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Co-Op Building: For Hive Mendocino™ – Part 1

Co-Op Building: For Hive Mendocino™ – Part 1

Quality & Efficiency go Hand in Hand

Story by the Members of Hive Mendocino™:  Sara and David O’Donnell, Courtney Bailey and Chris Butler, Hildi Gerhart and Avery Edmonds, Jared Adams and Kristen Garringer
Edited by Jude Thilman

Intro:  In our last column, Mendocino Cannabis Alliance (MCA) featured an opinion by member David King on the threat of extinction facing small craft farmers due to the structural bias in our economic system that favors and supports larger farms and companies.

In this column, we offer Part 1 of a 2-part series focusing on Hive Mendocino™, a cooperative farm model that helps small legacy farms both survive and thrive in this new legal marketplace. Part 1 describes how Hive Mendocino™ was formed and how it strengthens its members in the face of difficult and ever-changing market challenges. And there will be a general introduction to the farms in Hive. 

In Part 2, we will “deep dive” into the cultivation ethos of Hive; how the farmers practice sustainable growing techniques, regenerative land use, and ultimately produce their gold-standard quality flower. 

There will be links to LOTS more information within the articles, so get ready to click!

What is a Co-op?

A cooperative, or co-op, is an organization owned and controlled by the people who use the products or services the business produces. Cooperatives differ from other forms of businesses because they operate more for the benefit of members, rather than to earn profits for investors.

Cooperative businesses can be as small as a community buying club or as large as a Fortune 500 company. People typically join a cooperative business to enjoy the benefits of group purchasing, pooled risk, and the empowerment of owning and controlling the company.

Why form a Co-op?

Co-ops are created in order to better compete in the marketplace, improve bargaining power, reduce costs, expand new and existing market opportunities, improve product or service quality, and obtain products or services viewed as unprofitable by profit-driven companies and therefore available and more attractive to entities such as co-ops.

Rather than fight each other to get a piece of the pie, members of a co-op build each other up, advocating for and encouraging each other’s success. The best way for farmers to stay competitive is for small groups to unite, pool resources, and think of each other not as competitors, but as collaborators, working together to build a better industry. The mantra “We are stronger together” drives small farmers to explore the benefits of cooperatives – as well as work with others in their cannabis county industry through trade associations, like MCA.

In Hive Mendocino™, members benefit from 100+ years of collective cannabis cultivation experience. Individuals can talk through issues as varied as crop problems, compliance regulations, inventory management, creating a sales pipeline, and advancement within the industry as a whole.

How to get started creating a cooperative model?

Find your tribe.  Seek out members of your part of the cannabis industry and culture – whether they be cultivators/farmers, medicine-makers, distributors or retailers. This will ensure that you are all on the same page in understanding laws, regulations, taxes, and the many other challenges common to your particular sector’s experience. Above all, choose a core team of people that share your values.  You will discover them by engaging in conversations in your local trade association and grassroots membership meetings, by attending events like distribution mixers, or at booths in farmer’s markets.

Hive Mendocino™ recommends that you start with a core of 3 farms. Once you get off the ground, you can invite others to visit and possibly join.  It is easier to get your systems in place when you are small and just starting out working together.  When you explore the possibility of working together in a cooperative, you will sharpen and refine your shared values, set your all-important goals, and your mission will evolve from those.

Create common organizational structures and procedures and then make sure all members are committed to that structure and those procedures.  Hive Mendocino™ offers clear and comprehensive suggestions for how to do this.  For example, fluency in shared spreadsheets is a must, as is communicating forecasted inventory, and a weekly phone call is often needed to keep everyone on the same page.  You’ll need to draft bylaws and articles of incorporation to submit to the Secretary of State.  And you’ll need a business plan that identifies how much initial investment money the members will need over what period of time. And you’ll need a firm commitment as to the source of that money.  Everything you need to start a business, you need in starting a co-op.  The big difference is you’re sharing the burden with others.  The burden of ideas, the burden of resources, the burden of understanding how to comply with regulations – ALL of it.  But, remember, “We’re stronger together.”

Process is as important as product.  In a co-op, as in much of life, tending to the internal health of the “hive” is critical for all to survive and thrive. A short list of essential rules for a healthy process are drawn from this online resource:  https://www.cio.com/article/3091119/6-proven-project-team-communication-strategies.html.

 

Here’s a summary.

  1. Effective communication with your members will make or break the success of your co-op.
  2. Be transparent and clear. Be open, respectful, give feedback; foster an easy, non-critical atmosphere so that everyone feels comfortable speaking their minds and everyone feels included.
  3. Meet regularly. Set up your meetings ahead of time and on a schedule so that everyone can prepare.
  4. Online collaboration. Use online tools such as Google sheets, email or Slack, to get the small details of day-to-day business communicated.
  5. Develop problem-solving procedures. When disagreements or concerns occur, have a plan in place for how you will solve them. Will you use principled negotiation techniques? What will be the timeline for handling these issues? What documentation will take place?
  6. Build team spirit. Take the time to be social with your members. Get to know their families, interests, and history. Social time is deeply critical to the success of the team, according to business and human resource experts.
  7. Show appreciation. Gratitude and praise are simple yet critical aspects of effective communication. Ensuring everyone feels appreciated for their contributions is the glue that will hold your team together.

Further detailed suggestions for co-op organizational setup, operations, and group process can be found at https://www.givingtreefarms.org/blog/a-quick-guide-to-forming-your-own-cannabis-cooperative-in-california-part-1-of-2.

Who is Hive Mendocino™ Anyway?

There are four farms in Hive Mendocino™ Cooperative:  Giving Tree Farms, Sweet Sisters Family Farm, Fire Flower Farm, and Wildercraft.  Each of the four farms in the Hive emphasize community involvement, high quality product consistency and sustainability among their core values.

The founders of Giving Tree Farms, in the Anderson Valley of southwest Mendocino County, are Courtney Bailey and Chris Butler. Chris started as a contract cultivator for dispensaries in the San Francisco Bay Area. Courtney had a background in marketing and business management. When they first met over a decade ago, they realized they shared a vision of a successful craft flower farm. They founded Giving Tree Farms, bringing their respective skills and expertise to the task. They grew to also share a love for each other, becoming life partners on their journey.

Supporting their community is extremely important to Chris and Courtney. They volunteer their time regularly and donate portions of their profits to organizations that support the culture, community, and environment of Mendocino County. “We choose to support our local businesses in any way that we can. This is why we source as many supplies locally as possible and hold events at local businesses.”  Their belief in the importance of community led them to participate in forming Hive Mendocino™, where they could support small cannabis farmers in the area by working with their Hive partners to sell inventory, share bulk expenses and discuss ideas that help them climb the ladder of success together. Other member farmers are helping them with new ideas on how to lower their environmental footprint through the installation of a solar system for off-grid energy usage. It’s all about giving back.

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Sweet Sisters Family Farm is a craft cannabis farm that planted its roots on its property in 1986. Ten years later, with the passage of Prop 215, Sara and David O’Donnell, owners and operators of Sweet Sisters, began cultivating their cannabis for personal medical use. Both made their way to beautiful Mendocino in the 1970s, but while Sara is a California native, David made his trek from Minnesota. And now, they can’t imagine being anywhere else. Before starting their cannabis farm, David worked as a carpenter while Sara was a candle maker and executive director of a local non-profit for twenty-two years. Sara and David have lived a history of caring for others. They are strongly committed to supporting their community through financial donations and volunteering their time with local organizations.

This life-long commitment extends into the cannabis industry as well. They have donated hundreds of pounds of trim for manufacturing RSO under the Compassionate Use Act. By partnering with Dear Cannabis and Emerald Bay Extracts, these cannabis medicines are distributed to dispensaries, giving California patients access to this healing plant regardless of their financial situation. “It’s my favorite part of being in this.” explains Sara. Sara’s and David’s generosity and commitment to getting medicine to the people continues to this day.

Sara and David are proud to have helped shape this county’s cannabis community into what it is today and they hope to continue inspiring social responsibility in others by giving back to their neighbors, supporting others in the industry, and practicing sustainable farming methods to produce their out-of-this-world craft cannabis.

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Fire Flower founder Hildi Gerhart had a vision of creating a thriving cannabis farm. Hildi moved to a fully off-grid house in Willits in 2011 to join other outstanding female cultivators and farm owners who make up the California cannabis industry. She bought her first “grid-flexible” cannabis farm in 2016, and her second in 2018, to grow the Fire Flower business into what it is today. Avery Edmunds began his industry journey in 2011 after moving from upstate New York to work on a couple of cannabis farms in Mendocino County. He met Hildi when he worked for her during harvest.  “A relationship based on trust, quality of life, and pursuit of ideals and goals led us to each other, and in 2016, to officially creating Fire Flower Farm.”

Soon they became both business and life partners. Their main goal this year is getting their annual licenses for two properties on which they have 10,000 sf of cultivation. Hildi is clear that each new development with the farm is always both exciting and scary. “This industry is constantly pushing us to keep moving forward and get out of our comfort zones.”

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Wildercraft was founded in 2017.  Jared Adams and Kristen Garringer joined Hive Mendocino™ out of their understanding of its historic value. “Cooperatives within agriculture have been around for a long time and are a crucial aspect of the success of small farmers around the world,” says Jared. 

Jared is the CEO and Founder of Wildercraft. He grew up in Des Moines, Iowa and, with a BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute in Sculpture/New Media, lived in many places working in a variety of artistic professions including leather work in London, art installations, machinist/metal fabrication and on site-specific glass installations from Ohio to San Francisco.  Jared made the leap to Mendocino County in 2009, and to Anderson Valley in 2013. He has transferred his skills from a background in the creative arts, artisan production, and fabrication to the problem solving and creativity required in farming and homesteading.

Kristen grew up on farms in rural West Virginia in a back-to-the-land community before moving to New England to study Cultural Geography at Bard College at Simon’s Rock. She is currently finishing a master’s degree in Development Studies, focusing on the impacts of environmental and land use policy on small cannabis farmers during regulatory transition. She joined Jared on the farm in 2017, and offers cannabis consulting for permitting and licensing. She also works with Origins Council, a state-wide non-profit with a vision of legacy, cannabis producing regions around the world that will drive global sustainable development and regenerative agriculture through the regulated production and research of high quality craft cannabis and herbal medicine products.

Jared and Kristen were drawn to Hive Mendocino™ for the best of reasons and they don’t hold back in their enthusiasm: “Hive Mendocino™ is comprised of a group of super intelligent, kind and conscientious individuals who are striving to cultivate the highest quality cannabis available while maintaining small farms and giving back to the community. It’s a win all around!”

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See Also

You can learn about Hive Mendocino™’s beautiful, craft flowers at https://www.hivemendocino.coop/

Hive Mendocino™ is a farmer-owned cooperative of cannabis cultivators who provide bulk wholesale, exceptional craft cannabis. Pre-order online.  https://www.hivemendocino.coop/preorder-bulk-wholesale-cannabis

Thinking of forming a cooperative?  Hive Mendocino™™ welcomes your contact and will be glad to help with advice. Write to [email protected]

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BIOS:  (NEED 1-3 sentence bio for each person)

Jared Adams grew up in Des Moines, Iowa and has a BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute in Sculpture/New Media. , Jared made the leap to Mendocino County in 2009, and to Anderson Valley in 2013 transferring his skills from a background in the creative arts, artisan production, and fabrication to the problem solving and creativity required in farming and homesteading.

Courtney Bailey, her partner, and their 47 animals spend their time operating a ranch in the Anderson Valley. When she is not focused on the compliance and business operations side of the 15,000 SF mixed-light cultivation and nursery, you can find her volunteering at the food bank, making kombucha, and preaching the benefits of micro-dosing mushrooms for anxiety.

Chris Butler is a third-generation cinematographer with a gift for understanding the science behind cultivating cannabis and taking gorgeous pictures. He has been a ganja warrior for more than 15 years and is committed to preserving the culture of the industry while embracing and influencing positive changes.

Avery Edmonds is full-time devoted to caring for the gardens on the two properties, working long days and getting excited as the girls start to transition.  And while the plants are his focus, he carves out time to help Hildi with anything license or business-related, whenever she needs it.  Avery also takes some swims as well as staying involved in outside community commitments.

Kristen Garringer grew up on farms in rural West Virginia in a back-to-the-land community. She joined Jared on the farm in 2017 and also works with Origins Council, a state-wide non-profit with a vision of legacy, cannabis producing regions around the world that will drive global sustainable development and regenerative agriculture.

Hildi Gerhart balances her time between outdoor cultivation, the demands of the County and State regulatory process and keeping the business running.  Between all that there isn’t a lot of free time, but there are dips in the pond to cool off from the summer heat and quick trips east to visit family.

David O’Donnell made his trek to California from Minnesota in the 1970s. Before starting their cannabis farm, David worked as a carpenter – a skill that pays off in rural living many times over.

Sara O’Donnell has been a resident of Mendocino County for nearly 50 years, first moving to the county in 1970 as part of the back to the land movement. In 1981, Sara and David established a family farm in Comptche where they raised their 3 sons. Sara was also a candle maker and executive director of a local non-profit for twenty-two years. Sweet Sisters Family Farm is off grid and Sara and David practice organic farming methods as legacy cannabis farmers.

Photo credit for all photos:  Chris Butler

Editor: Jude Thilman serves as Vice-Chair of MCA and is owner of Dragonfly Wellness Center, a medically-focused dispensary on the Mendocino Coast, between Fort Bragg and Mendocino Village.

You can learn about Hive Mendocino™’s beautiful, craft flowers at https://www.hivemendocino.coop/

Hive Mendocino™ is a farmer-owned cooperative of cannabis cultivators who provide bulk wholesale, exceptional craft cannabis. Pre-order online. https://www.hivemendocino.coop/preorder-bulk-wholesale-cannabis

Thinking of forming a cooperative? Hive Mendocino™™ welcomes your contact and will be glad to help with advice. Write to [email protected]

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