Marsha Folsom is bringing bamboo to the state’s Black Belt.

On Friday, the former Alabama First Lady shared how her company, Resource Fiber, plans to make the Asian plant the state’s new cash crop at the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce’s community luncheon. The company was born out of a three-day meeting at the Folsoms’ home in 2011 where she and her business associates mapped out a way to transplant it in fertile the Black Belt, utilizing the south Alabama region’s soil and agriculture heritage to create a wide array of products.

“Bamboo has a $15 billion global market, with $14 billion industry in Asian and the other $1 billion coming from other places like India and Indonesia,” she said.

Folsom, the daughter of a cotton farmer, said Resource Fiber endeavors to transform the poverty-stricken Black Belt area by taking advantage of its ideal soil to grow and harvest bamboo. The same soil where cotton flourishes is the perfect place for bamboo to grow, she said. And the Black Belt happens to have an estimated 500,000 acres of viable soil.

Resource Fiber will plant 4,000 acres of bamboo over the next few years and plans to partner with farmers to grow it. The company is also working with Auburn University, the University of Alabama, the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Tuskegee University for research.

“Bamboo is highly prolific which feeds the industry,” she said. “The moso type is a timber that can grow 80 feet in two months. They say in China don’t sit in a bamboo forest in the spring for that very reason.”

After taking six years to mature, the moso bamboo can be harvested annually for decades, she said.

Bamboo has a wide variety of uses, from biofuels to building materials, beer, biochar (which can make soil more productive), biochemical specialty textiles (due to its naturally anti-microbial characteristics), purification, bio-plastics, livestock feed, utility cross bars and furniture and cabinetry.

Just this week, Folsom said the company started its 100-acre nursery to test plant bamboo. In 2015, Resource Fiber plans to open its first manufacturing facility in Alabama.

“I’m thrilled at the opportunity this presents for Alabama,” she said. “Agriculture is in the Black Belt’s DNA.”

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