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Wisdom From The Women Leading The Cannabis Industry, With Trina Johnson of Blue Forest Farms

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Be patient and forgiving with yourself and others and understand that failure is a part of greater success down the road. We are all pioneers in this time. Failure is part of the journey.

As a part of my series about strong women leaders in the cannabis industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Trina Johnson.

Trina Johnson is the CEO and Founder of Blue Forest Farms founded in sunkissed Colorado and also a pioneer in the modern-day hemp industry. The farm currently has six field-tested, commercial varieties available for seed, which are also used for the farm’s CBD retail line, BFF Hemp — a bespoke collection of topicals, tinctures, gummies and softgels launched in 2020. Named as Vanguard Media’s Woman of the Year 2021, Trina and her co-founder Zach Dorsett establish their brick and mortar concept in the heart of the financial district, where stress is most felt among working professionals.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the cannabis industry?

I grew up in Boulder, Colorado and life is fairly organic out that way. I have always loved cannabis and it became very exciting to experience the rise of engagement around hemp. It became especially fascinating to see Colorado — a state I came from — come on board. The minute I learned about CBD, I launched right into it. I began learning everything I could about hemp and CBD. Around the time my interest around CBD was peaking, I made a play with a building I had for sale and a partner who was interested in getting involved in the CBD market. We connected in a lot of ways and as the largest certified organic farmer in CO — he was poised to do all the farming. I have a background in digital marketing and felt that it would be possible to communicate my vision and mission to the public in my own way.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The workload in paving the way for any new industry is staggering. As it relates to CBD, there are so many roadblocks and obstacles in place that prevent producers like us from moving aggressively forward. Administrative tasks as simple as opening a bank account become more convoluted by a federal system that wants to keep us locked out. That said, we have had to rely on community advocates like the credit unions who see hemp as a viable bet. I also found my partner in an unlikely place. I have always led an organic way of life and truly believe that mother nature knows best, yet I have never once worked as a farmer! No one works harder than the farmer, so it was fortuitous when I met David Asbury. David was in the farming business and served as a supplier to Whole Foods in the region. Our alliance made for a speedy ascension into the production of hemp. Even despite my background in software and management, I was riveted by the way in which our seed program quickly grew. We did 22 acres that year, 150 acres the next and 235 acres following that time.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Somewhere around 2017, David and I embarked on a $6M dollar extraction project together but we could not have anticipated the damages or financial losses that we incurred as a result of Covid, which all but decimated the projections we had in place. In that short time, we observed the price of CBD drop from $150/lb to $75/lb and eventually to $35/lb. A drop over half of what we were anticipating would make any producer run in the opposite direction, but we plowed ahead regardless. This, coupled with the loss of European markets we believed we had access to, put us in a negative cash flow position. And then we discovered that we were harvesting incorrectly! It turns out, we had spent money in all the wrong places. Following this expensive blunder, we learned that people were going into the extraction process and making more money that way.

Being able to switch gears quickly to create a better, sellable product soon became the focus and a funny, albeit expensive mistake that we learned from while on the job. As if by kismet, the extraction process fostered a new partnership between David and Zach Dorsett who was primarily interested in the lab work involved in harnessing the power of the CBD plant.

Do you have a funny story about how someone you knew reacted when they first heard you were getting into the cannabis industry?

More flack came from people outside of my circle than inside of it but we were steadfast in catering to our supporters, the majority of whom were farmers. There is a lot of propaganda in our industry around what hemp is. Mainly, we are combating the perception that hemp, or its byproduct CBD, gets you high. It is a sort of re-education that needs to take place in that people should know that the plant can be harvested in a variety of ways, inclusive of hemp hearts for protein, materials for packaging and clothing. I do see myself eventually pivoting into fashion design, funnily enough. Hemp helps humans derive great benefits, including pain relief, but it can also create materials with the fiber similar to plastic and linen. CBD carries a number of anti-inflammatory benefits as studies have repeatedly shown, so for me, it’s a bit funny if people don’t get that hemp has over 50,000 uses.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

The great Dave Asbury as I had previously mentioned and Zach Dorsett, a genius in creating the formulations and isolates at the lab that work to provide the line of retail products we carry at Blue Forest Farms have helped tremendously. Zach has been a great support, and has a lot of pull in Colorado. As we were struggling to understand the industry, his experience and passion served us with countless information on the extraction process and through Zach, I was able to see the industry and how it could be nurtured into manifesting another lucrative partnership.

One of the things we were able to release is the genetics program to create six new strains. Genetics play a huge part in working with seeds and the majority of plants are curated with THC but little effort is put into the market for the release of CBD genetics, so we poured into that. Since it is really critical that your plants are performing in a systematic way, it is important to look at seed genetics and we feel an imminent connection to the seed farmer.

The entire industry is really fighting to move from 0.3% THC to 1.0% of the compound in products and goods. Too much money has been left on the table, especially for the local farmers that grow operations and cater to companies like Whole Foods.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We first released our seed program in 2019, but started to do less acreage in 2020 so we had to pivot and create a buy back program for our seed partners. By 2021, COVID had completely decimated our cash projections. Given the attention on the benefits of CBD, we were lucky to hit a contract for all the financing we lost and our extraction planning saw a comeback for oils, tinctures and gummies. We have always wanted to support our farmers. Supporting the farmer in that way really was the goal and our way of giving thanks for all the hard work it takes.

I think another exciting piece is creating alliances with communities of color and providing the support and funding for the restitution for unjustly incarcerated people. Most people have no idea the early settlers around 1600 traded in hemp because they knew the crops were profitable. It is now better understood how George Bush’s ‘‘war on drugs” really hurt communities of color, so we are proud to support people like Gary Chambers of Louisiana for State Senate. The advocacy work to empower our communities continues to grow with our plan of action and effectuating change is very exciting.

Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Despite great progress that has been made, we still have a lot more work to do to achieve gender parity in this industry. According to this report in Entrepreneur, less than 25 percent of cannabis businesses are run by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a) individuals b) companies and/or c) society to support greater gender parity moving forward?

With business always changing it is important to honor the mission, which is to facilitate and provide relief from toxic stress, anxiety and pain with CBD. It starts with one idea. Many women in the industry start with 100 plants and a small product line. When I get a call from a customer about seeds or flour, I then ask, do you have a product line? Do you want to start a new concept? We can help you to do that. We are really excited about the rise of the retail product and this is a direction that individuals can take to sustain their economies. Companies among the corporate elite would like to learn more about the benefits of CBD. Our corporate gifting line at Blue Forest Farms is an example of what makes us so excited to grow with our communities and hopefully change the way societies look and feel about CBD as a whole. We know society needs a re-education around the use of the hemp plant. It has been vilified for decades.

You are a “Cannabis Insider”. If you had to advise someone about 5 non intuitive things one should know to succeed in the cannabis industry, what would you say?

  • 1- Be in touch with the fuel that drives this economy. Work with individual healing, regardless of what your business model is, don’t let yourself detach from the source of what working with this plant offers. Get connected with the true energy source in the industry — it isn’t the farmers or the processors — it is the individual life changing experiences the product can offer. Tapping into this provides a lot of energy regardless of any market dynamics or returns. When our clients share that they can better manage their anxiety, we know we are serving for our highest good.
  • 2-Everything is a learning experience — much of our data and research from this past year is still forthcoming. As much as you can, continue to engage in the research offered by community advocates in terms of best practices, methodologies and best products. Continue to learn and to develop.
  • 3-Keep inclusion and equity are at the very forefront of your work, while facilitating individual healing. Be cognizant of the ongoing damage and inequity that has plagued the cannabis culture in black and brown communities and be creative on how we can create equity and an economy that brings change and closes the wealth gap.
  • 4-Be open and transparent about your work and strategies. There is a tendency to become insular by blocking others from coming into this arena. Sharing ideas, methods, and strategies and viewing other companies as collaborators rather than competition is a better strategy for wealth creation. Look out for opportunities to collaborate!
  • 5-Be patient and forgiving with yourself and others and understand that failure is a part of greater success down the road. We are all pioneers in this time. Failure is part of the journey.

Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the cannabis industry?

Everything is exciting! There is so much to be excited about. We are concentrated on the medicinal side, but we are also looking into hemp fiber. We can build our infrastructure in sustainable ways, in terms of our consumption, clothing, and paper. Hemp is the answer to all of that. Medicinal health and wellness, which creates change in a mind & beauty, spiritual way is a huge benefit for us all.

Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest?

I see progress but it’s just not happening fast enough. It’s as if we’re waiting on the sidelines for the FDA to declare CBD legal so that it can be used in food and manufacturing and this is frustrating as we all well know that once this happens, the big players will completely flood the industry.

We need to pass smart legislation on THC content for genetics and the allowable amount needs to go up to 1.0% instead of below .03%. This creates more economy and equitability especially for the farmer and processor.

The propaganda around cannabis and hemp and CBD needs to be dispelled and revised so that we can observe a re-education. The fact that we do not have the same rights as alcohol or cigarettes or that people are still sitting in jail for cannabis, is insane.

What are your thoughts about federal legalization of cannabis? If you could speak to your Senator, what would be your most persuasive argument regarding why they should or should not pursue federal legalization?

New legislation should be incentivized to grow hemp instead of corn and switch out all of the fuel. Plant based food products that you can make, was such an avant garde idea when the concept first came to light. Look carefully at how building materials can be manufactured. The hemp plant yields mold and fire resistant materials. These are all inherent problems that we should be working through right now.

Cannabis is a plant of the Cannabaceae family and contains more than eighty biologically active chemical compounds. The most commonly known compounds are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is the component that produces the “high” associated with marijuana use. Much interest has been seen around CBD and its potential related to health benefits.

Today, cigarettes are legal, but they are heavily regulated, highly taxed, and they are somewhat socially marginalized. Would you like cannabis to have a similar status to cigarettes or different? Can you explain?

Cannabis is completely different from cigarettes or alcohol. CBD treats in a medicinal way, that is non addictive (it can actually aid in addiction recovery in cases) and the benefits are vast. There are amazing benefits and side effects for the user and all of society as a whole. CBD and cannabis are becoming the premier solution for so many issues related to stress, anxiety, insomnia and depression and these uses should be elevated — not marginalized.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Create a life that you love. Create a life worth living. Once I realized I could do what I love, it changed everything for me. I am in the process of manifesting my own hemp clothing line for Brooklyn Fashion week as a byproduct of doing what I absolutely love and am excited to work creatively with the icons of our time! Wow is all I can say :)

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I believe that the way forward is to reduce the number of obstacles that CBD entrepreneurs are facing. Right now, we are unable to place ads on Facebook, Google or Instagram so it has been enlightening to create alliances with cannabis patient advocates, Senate seat members, celebrities, politicians and advocates who would like to change the world through hemp so that we can get back to a more just economy, a more peaceful way of co-existing and save the planet for our children.

Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you only continued success!

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