hempcrete requires no special equipment or training but does need a team of people who can work quickly together. The hempcrete will continue to cure for about six weeks.

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“Over time, it petrifies … but then it retains its elasticity and its ability to let moisture pass through it. It’s mold-proof and pest-proof and has a really good fire rating,” Briggs said. “It feels like you’re isolated in your own world when you’re in a hempcrete room.”

Hempcrete provides insulation against sound and temperature variation. It has the ability to regulate both temperature and humidity year-round, he said. That could result in lower utility bills. Hempcrete is flexible enough for use in earthquake zones as well.

American Lime Tech, a company based in Chicago, Ill., supplied the lime for the hempcrete. The hemp had to be imported from France. Cameron McIntosh of Ameri Chanvre, a Pennsylvania full-service hemp building material installer, consulted on the Aby’s at the Seed project and helped build the walls.

“Traditional soundproofing material is petroleum byproduct-based, and therefore both toxic and flammable,” McIntosh said. “(Hempcrete) is fire resistant. That’s especially important when you have people closed in a small space with equipment that can get warm.”

Matt Merino of Homeland Hempcrete in Bismarck, N.D., also assisted with the Aby’s project. Homeland Hempcrete is in the design and testing phase of finding alternatives for the lime used in hempcrete. The lime is the most expensive, least eco-friendly ingredient in hempcrete, Merino said.

Raising awareness about the benefits of hempcrete is one of Briggs’ goals. His dream is to see industrial hemp become a product that can be grown and processed in South Dakota. Industrial hemp can be legally imported to the United States but cannot be legally grown here.

“As our technology increases and we grow the hemp industry, we’ll be able to produce hemp locally as opposed to buying it from France,” Briggs said.

By opening Aby’s at the Seed, Briggs hopes his business will be another move toward transforming the complex into a downtown attraction. Aby’s beer and wine bar and recording studio will join The Cave Collective, which relocated to the complex this spring. Woodland Republic Brewery is set to open there in July.

“I think the community needs a space where you can have outdoor entertainment and a space that’s focused on music and art shows,” Briggs said. “With our collaboration with The Cave Collective, we’re all going to try to create the next Rapid City landmark destination.”

For more information about Aby’s at the Seed, contact Briggs at sjeremybriggs@gmail.com.

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