Trail Blazers: Meet the Small Businesses Spearheading Vermont’s Cannabis Market
This article is part of a monthly series, Trail Blazers, highlighting entrepreneurs entering the legal cannabis space.
From fine cheese to microbrewing to maple syrup, craft producers have long found a welcoming environment in the Green Mountain State. And with the October launch of Vermont’s legal cannabis market looming, mom-and-pop purveyors of the plant are hoping their industry will be no exception.
Miguel Lopez, LB Farm LLC
One of these small producers is LB Farm LLC, a CBD hemp cultivation company in Enosburg Falls. Owner Miguel Lopez was inspired to open his business after witnessing the relief cannabis brought his late mother as she underwent cancer treatment.
“My dream is to just wake up and roll out of bed into the garden.”
“What really pushed me to it is seeing the effect that it had on my mom,” Lopez said. “So I wanted to be able to produce a product that was of high quality and that could really have a huge impact on people that were going through what she did.”
Everything grown on LB Farm’s microplot is nurtured through the cultivation process primarily by Lopez himself. He uses organic agricultural practices that are free from pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, and hopes to one day obtain an official organic certification. Lopez’s overarching philosophy is that LB Farm’s cannabis flower will never be mass-produced.
As he moves toward receiving a THC license, Lopez’s plan is to continue growing craft-quality products on his sustainable microfarm, where he also raises cows and chickens. And eventually, he hopes to be counted among the best flower producers in the state.
“My dream is to just wake up and roll out of bed into the garden,” Lopez said.
Derek Mercury, Vermont Select
Derek Mercury, CEO of processing company Vermont Select, is optimistic the adult-use market will welcome craft cannabis with open arms. One encouraging development is the recent House approval of reduced fees for small cultivators.
“Vermont’s always been geared toward local, small production.”
“I’m excited that Vermont seems to be moving towards encouraging small producers to get into the marketplace,” Mercury said. “Vermont’s always been geared toward local, small production, and it seems like that’s a good way to move forward with the recreational use market also.”
The Jeffersonville outfit already works with small growers to source its craft CBD hemp, which is sealed in nitrogen-charged canisters for delivery. Mercury said the company plans to offer this white labeling service to small THC producers as the market expands.
The business’ biggest challenge is navigating an industry that’s still being conceptualized.
“In many businesses, when you want to start a business, there’s precedent — previous companies doing the same thing, and there’s a regulatory framework for the industry,” Mercury said. “In this case, it’s been developing and still not set in stone, so it makes it hard to plan for the future when you don’t know exactly what rules and regulations that you’re going to be operating under.”
Marlena and Noah Fishman, Zenbarn Farms
For Marlena and Noah Fishman of CBD purveyor Zenbarn Farms, the importance of getting this process right can’t be understated. The couple sees their enterprise as a social impact business dedicated to lifting up communities that have historically been excluded.
“If we are going to be successful in this industry, it’s about doing it in an equitable and sustainable way.”
“With the cannabis industry, stepping into it is an opportunity to rectify the wrongdoings of the war on drugs,” Marlena Fishman
said. “And we are really very aware of that and passionate about it and knowing that, if we are going to be successful in this industry, it’s about doing it in an equitable and sustainable way.”
Zenbarn’s Cannabis Equity Fund supports Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) in the industry, and the company also donates 1% of sales to social and environmental causes.
“We’re on the verge of a really revolutionary moment, which is something I think I’ve been waiting for my whole life, where it’s an opportunity to make some huge changes.”
The Fishmans ultimately plan to transform their Waterbury property into a “Cannabis Campus” with access to lawyers, experts and educators who can help industry hopefuls with expungement of cannabis offenses, guidance for breaking into the market and training for leadership positions.
“We’re on the verge of a really revolutionary moment, which is something I think I’ve been waiting for my whole life, where it’s an opportunity to make some huge changes,” Noah Fishman said. “It’s a huge responsibility, I think, to be here where we are and I feel like we’ve grown in our understanding of what kind of impact we ourselves can make in embodying that personal responsibility.”
In addition to prioritizing access for BIPOC people, that responsibility includes advocating for the industry-wide use of regenerative agricultural practices, as well as using Zenbarn’s performance venue to support musicians who have long been a fixture of cannabis culture.
“If we’re to take advantage of the true revolutionary opportunity in front of us, we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Noah Fishman added, “because we can’t let this become just another pipeline for the status quo of big corporate business.”
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