When Julia Jacobson developed chronic migraines in her 20’s, with the advice of an E.R. doctor, she started treating her migraines with cannabis. And it completely changed her life. Having been freed from the cocktails of medications that never worked, she’s turned her focus to the cannabis industry.
Julia is the CEO and co-founder of Aster Farms, a sustainable cannabis company dedicated to organic growing and transparent practices. With her expertise in marketing, entrepreneurship and supply chain management, she has helped build a company that is creating craft cannabis the way it should be, outdoors.
The truth of the matter is, very few cannabis companies actually grow their own product. In fact, many brands simply sell whit labeled product from mass producers, and never tell their customers. With the help of three generations of cannabis knowledge, her company is driven to create a clean product that helps others live a healthy and active lifestyle with responsible farming methods.
Today, Julia joins the podcast to share the story of how her own health challenges led her to the cannabis space, how Aster Farms is differentiating itself from many other brands emerging in this industry, and what makes cannabis supply chains so uniquely complicated.
- How Julia’s family grew cannabis over the course of three generations and survived the many challenges along the way.
- How cannabis cultivation has changed over the last half-century.
- Why it takes so long to expand a cannabis brand across multiple states.
- The changing role of retail cannabis salespeople.
- Why Julia thinks interstate commerce laws will happen before full federal legalization.
“We care about the source. We care about how the product is made. We care about how it affects our lives. We care about having an engaging life with our community and with the people in our lives.” – Julia Jacobson
“People don’t even realize it’s unique to actually grow your own product as a brand. In California, most brands are white labeling from these mass producers. So, it’s important to us to have that transparency with our consumers.” – Julia Jacobson
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Rick Kiley: Hello, everybody, and welcome back to another episode of The Green Repeal. I am, of course, one of your co-hosts, Rick Kiley. I am joined, as always, from the swampy swamp of Northern Jersey, Jeffrey Boedges.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yes. Greetings from the sweaty land of really hot northeastern states.
Rick Kiley: It’s humid out here but we are told by our guests that it’s not…
Jeffrey Boedges: Very good for growing things.
Rick Kiley: Good for growing things. Yes, we like good for growing things. And we are joined by someone who’s on the opposite coast who told us it’s quite cold and chilly out in the Pacific Northwest but we are here to welcome Julia Jacobson, the CEO and co-founder of Aster Farms, which is a sustainable cannabis company born from three generations of cannabis cultivators with a dedication to intentional growing through transparent and organic practices. As the CEO of Aster, Julia brings expertise in entrepreneurship, supply chain management, and business development to the company. She develops Aster’s company vision and charts the course that ensures they stay two steps ahead as they look to scale their operation. Part of her work at Aster, Julia was a Co-Founder and CEO of NMRKT, which is an affiliate marketing platform for content providers. She led that company’s growth through Techstars and its acquisition by XO Group in 2016. And then she went on to be the Director of National Revenue Products. Today, Julia continues to be a mentor to Techstars and young entrepreneurs in many, many fields.
Rick Kiley: Welcome to The Green Repeal, Julia.
Julia Jacobson: Thank you for having me.
Rick Kiley: Thanks for being here. Now, it is cold where you are?
Julia Jacobson: It is chilly. You know, I am in Oakland. This is where our headquarters are, not where our farm is, but head HQ. And the day always starts out really chilly and then by like 3:00, I’ll be shvitzing with you.
Rick Kiley: All right. Cool. Yeah. In Brooklyn where I am, it starts off nice at about 6:30 and then by 9:30, you’ve gotten on the subway platform and you’re sweating everywhere. So, July is sometimes rough in the public transportation system in New York City.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. That would be one thing that I think instead of flying cars in the future, I want to see an air-conditioned subway.
Rick Kiley: Well, the trains are but not the platform.
Jeffrey Boedges: But waiting on the platform, man, you can melt.
Rick Kiley: Well, we’re going to talk about sustainability later and I doubt that’s an entirely sustainable idea
Jeffrey Boedges: Depends on how it’s powered, man. Solar.
Rick Kiley: Solar-powered.
Jeffrey Boedges: Solar AC.
Rick Kiley: All right. Well, usually, Julia, we start by asking someone about their bio but I really want to address an unusual fact. In the intro, we mentioned three generations of cannabis cultivation. I mean, it’s not super legal everywhere here yet. So, I’m curious about a family that’s been growing since 1968. Can you fill us in?
Julia Jacobson: Absolutely. So, Sam, my husband is co-founder of the company and president and his grandfather and uncles have been growing cannabis for over 50 years in Mendocino. So, the family moved during the back-to-the-land movement in the 60s. They moved to Mendocino and the neighbors were growing weed and it just kind of became their thing, too. And they were growing with really, really sophisticated techniques for the time in terms of drip irrigation and the way that they were propagating. So, it’s really fascinating to hear the family stories down to the types of amendments that they were using in the soil. We’ve learned so much from them. But the story is not all happy and fun.
Rick Kiley: It sounded happy and fun for a long time there. I was like wow.
Julia Jacobson: It is happy and fun until aerial surveillance. And so, the camp movement, which was enforcement against marijuana production really hit Mendocino in the middle to late 70s. And at that time, their farm, their family was targeted by the DEA. They were tipped off through a network of friends and so they spent the entire night chopping down thousands of plants. I think it was about 4,000 plants that they had at the time that were full-term, hoisting them up into redwoods, putting them down in ravines. And ultimately, his grandfather, Sam’s grandfather, was arrested for it. His uncles made it out of there and he became the first person to go to prison for cultivating cannabis in all of Mendocino.
Jeffrey Boedges: Wow.
Rick Kiley: I feel like you just wrote like the pitch deck for a script.
Jeffrey Boedges: That sounds a lot like what happened to me in high school but on a much, much larger scale.
Julia Jacobson: It was quite the operation. There was a donkey named Honkey involved.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. I was going to say when you were saying that, it sounds like you have like the treatment for a TV series called Mendocino that’s all about people hiding their weed, it sounds like it could be like a comedic alternative to Ozark. That’s just where my head was going there for a minute.
Julia Jacobson: The stories are quite cinematic, especially told by Sam’s family. So, it’s an incredible, incredible legacy.
Rick Kiley: Got it. Cool. And what’s interesting is a lot of the conversation that I find that we’re having with people getting into or currently involved in the industry is a little bit around sort of authenticity of the brands that are being created and the credibility that comes from folks who have been involved in the legacy or traditional market. So, it’s nice. I think it’ll be a good thing for you and for the brand and the company moving forward that you have that authentic story to tell as part of your heritage and where you came from. I think it’ll make a difference as a lot of people jump into the industry.
Julia Jacobson: Absolutely. I mean, there are all types of brands that are going to emerge in this industry, right? There are going to be brands that are built around a lifestyle. It will come from legacy and that’s going to be fantastic and amazing in its own right. And there are going to be brands like us that are built on three generations of ethos, and that’s going to be great, too. So, it’s really fascinating to be in this industry and watch all of the different niches start to emerge and the different types of brands kind of come to their fruition.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. It’s going to be a wild ride and it’s already a wild ride. So, that’s cool. That’s so cool. I’m curious then. So, obviously, I know your connection, of course, with your place of business. How did you get pulled – pulled is probably the wrong word. How did you make the transition to get involved with Aster after working in the tech space?
Julia Jacobson: So, I had started to develop chronic migraines in my mid-20s. My mom has them, they’re hereditary, and it was only a matter of time. I had been a recreational user for a while at that point but had never thought to use cannabis for my migraines but they became truly debilitating to my life. I was ending up in the hospital every few months. I was on a cocktail of prescription medications that not only didn’t work but were giving me horrible side effects, and I was desperate. I was desperate to get my life back. I was doing anything. One person once told me to get Lidocaine shots in my forehead and I did it. I got on the subway in New York with I felt like I had horns on my forehead and they were bleeding and people were looking at me like I was an insane person so it was bad.
Rick Kiley: Which is saying a lot because in New York City, if you get on a subway, you can wear an alligator as your pant leg and people be like, “Yeah. That’s cool.” All right.
Julia Jacobson: No. It was not a good look having blood dripping from your forehead.
Rick Kiley: I guess visible blood is a little unnerving no matter where you are.
Jeffrey Boedges: On the subway. I think like in the right club, though.
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Julia Jacobson: One of the times I was in the hospital, the E.R. doctor said to me, “If you have access to cannabis and you feel comfortable with it, I would suggest trying it for your migraines.” He had migraines as well and he had seen so many people come through the E.R. who had tried every prescription out there. And so, I did. I had never thought to light up a joint. I was in the middle of a migraine attack but I did the next time and it completely changed my life.
Jeffrey Boedges: How long ago was that?
Julia Jacobson: This was probably about five years ago.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. Well, I thought if it was ten years ago, this guy was really out in front. But no, he’s simply right on where you should be. That’s cool that you have a doctor.
Rick Kiley: All right. Cool. Keep going.
Julia Jacobson: So, I tried cannabis when I had a migraine attack and it completely changed my life and that was really the moment for me when it went from something that I enjoyed recreationally to something that I understood was essential for some people literally just living a normal life, like having my life back, being able to properly work at my job and engage in a social life and have family. So, that really changed everything for me in terms of how I thought about cannabis, my relationship to cannabis, and I wanted to be part of it. And Sam’s family had been growing for 50 years. Over the time that we had been together, we were learning more and more. Unbeknownst to him, he was sitting in the room when a lot of it was going on as a little kid but he was personally part of the operation until we decided to formally go into it together.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. We’ve had a few guests talk about their time as a child, wondering what their uncle or aunt’s funny-smelling cigarettes were. So, I can imagine that scene. I’m curious. So, your personal experience and connection is quite clear and I’d read about this. You had mentioned that you’re now using cannabis to manage your migraines, and I have this in quotes so people can’t see quotes so I say, hey, everybody in quotes, “prescribed routine, balancing your equilibrium to chart a healthy course.” And you just sort of spoke about that. And what I’m curious of is this sort of personal philosophy is it’s something that you apply to your business as well? If we were to talk about the lifestyle brand and communication of Aster, is that an approach that you’re taking or is that just something that’s personal to you?
Julia Jacobson: Absolutely. I think that’s a really great articulation of some of the values and ethos in how we go about our brand, actually. We’re not the kind of company who’s putting a Band-Aid on it. We’re not the kind of company who is just pumping anything full of chemicals to try to get the result that we’re looking for. We care about the source. We care about how it’s made. We care about how it affects our lives. We care about having an engaging life with our community and with the people in our lives. And so, yeah, the way that cannabis is in my life is definitely how we go about running our business.
Rick Kiley: Yeah, that’s great. And I guess I’m wondering sort of when you put out communications about the brand, are you being proactive about cannabis is part of a larger picture and sort of view of how you incorporate it into your life? Are you sort of focusing more on where the product fits into their life? Does that make sense? Does that question make sense?
Julia Jacobson: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. So, right now, what we’ve been building so far in our marketing and our branding is understanding the source, so transparency into our growth practices. People don’t even realize it’s unique to actually grow your own product as a brand. In California, most brands are white labeling from these mass producers. So, it’s important to us to have that transparency with our consumers. So, a lot of our marketing and branding and messaging has been built over the last two or three years about showing the source, showing our team, showing the product, showing how we cultivate in regenerative agricultural style. And what’s next and we’ve started putting out there is talking about how cannabis can be part of a healthy and active lifestyle. We are not the cannabis brand for getting stoned out of your mind and playing video games for five hours. Like, that’s not the effects that you’re going to get from our product and that’s not who we are, and that’s not our consumer. We are the type of cannabis that you are going to consume in the middle of the day to go for a hike or go to a concert with your friends and be outside and engage with people, not feel paranoid, feel radiant. And so, that is what we’re starting to message now. We recently put together a brand film that depicts people doing activities that we do, hiking, biking, enjoying like the scenic, beautiful California landscape. So, we are setting the foundation of the product itself, the source, and now we’re starting to build on that lifestyle that we live and that Aster Farms embodies.
Rick Kiley: That’s great. I think most people of a certain age maybe on this call like to not have the paranoia, and I don’t know why it’s more when you’re a little bit older. I think it’s because of greater responsibilities than when you’re in college but I think you can get a lot.
Jeffrey Boedges: It’s because the concert tickets cost more and you don’t want to have to leave.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. There’s that. But also like, yeah, I want to have a little conversation with my kid without mumbling. There’s that too. Yeah.
Julia Jacobson: That’s the interesting thing about how cannabis has evolved in terms of genetics and breeding. You know, cannabis way back in the day had, if not equal parts, a substantial amount of CBD and THC. There weren’t plants that had no THC and plants that had no CBD. There were plants that had a range of both of them and tons of other cannabinoids and terpenes. When you’re growing and there are lots of indoor operations that employ techniques that do give robust terpenes and whatnot but there are a lot of growth techniques that are just pumping for THC. And when you’re just focusing on that one cannabinoid, you lose the complex profile and that affects your effects. And so, you can be paranoid. Like, if you’re just focusing on THC like, yeah, you’re probably going to give your consumers a little paranoia because the CBD takes the paranoia away.
Rick Kiley: I’m going to suggest a commercial for you where you’re licensing the Kinks song, Paranoia, and just, “Paranoia, the destroyer,” and just like go from there and something like that. I don’t know. It’s just a nugget of an idea.
Julia Jacobson: Thank you.
Rick Kiley: It’s out there. I also think the potency is quite different. I mean, life is a little bit different from the 90s era, little bags of schwag that you would get when I was younger. And I think that also, I don’t know, I find it you would consume more to get the same effect and I think sometimes it catches people off-guard now. It’s just everything’s so strong. The potency is so dialed up.
Julia Jacobson: Absolutely. And that’s both genetics and it’s also techniques that are being employed today. And it’s really interesting talking to Sam’s family. They talk about the original strains that they were growing back at the beginning and how everything was seeded. One product, when your flower gets seeded, it stops producing THC so you automatically produce lower THC flower. So, all of that seeded weed that people are smoking in the 50s and 60s and 70s, it only became like real potent products after that was figured out in the late 70s. And that’s when people started growing in ways that weren’t seeding the product and growing strains that were really focused on THC. And obviously, in the last ten years or so, that’s been amped up in whole new ways.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. I haven’t heard the phrase, “Hey, man, that’s all seeds and stems,” in quite some time.
Julia Jacobson: Yeah.
Rick Kiley: No. I mean, it’s funny. It’s really changed very, very quickly. One thing I just want to ask curiously, this is about your own sort of personal career here, I gather there’s a family business but I’m just curious, a lot of people who work in tech tend to stay in tech and I’m curious if there was a reason beyond the family business and I guess your personal medical connection that sort of you wanted to depart that industry, I’m curious if there is anything else.
Julia Jacobson: There is. I was totally burnt out. I had been in retail. I was a buyer for Bloomingdale’s for about four years and that’s when I saw some holes in the technology market related to that, and that’s why I left to start my first startup. And after running a startup for five-and-a-half years and then running a large department at a big organization, and I was super, super burnt out and I didn’t want to be in tech anymore. I didn’t want to be in e-commerce or retail anymore. I had this bizarre, deep, physical, tangible desire to put my hands in the dirt. And so, I was looking at industries. I was thinking about getting in ad tech. I thought that would be my easiest transition in was ad tech and I actually looked to apply for a biz dev role at one ad tech company. And in the job description, it specified that I would have to be able to carry 50 pounds by myself and 100 pounds with the help of one other person. And I am positive that I can do that because I do that on our farm but it just threw me off so much.
Jeffrey Boedges: You have to be able to hide 50 pounds of grass up in a tree within an hour I think is the idea.
Rick Kiley: Wow. You don’t see that on a job description very often.
Julia Jacobson: No. But I was both thrown aback by it and also very enthused and excited by it because I wanted to be physical. I wanted to be outdoors. I wanted to be doing something that wasn’t always just negotiating and crunching numbers and projecting, which is ironically what I spend as the CEO of this company majority of my time doing but I at least get one to two days of the week up at a gorgeous farm, getting to put my hands in the dirt and be with the birds and learn about ecosystems, and it’s magical.
Rick Kiley: That’s great. All right. So, let’s talk a little bit about your role in the business now. I think just the first question is, as an entrepreneur, I mean, a lot of people answer this in different ways, but as an entrepreneur, what are the skill sets that you think are most valuable in approaching the world of cannabis?
Julia Jacobson: Resilience and patience and humor, just a sense of humor. When you’re running any startup, whether it’s a CPG company or a tech startup or anything, when I was at Techstars, they explained to you, “You are on a roller coaster and you don’t bring your team on the roller coaster with you. You limit the number of people who are on that roller coaster with you and it’s your job to weather it and take that and put it in the cannabis industry.” We are on like the ride from hell at the amusement park and, fortunately, I have my husband as my partner. We are holding hands riding that roller coaster together. But you have to have resilience, you have to have a sense of humor, and you have to just have perseverance. You have to just be ready to have unbelievable lows and unbelievable highs and experience situations that are completely unfair on a million levels that you can’t do anything about. And so, yeah, that’s what I would say. If you can cut it emotionally and psychologically, running a startup in a different field, like pause, take a breath, and just realize that cannabis is also federally illegal and has unbelievable challenges.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. Well, not if we have anything to say about it.
Jeffrey Boedges: That’s what we’re about. Yeah. So, what kind of skill sets do you or how do you and Sam sort of divide skill sets and responsibilities? When I think about the best partnerships that are quite frequently made up of complementary skill sets, I mean, I think Rick and I have very different skill sets, and people kind of laugh about it frequently. Do you feel like you and Sam bring something that’s yin and yang to this particular segment that helps you guys be better in the competition?
Julia Jacobson: For sure. I’m the nerd. So, I’m one who crunches the numbers, manages overviews, all the KPIs. I raise the money. I do the legal BHR, compliance licensing. Sam’s the cool creative guy.
Jeffrey Boedges: So, what does that leave Sam? He’s in product tasting.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. Let’s make it known. Make it known that Julia is the one that can lift the 50-pound bag over her head. Not Sam.
Jeffrey Boedges: True.
Julia Jacobson: Exactly. No, Sam is doing the other entire half of the business, which is all of our sales, which is an enormous feat, all of our marketing and our supply chain. Supply chain is incredibly complicated even when you’re growing your own in cannabis so there’s a lot that goes into all that.
Rick Kiley: Okay. That’s cool. All right. I’m going to make some assumptions and you can correct me if I’m wrong but just because I want to get to this question about scaling. Right now, you’re produced in California. That’s where the farm is. You’re distributed in just California, like just the way that is or more states than that?
Julia Jacobson: Yes.
Rick Kiley: Okay. So, do you have plans to scale outside of that state? And we’ve talked ad nauseam about the state-by-state restrictions and governance, et cetera. And so, I don’t think we need to go into that per se but I’m curious if you have plans and what your approach is to sort of doing that.
Julia Jacobson: Absolutely, we have plans. So, we currently are putting the wheels in motion for New York and it’s a market that is very far off from reality. We’re probably 18 months from applications even being accepted, let alone operations being able to go online but it is a market that resonates with our consumer. It’s where Sam and I lived for over a decade and our friends and family are so we have an incredible network there. But really, it comes back to our brand is about conscious consumers who care about what they’re putting in their body, care about companies that they’re spending money on, and at the same time have a really active Amazon Prime account.
Rick Kiley: Whoa! Wait, what?
Julia Jacobson: Yeah. We’re not a co-op style. We’re not the crunchy sustainable. We see ourselves as more urban sustainable if you will.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. But I want to talk about this Amazon Prime thing. Did you just get a psychographic…
Julia Jacobson: I do not support that.
Rick Kiley: I’m doing some research on consumers like these guys all indexed really high on Amazon Prime.
Julia Jacobson: I just find it to be the most ironic thing for people who are conscious consumers, myself included. I consider myself a consumer and I go out of my way in a million different aspects of my life, and then I just press Buy Now on Amazon like it’s nothing.
Jeffrey Boedges: Well, you got to remember, though, like weed’s been delivered forever so most of those consumers have a predisposition to having things to show up at the door, just not in a black bag.
Julia Jacobson: Absolutely.
Rick Kiley: Everybody likes getting something really nice in a box.
Julia Jacobson: Absolutely. And it’s interesting, you’re seeing in California and COVID definitely had something to do with this but there’s definitely a shift in where the dollars are being spent towards delivery.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. Agreed. And, look, I like to support local also but every now and then just the value proposition I need it in 48 hours and I can’t get out to the store or it’s closed. And so, that’s when I get to the, yeah, Amazon Prime, get it here in two days, and they just own that spot and it’s just so convenient. All right. Enough about…
Julia Jacobson: Yeah. But back to who our consumer is, we are a sustainable cannabis brand that cares about what we are putting in our products, how we are growing our products, how we treat our employees, how we interact with our community. These are ethos that we believe are not just in California and New York but we are also a brand that has taken a more sophisticated contemporary approach to some of our branding, in our marketing, and the way that we interact in terms of events and whatnot. And so, we believe that New York is a fantastic second market for us and are putting the wheels in there.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. It will be interesting because when you think about California, it’s incredibly sophisticated and it’s agro-businesses as well as entertainment and a lot of other things, obviously. But I feel like a lot of the big brand marketing is still done in New York City. So, it’s going to be, for us personally because we have kind of a vested interest in it, I think it’s going to be real exciting to see what these bigger agencies can bring and bigger companies can bring to the idea of brand building in the cannabis space. Have you guys thought at all about how you guys will go about it and how you evolve your approach to brand building?
Julia Jacobson: Yeah. I think one of the interesting things and this goes back to why we are choosing New York as another state that we’re in is that there are, in cannabis so far, you’re experiencing markets that have very discerning consumers and California is one of them. Some of these big companies that are coming in with a lot of money and just slapping a label that was made up in a boardroom on a product, they’re getting their product on the shelves by paying to be on the shelves and it’s not selling and it’s causing gluts in the market. And so, the consumer here is very discerning. You look at other markets and the branding itself doesn’t really matter as much. In fact, there are some markets where branding basically doesn’t even exist. It’s still very pharmaceutical-looking. So, for us, New York is also an important market because we’re able to kind of push the boundaries and people care about branding and they care about design. We care about the content, the marketing that we’re putting out there. So, we are definitely starting to expand in terms of the Aster Farm’s lifestyle to kind of take the brand beyond just cannabis. And so, we’re doing that in very literal, tangible ways. We’re producing some non-cannabis items and also wholesale sourcing to non-cannabis items that we’ll be selling on the Aster Farms general store coming to you soon.
And we’re also doing that in other ways, just in terms of networking, connecting with nightlife and restaurant groups in New York who have a similar consumer and we’re able to just spread the name of the brand ahead of the product being able to be there. So, cannabis is going to be like other restricted, regulated markets. It’s going to be like alcohol. We’re always going to have issues on Instagram, right? We’re always going to be limited in certain ways. And so, the in-person in real life, tangible, getting into those event spaces in New York, being part of Fashion Week, being part of Frieze and Art Week and all of these things that happen that bring together those types of consumers is going to be really important to this industry as it continues to mature.
Jeffrey Boedges: That’s cool. New York has got some fun stuff going. We’re hearing a lot this week actually about the pop-up lounges where there are going to be on-premise consumption. And I think that’s one of the first places I really heard people taking in, I think, consideration of that use education and that type of intake at the beginning. Most markets, it’s at home, an out-of-sight, unseen kind of thing and I think New York with their lounges is going to be a pretty interesting place to watch this year.
Rick Kiley: And look, I think your approach, which it sounds to me like a local ethos to the brand is going to be a good one, resonates with New York consumers who we work in the alcohol beverage industry and a ton of products are on shelves that are white labeled. They’re produced by giant factories and distilleries that have different sort of mash bills that they produce liquid and goes into different bottles with different labels. And some people know about it, some people don’t. And I can envision this.
I walk into a grocery store in Brooklyn right now, and you have a cooler of craft beer that looks just like a rainbow of color and design and all over the place. And I can envision us getting to the point with cannabis where that starts to be the reality about how people are engaging with brands and it starts to look more like lifestyle consumption and less like just getting what you can get that’s prescribed essentially by the pharmacy, which is what New York is like right now.
Julia Jacobson: Exactly. And I will say being somebody who has a medical condition that’s treated with cannabis, I also think I’ve been very saddened and disappointed by how the California market has matured in that regard. We’ve really lost the medical expertise, the dispensaries, even the ones that say that they’re all recreational. The bud vendors don’t have, for the most part, the knowledge and information to be able to guide somebody. If I came in, I said I have migraines, like they’re probably going to tell me to take, like an Indica capsule or tincture, like it’s not based in any science. Nobody knows that CBG helps open up the ocular vessels and relieve pressure. People aren’t telling you that. So, I value Columbia Care, I really value it. I’ve actually spoken to them from California because I couldn’t find medical advice here. So, I hope that that still maintains in New York, but that we also have the world of crafts and fun.
Jeffrey Boedges: You bring up a really, really interesting point, Julia, that we haven’t really delved into much. And that is I don’t think there’s any kind of accreditation whatsoever for budtenders. I mean, being a budtender, it seems to me, is more of an experience thing, almost like being a bartender, you just need that sort of foot in. Now, granted, I mean, some of the budtenders I’ve met are just incredibly knowledgeable and fantastic to speak to and super good to us. So, I’m not criticizing, but when you start talking about the medical world and you look at what type of education goes into just being a pharmacist, much less a medical professional, like a doctor or a nurse practitioner, there’s a lot of education that goes into it. And I don’t know that you see the same kind of rigor going into the preparedness of people who are going to be recommending cannabis-based medicines and other natural medicines. It’s an interesting thing.
Julia Jacobson: Yeah, it’s a great point. And I think it has possibly something to do with the fact that these retail stores are being treated much more like retail stores, right? The people behind the counter are sales associates as opposed to sommeliers or as opposed to somebody that is supposed to truly be guiding you. And I think that’s because as the legal market has shifted in California, it’s become a self-served store experience. So, it used to be these big pound, ounce jars with bulk in them behind the shelf, and somebody would help you and put it into a smaller container. And now, it’s prepackaged, child resistant on shelves. Brands pay for premium shelving. You pay for display cases. So, it’s all a self-serve experience. There are budtenders floating around to help you, but they truly feel much more like store associates, as if you’re shopping at Bloomingdale’s or something than, you know…
Jeffrey Boedges: And I got to wonder, too, if maybe just the fact that all these states are coming online, and all of these new retailers and new manufacturers and suppliers are getting their licenses, if demand for these types of really knowledgeable personnel is outstripping the ability for the market to supply it.
Julia Jacobson: That’s an interesting question, I’m sure it is, and we’re seeing that across many positions in cannabis, an interesting kind of melding of where people from the legacy market are fitting in and where people who have had absolutely no experience in cannabis are starting to fit in. And it’s interesting to kind of watch that wave be ridden. We’ve been getting at some really legacy retailers replacing their buyers with Whole Foods buyers. And I love it. I love it as a previous Bloomingdale’s buyer. I’m like, bring on the KPIs. I want to know my POS data. Like, let’s talk about premium shelf space, but it’s not the same relationship-driven industry that it was two years ago or even a year ago. And some of that is also happening because of the mergers and acquisitions and the consolidation. It’s becoming more corporate really quickly. And 2020 was kind of a landslide for that.
Jeffrey Boedges: I think our business idea of the day-to-day, Rick, is we’re going to have to start a real bud university here.
Rick Kiley: Yeah, it’s a weed sommelier. It’s a W-set for cannabis.
Jeffrey Boedges: It’s a sommelier but just the supply chain management. I mean, come on. I mean, that’s the whole thing.
Rick Kiley: I don’t know. We’ll have that proposal on your desk by next Tuesday, Julia. Okay?
Julia Jacobson: Excellent, please do. And some of the retailers do it, KOLAS in Sacramento, they have a budtender education program, and you actually have to, like, pass tests. So, it’s not that nobody’s doing it, but it is definitely not at the level of knowledge and education and sophistication that it should be for what? Cannabis is treating people.
Rick Kiley: Yeah, Doctor Bud. Alright, listen, I can talk about this all day, I’m sure, Jeff could, too, but I really want to make sure that we touch on your sustainability philosophy and the sun-grown approach and this non-regenerative agriculture. So, I just said all those things and I have like five questions about them, but let’s just start with the commitment to sustainability. You speak about it a lot. Can you talk a little bit about that? And how it may differ from another producer that’s out there in the cannabis space right now?
Julia Jacobson: Absolutely. So, first of all, we believe that sustainability goes beyond our packaging materials and it goes beyond agricultural practices. It’s also about our commitment to our employees and our commitment to our community. So, for us, this was pretty much a no-brainer to grow our own and to grow it the right way, not only for our planet and for the people consuming our product, but also just because this is how this plant is supposed to be grown. It creates the best complex cannabinoid profile. It creates the best terpene profile.
And so, we really believe that sustainability is only so good as it is transparent. And so, for us, putting out this report and self-assessing and being honest with our consumers and everybody out there to see in the world, we believe that that’s an important piece of committing to sustainability. And we’re really hoping that by putting this out there, more companies start to put forward their data, and we can start having conversations because we have never had this opportunity before to start an industry in the legal commercial regulated market from scratch, like creating rules from scratch. And so, this is our opportunity to not let this industry become environmentally damaging and to create even more social injustice. And so, it’s all of our responsibility to approach this incredibly responsibly and carefully.
Rick Kiley: That’s great. So, you have this sun-grown philosophy. So, you’re not growing anything under fluorescent lights or anything like that. And you talk about this no-till regenerative agriculture. Can you talk about those two elements of your production and how they fit into the sustainability commitment?
Julia Jacobson: Absolutely, and I will say that we do have two light deprivation greenhouses. So, there is light assistance at some times of the year.
Jeffrey Boedges: Transparency.
Julia Jacobson: Exactly. So, regenerative agriculture is basically trying to create a closed loop system and creating ecosystems that are natural and would have existed before we disrupted the land. So, in terms of regenerative agriculture for cannabis, we’re planting our plants into the actual ground. I mean, when you’re talking about anything indoor, you’re clearly not planting into the ground, you’re planting in the pots. You’re really trying to be as eco-friendly as possible, maybe beds indoors, but when you’re outdoors, a lot of people don’t know this, a lot of outdoor growers are growing in pots above ground. There is growing on gravel parking lots with pots and calling it outdoors because it’s getting full-spectrum sunlight.
So, there’s a little truth in there, but we are growing actually in the ground in living soil. And what we say is we are feeding the soil because the soil is what’s feeding our plant. So, we care about the ecosystem that’s developing, and that includes fungi, that includes microorganisms, worms, ladybugs, green lacewing, all different kinds of creatures that are sustaining an environment that’s breaking down into those nutrients that the plant needs to absorb. By growing plants that way, you’re creating stronger, healthier plants that are more pest resistant. They’re going to develop all of the features of their genetics in a more vital way. So, it’s a win-win. You’re doing better for the earth and you’re also creating better products, but in hand with that goes cover crops.
So, our soil is never left, just completely barren soil. So, we’re not tilling it. Tilling is when you’re kind of taking a blender to the soil, you’re chopping up those worms, you’re killing the ecosystems. We use cover crops in the off season. So, that’s replenishing the soil with nutrients. It’s giving erosion control to help trap in that water. It’s aerating the soil by growing really thick and deep roots into our soil, and then we disc that back in to create an all-natural compost. And then we have a spader machine, which is like a very gentle cupping system that comes along the soil and tosses it. So, by doing that…
Rick Kiley: You have to say that in like an NPR radio host voice though.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah, with its nice cupping system. It’s funny. It’s good.
Julia Jacobson: So, the goal there is to capture as much carbon and not release carbon. And it’s to create living, not dead ecosystems in our environment.
Jeffrey Boedges: How much of this is stuff that is from grandpa? And how much of this sounds like it came from UC Davis? I mean, it’s pretty sophisticated.
Julia Jacobson: It’s sophisticated in the understanding of what’s going on, but it is all the time in its actual practices and use in agriculture. I mean, this is how we used to grow all crops. You can’t grow 6,000 acres of almonds used– it’s really difficult to grow it with this technique in that scale of agriculture. So, we lost a lot of these practices, but yeah, grandpa and uncles, they were growing right in live soil in the ground. They talk about all the various different kinds of soils they found on the property in site A, site B, site C, pulling from a beautiful all-natural aquifer. So, the family ranch, which is still in the family, it’s off the grid, totally sustainable. They grow all their own produce that they sustain themselves on. They have a small herd of cattle that sustains them. So, we took these practices from what they were doing because it’s just how it’s supposed to be done. It’s how it was done.
Jeffrey Boedges: And how much do you feel like, because in wine and spirits, spirits especially, well, I guess wine and spirits, we talk a lot about terroir, and it talks about the effect of the local microclimate, as well as the local soil and the local water and how much that actually impacts the taste. Do you have a similar style attribution on cannabis from everything from terpene mix to tastes to effect, really?
Julia Jacobson: We believe we do. One of the biggest problems in this industry, there’s so little data. And that’s again, why we’re putting this out there, and we hope other people do, too. So, our climate in Upper Lake County, we’re higher and drier than Mendocino and most other areas, and we also have a really intense diurnal cycle, and so that’s the swing in 24 hours from hot to cold. And what that does is the same thing that it does in grapes. It helps to dense the flavor and the scent profiles. So, there are definitely aspects of our unique climate that are affecting our buds.
We’ve heard from a distributor once and we notice this. We were always like, our outdoor buds come out a lot denser than a lot of the buds, a lot of more buds that you’re finding in the coast and somebody else said that they had seen that across Lake County. It’s an anecdote because there isn’t data for us to actually say, yes, there is true terroir affecting our product, but we believe there is.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah, I think when you start talking about having things like which we’re talking about before, which is like sort of a certified organic or a certified sustainable farm producing it, I think cannabis, and you can definitely comment on this, I think is also going to be coming to a time when there’s going to be certain areas that have– just like you can say tequila can only come from Tequila, or champagne can only come from Champagne. And we’ve talked to somebody from Mendocino in the past who I think was very bullish on the idea of having a Mendocino sort of like label that says this comes from the best area for growing cannabis in the world.
Julia Jacobson: And that’s coming out there. It’s an appellation program and it’s been approved by the state. So, it’s actually just rolling out now. And there was a lot of back and forth on what qualifies, if you’re growing in a greenhouse in beds, but you’re using native soil, or does it just have to be in that physical county to have to be pulling from the watershed. If watershed related, watersheds don’t go county by county. So, it was a really interesting process in the state figuring out how the appellation program was going to unfold. And it’s just starting to be released into the industry here.
Jeffrey Boedges: That’s awesome. I love to hear it.
Rick Kiley: Yeah, it’s going to be great for the industry and great for the state and great for the locality as well. I’m just– oh, God.
Julia Jacobson: We have organic certification coming too. So, I don’t know if people know this, but organic certification is federally regulated and so, cannabis is excluded from it. In fact, cannabis is excluded from a lot of agricultural, pretty much everything. So, yeah, we’re very excited in California. It’s not going to be called organic and it’s not the USDA organic seal, but it will be state approved.
Rick Kiley: Organic-ish, I think. That’s the way it goes. We’ll workshop that name a little bit. One question I just want to ask real quick is, is producing it this way, the way that you’re describing, does it put limits on your production? Like I imagine you’re limited to the land and therefore, the output and the sun and you’re subject to the climate, and I assume that that limitation is why others maybe don’t pursue that course. Am I correct in this assumption?
Julia Jacobson: Oh, yeah. I am so jealous sometimes of my friends who have indoor grows and indoor brands. When you’re growing outdoors, and we do have light deprivation, so we’re able to flip that more. And we also do autoflower which is ruderalis and we’re able to flip that twice a year, but for our full-term, our regular sativa and indica plants that are going out in the field, each one of those plants has one chance. And there’s a whole lot of things that can happen in eight months to that one plant. And so, it is a lot harder to grow out first, but I truly believe, and this is both from my personal experience consuming indoor and outdoor cannabis and from my understanding of what’s happening to the plants and the nutrients and whatnot, but I truly stand by outdoor cannabis having a much more complex terpene and cannabinoid profile, which gives you a better high, a less paranoid, a less intense, a more well-rounded high.
Rick Kiley: I’m glad you answered my next question. So, it was like communications to consumers in a way that they can understand, I find sometimes challenging. So, for me to know the difference between a sun-grown plant and an indoor grown plant and what that bud may do for me, it’s hard to sort of understand that. And taking away the fact that more complex but cleaner, more less paranoia, like I think we need to as an industry, kind of have to get the words right so that we can paint that picture for something. The same thing is like, a full-bodied wine or a dry finish.
Jeffrey Boedges: I’m thinking more like the California Raisins. I think we’re going to have little buds, that kind of like stuff animation dancing around.
Rick Kiley: I just say, I think you just rip off that commercial and do it again.
Jeffrey Boedges: For sure.
Rick Kiley: I heard it through, it’s not the grapevine
Jeffrey Boedges: I mean, that commercial was…
Rick Kiley: I heard it through the sunshine. Yeah, I don’t know. And I think it’s showing that we’re having a good conversation, but we’re getting close to the end of our time, and I have like nine questions I didn’t ask. So, we’re not going to get to all of them, which means…
Jeffrey Boedges: That’s my fault, I’m sorry.
Rick Kiley: You’re going to have to come back another day, but the one thing, and maybe I’ll try to segue into like an invitation for myself. So, on your website, you invite people to come visit. So, I’m curious, if I come out, which I’m anticipating, what would one expect if they’re going to come visit Aster Farms?
Julia Jacobson: Well, it depends what type of year you come. There are all different kinds of things happening…
Rick Kiley: A non-COVID year.
Julia Jacobson: Yes. So, in a non-COVID year this year, for example, we already have plants in the ground. Plants in the ground start getting to their big bushy six to eight-foot stage in August, September. Once the end of October comes around and early November, it’s a field of nothing. So, it really depends. It’s not a good time. November, September are horrible times to come visit. There will be nothing. And the winter is also a horrible time to come visit unless you only want to see two little greenhouses with some plants.
Rick Kiley: When is harvest?
Julia Jacobson: August and September is the magical time where it looks like what you imagine, a huge field of cannabis plants to look like. And the smell is in the air, and the weather is beautiful, and there are butterflies and bees and unfortunately, some bunny rabbits.
Rick Kiley: Yeah, they like it. The rodents were good at that stuff. I had a question to just, oh– I just thought…
Jeffrey Boedges: They’re the happiest rabbits on the planet as well.
Rick Kiley: I just thought of something. So, we’re close, we live in the New York area and we’re talking about the law that’s being passed in New York quite a bit. And one of the things that’s in the law is about home grow. And people who are medical patients actually in like two months at the end of September can grow plants at home, and that’s part of part of the law, but the question is, where do people get seeds? Because it has to be grown from seeds, evidently, or something like that, it’s what I’ve read. I’m curious if you are creating this product that is done in the right way, the original way, multiple generations, sun-grown, etc., that your seeds might be of interest for people who wish to garden at home. I’m curious if anyone’s ever asked about that, or you’ve thought about that, or if that’s part of the world that’s existing out there in California.
Julia Jacobson: It is a very new category in the retail market. And so far, I’ve only seen seeds being, you know what, I’m going to backtrack. I think legally, I would not be able to sell seeds under the type of license that I have, and to make sure that legally in California, only a nursery license can sell seeds. So, for example, I’ve seen Humboldt Seed Company is a very, very famous cannabis seed company. They sell out at the Emerald Cup, literally, there’s a line around the whole tent and they’re sold out within like an hour. They are now selling their seeds commercially to consumers, and you can find them at very select retailers, but I believe you’d have to be a nursery. And while we propagate and we breed on our own site, we do that under a cultivation license, which does not allow us to– the track and trace, all the little details of how the boundaries were drawn in all of these different types of licenses are very complicated. Don’t make sense on a consumer level. Don’t necessarily make sense on an operational level. So, it’s going to be fascinating to see each state has gone about all these little quirks differently. Who knows? Maybe in New York, cultivators can sell seeds directly to consumers. Maybe a distributor can sell seeds. We’ll see. We’ll see how it all unfolds.
Rick Kiley: I think right now, no one can sell seeds. No one can buy seeds, but you need to be able to get the seeds in order to grow the plants.
Jeffrey Boedges: Many times. I’m always surprised there’s enough supply to meet the demand because there are so many more growers, or at least maybe in my naiveté, I believe there are more growers, there needs to be, but I don’t know where all the seeds are coming from.
Rick Kiley: Yeah, well, from the guy down the street, I guess, from those bags that we got in the 90s.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah, probably.
Julia Jacobson: Exactly.
Jeffrey Boedges: And the stems provide a natural fertilizer.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. Alright. So, here are all the things that I didn’t get to ask you about that I want to know about in the future, your olive oil, carbon footprint, consumer engagement, entertaining budtenders at your home, future goals, etc. We didn’t get time, but I definitely would like to try some of the olive oil with a little bread or maybe cook some pasta in that.
Julia Jacobson: It’s delicious. And the oil itself, so Sam’s other uncle on the other side of his family has an organic award-winning olive orchard 20 minutes from our farm.
Rick Kiley: Of course, he does. Perfect.
Julia Jacobson: Yeah, it’s amazing that his family has all this agriculture. We call on his aunt and uncle from the olive farm. I was texting with them yesterday about a nitrogen plan. So, it’s amazing to have this family support network where we can ping each other about like how do you fill out the evapotranspiration on your nitrogen management plan? So, yeah.
Jeffrey Boedges: We have that conversation in the city all the time.
Rick Kiley: Yeah, yeah. I was like, I actually only understood, I think, three words in that sentence, oh, my God.
Jeffrey Boedges: You sounded like Fletch trying to fix his car.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. I hope you have another like lost sibling that’s just got like the world’s best Brownie story like 15 minutes away, too, like…
Jeffrey Boedges: We need something we can understand like Brownie.
Rick Kiley: Yeah, two parts water, one part, okay. So, listen, we end our shows by asking everybody when they think cannabis is going to be federally legal in the US. I can tell you’re very connected to what’s going on. We are at some point going to make good on our putting together, like the equivalent of a baby pool, like a legalization pool. And actually, I think I read today that some decriminalization legislation was going to be presented to Congress. I’m just curious if you have any predictions or sense of when it’s going to happen. When are we just going to have full interstate commerce everywhere?
Julia Jacobson: Well, my answer definitely changed after I saw Clarence Thomas’s statement about how it just doesn’t even make sense that it’s federally illegal right now because it’s already being regulated. So, before that statement, I would have said we are still a long way away. The Biden administration is not supportive of federal legalization. Congress, while the Democrats continue, and actually it’s bipartisan. Bipartisan support continues to put forward bill after bill that is stripped down and stripped down and just gets to social justice. They’re not passing. They haven’t passed the Senate.
And so, I think we are probably a year or two away from some descheduling, some decriminalization that it relieves the continued incarceration that’s happening and some of the confusion and mismatch with the state and federal laws, but interstate commerce, man, I think we are at least five years away. And part of that is because the states want the tax revenue. And if we were to open up interstate commerce, you wouldn’t be growing cannabis in Florida anymore. You wouldn’t be growing cannabis in Massachusetts anymore. You would be importing it from Oregon and Washington and California, or you would be growing it in different ways. So, I think, there are federal reasons why it’s going to be slower to get to that point in time. And I also think that there are going to be state dynamics that are going to play a part in that.
Rick Kiley: You don’t think that because with some of the hubbub is out here, is that there will be a small group of states in the Northeast corridor, for instance, that will pass some sort of interstate commerce law. And I think the same has been talked about out west with sort of Washington state down through California. Do you see that happening in the near future? And if so, do you think wouldn’t that sort of kickstart maybe sort of some of the other areas to do the same thing?
Julia Jacobson: I definitely see that happening well before interstate commerce happens. There’s definitely talk already. And I think the biggest variable are the two states actually adjacent. And so, I think we are going to see adjacent states allowed to enter into agreements in which there can be interstate trade, but that’s not necessarily going to alleviate it because you’re just containing regions. So, the best regions to grow, California, Washington, Oregon will be contained within itself. A totally different climate and different market of the Northeast will be contained within itself. So, I think we’re still long ways away from true federalization, true interstate commerce. And it’s going to be interesting because as we’re developing these silos of markets and individual states, we’re creating foundations there. And when interstate commerce happens, truly, I think we’re going to see a lot of disruption in the cannabis industry because those market dynamics are going to eventually rear their horn and come into play.
Rick Kiley: Alright.
Jeffrey Boedges: That’s very articulate. Yeah, that’s better than just a guess.
Rick Kiley: And Julia, you’ve got great answers for everything. So, it’s been a pleasure speaking to you. You sound like you have a really great company and a really great outlook and a really great approach. We’re thrilled to be speaking to you. If people would want to get more information about Aster Farms, where should we send them? Or where should they go?
Rick Kiley: Alright.
Jeffrey Boedges: It’s awesome.
Rick Kiley: It’s Instagram while it lasts.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah.
Julia Jacobson: Exactly.
Jeffrey Boedges: I’m changing my vote for next year to what Julia just said, by the way.
Rick Kiley: Yeah, you’re always…
Jeffrey Boedges: Jeff Boedges being wrong.
Rick Kiley: Julia, it’s been wonderful having you today. I hope we can come out and see it at some point, and we’d love to check it out and maybe have you back on the show at some point in the future to talk about all the things we didn’t get to.
Julia Jacobson: Well, thank you for having me. We would absolutely love to have you come visit the farm. So just ping me, please.
Rick Kiley: Awesome.
Julia Jacobson: I would love to come back and chat some more. This was great.
Rick Kiley: Cool. Thanks so much.
Jeffrey Boedges: See you soon.
Julia Jacobson: Thanks, guys.