Many cannabis farms are struggling to make ends meet, especially in California where there is a wholesale flower glut. Despite these challenges, the multi-state cannabis brand Stone Road has seen significant expansion in the last two years. Stone Road’s flagship farm is in Nevada City, California and its products are also available in Oklahoma and Massachusetts.
Founder Lex Corwin spoke with Ganjapreneur about his vision for the brand, the setbacks and triumphs along the way, and how they’ve achieved regular growth in the historically fickle cannabis market. The thread tying the brand together from its natural farming practices to its unconventionally beautiful marketing assets is authenticity: everything aligns with Corwin’s core values and taste. “We’re trying to go weird because I am weird and a lot of my friends are weird and we like weird and beautiful and interesting things. And so that’s honestly the pillar of how we approach branding,” he said.
The young entrepreneur first learned about cannabis farming from hippy elders in Northern Oregon and took that knowledge home to Southern California. Those first teachers are why the brand uses living soil and seeks out natural pesticides like ladybugs and predator mites rather than spraying OMRI-certified pesticides.
Stone Road purchased its Nevada City property out of foreclosure in 2016. Over the next year, they removed almost 10 tons of garbage and rehabilitated the remote 57-acre lot. As they rehabbed the land, they installed an artesian well, bringing the farm completely off-grid. Stone Road hires employees who are local to the area and teach them farming skills in the same way that Corwin got his start growing cannabis.
Currently, Stone Road cultivates greenhouse-grown cannabis on one acre and leaves the majority of their land natural and untamed. This is ideal for the local flora and fauna but can bring more pests. The team is realistic about growing in the woods and always seeks out the natural answer to their problems rather than disrupting their local wildlife. Corwin brought in a veteran farmer to consult on their pest issue in the first few runs and their advice was to look to nature for any potential pest’s natural predators. They use beneficial insects, fungi, amoebas, and more in the soil to keep natural predators at bay. They also spray plants down with water in the morning and at dusk to reduce native colonies of aphids or local mites.
The farm focuses on ultra-small batches, constantly providing new flavors rather than sticking to the same thing. Corwin travels to small farms to seek out specialty strains grown with Stone Road’s principles, which is one way that they procure strains with unique and notable aromatic profiles. They currently have 8 SKUs and within those, they may have 3-12 flavors at any time. Corwin explained, “Cannabis is an agricultural crop, a crop that hasn’t had a great deal of standardization, and people are always going to want something new. So for us, it made the most sense that we constantly push out new batches. We don’t have one product that is just our product that we keep making, it is constantly rotating.”
Stone Road’s flavors continue to change but the quality is always consistent. Corwin is passionate about only offering products that he would want to use himself. While in the early days, supply chain complications with partnering manufacturers forced Stone Road to push through product that wasn’t fully up to their standards in order to stay afloat, Corwin now only partners with like-minded people to sell Stone Road products outside of California. These partners include Solar Cannabis Co. in Massachusetts and other living soil, natural farmers in Oklahoma. The brand plans to expand soon into New York and other new states in the coming year. When Corwin is looking for like-minded partners, he’s not just seeking out natural farmers who grow clean cannabis, he’s also calling in fellow weirdos.
Stone Road’s branding centers around empowerment, being yourself, and celebrating every facet of beauty. “To us, we don’t do the sleazy thing of selling sex to sell, it’s more that we use a lot of sex-positive people that believe that the human body is beautiful in all its forms and iterations and we’re there to complement that. We want to show cool, beautiful — sometimes unconventionally beautiful — people consuming our products and enjoying them. Ultimately, that was born out of trying to show the cannabis industry as it actually is, because it is unbelievably diverse,” Corwin said. “We have a small contingent of very, very, very loyal followers. And I don’t know if it’s that they see themselves in the branding or, you know, as a proudly gay person having other gay and queer people supporting the brand because obviously, we gotta stick together!”
Stone Road doesn’t spend money on advertising but instead provides a platform for people who consume their products. A lot of models featured in their marketing reached out organically or the team noticed them and dug their look. Weird, interesting, and beautiful is Corwin’s preferred aesthetic and this is presented through the artistic, thought-provoking imagery that represents the brand. He is excited about their entry into the New York marketplace, where new team members are introducing a new wave of creativity for the brand.
Every step Corwin takes alongside Stone Road is sure-footed in authenticity and this may be the secret sauce that led to 700% growth in 2020, further growth in 2021, and record-breaking sales months in 2022. He doesn’t bother himself with comparing their products to other brands or bending their marketing to the trends; instead, the team creates products and a message that they would want to receive. “The thesis is working and we just need to create better and better products, and more consistently,” said Corwin, who also doesn’t pay himself a salary, choosing instead to put profits into paying fair wages and crafting great products.
In the coming year, they plan to eliminate petroleum-based plastic from their supply chain, which will be accomplished once they fully change their joint 5-packs packaging to air-tight, child-proof tins. They are also launching a gummy product in partnership with Sundae School made with all-natural fruit juices and sugars. The edible will be Sundae Schools’ first gummy made with solventless hash. Eventually, Corwin hopes to have a product in every form factor, and looks forward to further expanding across the US.
To learn more about Stone road visit https://stoneroad.org/.