The hemp industry really resonated with me [Trina]. The more organic, back to your roots lifestyle. We truly believe hemp changes every industry and has the power to heal the world. There’s this momentum, hustle and energy that everyone starts to feel when they work with the plant. It’s super powerful. When I was first getting started, I met the largest certified organic produce farmer in Colorado. We talked and once he was on board, I knew this was it.
So while Dave was farming, I [Trina] was doing almost everything else. A lot of that was online marketing, which is what my background is in. Having that experience was a bonus because not many people in the industry had a website. By using SEO and Google, we were already a step ahead.
In the hemp industry, be prepared to self-fund. It’s expensive to create a whole industry. We self-funded the whole journey, and it’s been a lot. We have looked for funding and partners but they never worked out. For anyone looking to get started, we recommend self-funding through your sales. Sell what you have and expand. If you only focus on funding, you're really gambling, and there's no way to tell if your idea is actually good. Whereas if you make one of something and sell it, make two of something and sell it, three of something and sell it, you know that if you can sell three you can probably sell four.
Your team is everything. How you vibe together, who you are... especially when it comes to creating. We've gotten into trouble by going outside of standard hiring practices. Not everyone works well in a start-up environment and the hiring process, selecting the best people helps us ensure our employees thrive together.
What motivated you to start your own business?
For me [Zach], it’s working with the hemp plant. I’ve been able to experience first-hand the life-changing effects that hemp has had on the people around me. That opened my eyes to this future that we're building, where hemp changes the way we look at illness and the way it impacts our lives.
When someone picks up a hemp product and they have a life-changing experience with it, and that happens again, and again, and again, the success stories accumulate and spread in a tangible way. I have a dream that one day that we'll get to the point that 100,000 people pick up a hemp product. Just imagining that day is exciting to me because I feel like we'll be able to feel a difference in our communities and families in the work that we're doing.
What were your family and friends first thoughts on your company?
All of our friends and family have been so supportive and vice versa. You'll find the spirit of entrepreneurship alive in both our families. It extends beyond us and we've had a lot of success doing collaborations. My [Trina’s] sister practices shibori, a Japanese fabric dying technique that uses indigo dye, so we asked her to dye some reusable bags to hold our product. We love that we can present our product in a fashionable yet sustainable way through meaningful collaboration. Our CBD isolate was used in the award-winning Canna Bossom Roots drink as well. Everyone is proud of us, what we're building, how far we have come, and what we're hoping to accomplish.
What motivates you when things go wrong? What is the end goal?
The end goal is to bring more love and happiness to our world through the power of hemp. Providing farmers with reliable tools, leveraging state of the art genetics to formulate seed strains, education, and our new product line bring the power of hemp straight to the consumer. The goal is way larger than us. That and our team, their families, that's what motivates us, and things go wrong all the time. Every day is filled with new challenges, it's very exciting. In the beginning, we definitely made more mistakes, that cost us time. Now we are getting to a place where things are starting to flow and it feels great.
For someone just starting out, take your time. Make sure your heart is in it. Ask questions. Do your research. Invest in yourself. Don't shy away from difficult conversations. Know that things may take longer than you expect.
What has driven the most sales?
When we started we were one of a few hundred programs, Trina's online experience and ability to engage in storytelling has been one of the biggest driving factors of our business. We're building this whole industry with the other farmers, manufacturers, companies, brands, retailers, etc. from scratch. They are our partners. That story of success we had our first few years inspired a lot of people and is the only reason we sell seeds today. It’s because the community at large said “Hey, you guys know what you're doing. You've had success. What is the key?” That story has driven our whole business and the responsibility that comes with nurturing those relationships is something we treasure and don’t take lightly.
What is stopping you being 3x the size you are now?
Regulation. A couple years ago we made the decision to break our business down into separate parts because retail is a completely different animal from farming and seeds. There are a lot of people getting into the retail aspect of hemp and we know there will be changes coming down the line as everyone gets educated. We wanted to make sure to protect what we have built on the farm side. We spent an entire year building out a new website, and over the course of several years perfecting our retail products. We've designed the “What’s Your Number?” system to clearly label our retail products so consumers are making educated choices when it comes to buying CBD to meet their individual needs.
How do you protect yourself from competition?
We're not worried about that right now. The people that we come across who are operating at our level are all open to collaboration. The hemp industry is different in that way from other industries. We geek out together talking about the latest strains, and farming. We work together on driving the conversation of hemp regulation forward. It feels like we are all on the same team. So many consumers need hemp, there are so many industries it touches, and can touch, that there is enough room for everyone who knows what they are doing to do well in this space.
Do you have any trademarks/IP/patents?
In 2018, we tried to make seed and that was our first real attempt at breeding. We worked with some folks that had some experience but ultimately it was a disaster. In 2019, we took what we learned and successfully created Hot Blonde and Queen Dream strains. It felt amazing. We hired a couple of analytical chemists that had a background in genetic testing. When we started doing that work, it felt so powerful. Having success at creating uniformity in our plants from our seed stock was a game changer. Every plant had the same shape and size. Every plant was growing consistently. These are huge to a farmer who is trying to scale their business. It allows for them to plan and organize to a greater level of detail, and as a result save money, and build their business in a more sustainable way, and we’re proud of that.
Our interest in providing these types of solutions and tangibles led us to prioritize field trials and bring a product to market over protecting whatever part we played in the creation of these varieties. We’re proud of that decision and think we'll continue to develop products that way. The work we have in breeding varieties for each region and each soil type, or geographical growing region is a lot. We have a lot of work ahead of us not just for Blue Forest Farms but as a community. As a farming and breeding community, we have a lot of data collection to do. We can't get hung up on what's going on now. We take steps to protect ourselves but in general we're more focused on the future.
What are your favourite books?
I [Zach] have written my first children’s book that in it’s beautifully illustrated pages will tell the history of industrial hemp farming and cultivation. It shines light on the prohibition era has constructive takeaway lessons and a call to action. It's focused on educating a generation of children that will be growing up in a world where hemp is at least semi-legal. I think one needs to know some of the history that has brought us here but also needs to know the work that it’s going to take to get us to the next level--that we need to achieve to create the long-lasting world change that we're all talking about.
What are your next steps for Blue Forest Farms?
We just finished launching a plethora of new products and are currently focused on our seed program.
The growing season is about to begin and seeds are everything right now. In terms of our retail line, we just launched a multitude of products including tinctures, topicals, and even pet products. Like we mentioned before, all of these products use our unique “What’s Your Number” labeling system.
In 5 years, we want the Blue Forest Farms legacy to be built on the work that we're doing with the community. Both Trina and I are passionate about community service and support. When we think about the future, we want that to be at the center of our growth, what people remember and think about when they think about Blue Forest Farms. We like to focus on sustainability, education, and empowerment work.
Growing hemp has such an amazing impact on the world around us. Every plant that is planted has a positive effect on the ground, the people working on it, and the global community. There's a way you can do this work that also embraces long-term sustainability and we try to stay in tune with that sustainability by practicing biodynamic farming methods, taking an organic first approach, and meeting the strictest requirements for certifications and eliminating packaging plus choosing renewable sources. That’s part of the Blue Forest difference.
Would we ever sell? Yes, but we would love to continue working in this incredible industry.
|Blue Forest Farms
|Trina Johnson and Zach Dorsett