Some shoppers walk down the aisles of a grocery store with a particular awareness; they key into allergens and read the ingredients on labels, look for locally grown or certified organic produce, or seek out their preferred brands. Small-batch, sun-grown legacy cannabis farmers in Mendocino are seeking to activate these shoppers in the cannabis sector.

MendocinoCannabis.Shop (which we will refer to from here on out as The Shop) is a platform developed for members of the Mendocino Cannabis Alliance (MCA), a trade association of cannabis farmers, retailers, distributors, and more who operate in Mendocino County. The Shop was built to introduce MCA members into new markets, in turn keeping the sun-grown legacy cannabis farming community alive.

Chiah Rodriques, MCA Committee Member and Co-founder of the family-owned and operated Arcanna Flowers, is one of the farmers featured in the shop. “If you’re a conscious consumer and you’re going into a health food store, or you’re purchasing organic, or beyond organic, or direct from a farmer because you go to a farmer’s market – you have a different way of thinking about where your medicine and your food comes from,” she said. “The more that consumers become conscious about their purchasing decisions, the better for us (small farmers).”

Rodriques’ Arcanna Flowers is one of 20 farms that took part in The Shop’s pilot program, which is now accepting new MCA farms and manufacturers. Farmers who sell through the platform take 90% of the pre-tax profits from each sale and the remaining 10% covers admin and fulfillment costs to keep the site running. Farmers also pay $200 per month towards shared marketing expenses to be included in the program.

MCA Executive Director Michael Katz played an important role in building the platform. “We’re just doing everything we can to help our Members survive as long as possible, raise our voices as loud as we can, and let people know that there is a way for them to access values-aligned cannabis,” Katz said. “It is essential that these groups have come together to figure this out because in the capitalist model there would be no room for this – but that’s why we need it so much. It is the core of everything that brought us to participate in the legal market, to come out of the shadows, and to share their products.”

California is oversaturated with cannabis flower which has driven down the price per pound. Because of this, legacy outdoor farmers are no longer able to turn a profit wholesaling flower by the pound. Many have been forced to take on the cost of packaging and branding their flower to stay afloat. Once the product is consumer-ready, the farmer has to get it on shelves, deal with unknown markets, and cater to consumers who haven’t yet seen the value of sun-grown products.

Another issue small-batch farmers face is coming up with funds to pay for retail shelf space and once they have, the products are subject to whatever markup the retailer sees fit. But this can lead to incorrectly priced small-batch flower sitting on shelves past their prime, Rodriques explained. “It’s hard to get shelf space or website space on a delivery service, sometimes you feel like you’re yelling into a black hole and nobody responds. It’s very hard for small farmers who don’t have the money to pay for shelf space or pay for fancy marketing to get representation, especially in larger areas where there’s a lot of consumers.”

In The Shop, farmers are guaranteed a certain number of SKUs, the ability to set their prices, and to receive a majority of the profit. The concept currently only works through the donation of time, effort, and resources by people who share MCA’s values. For example, MCA member Brandy Moulton donated the use of her Sacramento delivery license and built the rough framework for the website, which are key contributors to the concept. Distributors are also donating time and gas to deliver products from the farms to retailers.

“That’s the core of the legacy cannabis community that has entered into the licensed market. That community spirit, that sense of togetherness, and knowing we have to work together to combine our values with our resources and turn that into something that enables us to compete in what is now the cannabis industry,” said Katz.

The website was finished by Baked Brands Studio, a design agency that took the framework and turned it into the dynamic eCommerce platform The Shop uses now. The site is integrated with Dutchie and GreenBits to complete and track sales on both ends. MCA worked with Dutchie to build an account that fits their needs and remains compliant.

Now that the platform is out of the pilot phase, the farms behind The Shop are focused on sharing their stories and educating consumers on the value of sun-grown, small-batch cannabis products. Most cannabis consumers are geared towards pheno-hunting and high-THC strains, which is a far cry from cannabinoid-, terpene-, and flavonoid-rich sun-grown flowers. That isn’t to say that all hype strains are bad and those consumers should only be purchasing sun-grown but rather, that the consumers who shop for their groceries with discernment should be able to bring that same energy to the dispensary.

“The same people who care about where their food comes from should care about where their cannabis comes from. It’s only a matter of time until we reach them with our education or they start to search for values-aligned cannabis and that’s when they’ll find us. But we need to be out there in the market making people aware of what we’re doing in order for that to happen,” Katz said. “Small farmers need the support, but also consumers deserve to find quality products that are grown with care.”

The farmers who sell through The Shop aren’t just building cannabis brands, they’re sharing their lifestyle. Some are multi-generation cannabis farmers in the Emerald Triangle that have stepped into the light after decades of secrecy, trusting that regulated cannabis would provide a living wage – instead, their family farms are sinking. Rodriques is a second-generation Emerald Triangle cannabis farmer whose family lives where she cultivates. “We are bringing the story of generations,” she said. “Literally, I’m a second-generation farmer, my dad was doing this when I was a little kid. It was the culture here and we’re trying to hold onto that with our fingernails right now because we’re getting squelched.”

MendocinoCannabis.Shop is proving to be a lifeboat for its members, who hope the business model will proliferate through like-minded retailers throughout California. Products are now available for delivery in the Greater Sacramento area and Katz is in talks with folks all over the state who are interested in partnering with the program.

As they grow the platform, MCA members continue to advocate for small farmers at the local and state levels. Rodriques is one of six legacy farmers featured in Lady Buds, a documentary that shows the real-life struggles of moving into the regulated cannabis market. The MCA participated in a viewing of the documentary and Q&A session with state-level advocacy group Origins Council for lawmakers in Sacramento before a hearing on California’s craft cannabis bill AB-2691, and next will be showing the film at the Mendocino Film Festival. Since our interview, Arcanna Flowers and other farms from The Shop have been placed at Woody Harrelson’s new dispensary in West Hollywood, and several MCA farms won awards at The 2022 Emerald Cup. Consumers in Sacramento, Butte Counties, West Hollywood, and soon the Bay Area will have access to these small-batch products. And Katz added that “you can also come to Mendocino to experience our culture first hand.”

To support small cannabis farmers, ask your local budtender if they carry any sun-grown flower or small-batch products — and if they don’t … request some! It is also important to write and call local and state lawmakers to advocate for legislation that supports small farms and consumer safety. Those who want to learn more about the platform can check out MendocinoCannabis.Shop.

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