“Heal the Ocean and Seacology” With Penny Bauder & Graham Farrar

Everything we do at Glass House Farms is based on things provided by the Earth. Santa Barbara is my hometown and also where we house our operations, so I have a deep love for it and it’s environment. I’ve been on the board of a number of local environmental groups, including Heal the Ocean and […]

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Everything we do at Glass House Farms is based on things provided by the Earth. Santa Barbara is my hometown and also where we house our operations, so I have a deep love for it and it’s environment. I’ve been on the board of a number of local environmental groups, including Heal the Ocean and Seacology. The ocean, the climate and the overall environment are major parts of my life, so running a company that honors and improves our planet is very important to me.

As part of my series about companies who are helping to battle climate change, I had the pleasure of interviewing Graham Farrar.

Graham Farrar is the president and Chief Cannabis Officer of Glass House Group, one of the most rapidly growing, privately-held cannabis and hemp companies in the U.S., and the founder of Glass House Farms, the largest greenhouse operation in the U.S. He is a serial entrepreneur with more than 25 years of experience in the technology, sustainability, cannabis and hemp industries as well as in starting successful businesses in new and emerging markets.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

As one of the original employees at Software.com and electronics company Sonos, companies that are now publicly traded, I spent a quarter of a century on the frontlines of innovation and technology. After some incredible experiences in tech and an opportunity to take a break for a couple years, I felt like the timing was right for me to pursue my real passion — to help shape the future of the cannabis sector.

I recognized what I thought was an opportunity to combine my technology skills with my love for cannabis, and went on to found Glass House Farms, which now operates as the cultivation and manufacturing division of Glass House Group. Almost half a decade ago, I jumped in with both feet and started the company with my business partner, Kyle Kazan, and together we have developed a modern approach to agriculture.

There’s a lot more tech in cannabis and agriculture than people usually realize. I think of things as complex systems problems, where you figure out what inputs you need to give things to get the desired outputs. For example, you give instructions to a computer to get the results you want. It’s not that different with agriculture — if you give a plant consistent inputs, it will give you a consistent output. Every business has at least one biological system in it — people. Agriculture happens to have two — people and plants. We bring the two together in an innovative way to remain on the cutting edge of the industry.

Now, with our combined properties, Glass House Farms is the largest greenhouse cultivator in the state of California and one of the fastest growing, vertically integrated, privately held cannabis companies in the world. We ventured onto a road that was cleared by a lot of the cannabis pioneers and advocates, and I’m grateful for the work they put in to make this progress and evolution a possibility. I feel honored and lucky to work in the cannabis industry at this time and place. It’s not easy, but there’s nothing else I would rather be doing.

What is the mission of your company? What problems are you aiming to solve?

I’m a lifelong lover of cannabis and think that the world is a fundamentally better place with the plant in it. Luckily, I live in the great state of California, which represents about 27% of the total U.S. cannabis market and is well established as a cultural leader in the space.

I’ve been involved with cannabis for nearly 25 years and know that the way that we treat a plant has a meaningful and wide-ranging impact. A central goal of our company is to help people feel better with plants. We believe that cannabis has a lot to offer and we’re working to create a company that makes our community, our employees and our customers better.

Cannabis creates many of the same chemicals and cannabinoids that our body does. We have an endocannabinoid system, like we have a nervous system. Our body makes endogenous cannabinoids, and cannabis makes phytocannabinoids that work the same way. We know that the plant provides keys to the many locks which live in the human body, although we may not fully understand how it works yet. The purpose of our endocannabinoid system is to maintain homeostasis, or balance, throughout our body. Almost all ailments and diseases stem from some sort of imbalance, and cannabis is a plant that can help restore the body’s equilibrium.

At the same time, cannabis is a good time on a Friday night. It’s relaxing, enjoyable and fun to consume with friends. Here we have a plant that can help us live a better life by both minimizing some of the negative aspects of life and increasing the positives. You can’t say that about many things in this world.

I also believe the cannabis industry comes from an ethos of helping our communities. Cannabis is an agricultural crop on the cutting edge of science, which allows us to push forward on a number of techniques such as precision agriculture, water recapture, filtration and recycling. Glass House Farms is essentially pesticide-free, controlling diseases and pests with integrated pest management (IPM). With this strategy, we use Mother Nature as our partner, releasing good bugs to control the harmful ones, rather than spraying toxic chemicals. It’s a much softer touch on the planet and works together with Mother Nature instead of against her. As Glass House Farms implements these techniques, we have the opportunity to move agriculture in a more environmentally-friendly direction.

Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?

Everything we do at Glass House Farms is based on things provided by the Earth. Santa Barbara is my hometown and also where we house our operations, so I have a deep love for it and it’s environment. I’ve been on the board of a number of local environmental groups, including Heal the Ocean and Seacology. The ocean, the climate and the overall environment are major parts of my life, so running a company that honors and improves our planet is very important to me.

At Glass House Farms, we’ve always approached climate change by asking: How can we produce what we need with as light a touch and as beneficial a touch as possible on both the environment and the Santa Barbara community? One solution is to grow in greenhouses, an ideal approach to precision agriculture and one that also utilizes my tech background.

Growing in a greenhouse allows us to produce the highest quality product in the most efficient and sustainable ways, using the sun and beautiful Santa Barbara climate to nurture our plants. In place of air conditioning, we take the afternoon ocean breeze that Mother Nature gives us and use it to cool our greenhouses. In lieu of artificial lights, we use the sun that shines here 330 days per year. Instead of toxic pesticides, we use integrated pest management. We also capture all of the water the plants don’t use, clean it and recycle it so that no water is wasted and no nitrogen or fertilizers enter the groundwater table. When you put it all together, our farming process is one of the most environmentally sensitive agriculture systems in the world, and we are constantly working to improve upon it.

How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?

We use what’s called the triple bottom line approach, in which our operational strategy benefits our business, our customers and our environment. We research new ways to save on resources, which helps our business and keeps prices low for consumers. We use less energy and resources, thus benefiting the environment. In the end, we try to educate the consumer so they are able to better understand the differences between products and how our growing practices differ from that of other brands.

The youth led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion what are 5 things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.

I have two kids — a 10-year-old and a 14-year-old — and teaching them the importance of being environmentally friendly is a top priority. One of the most powerful things we can do is to recognize and nurture our connection to the environment. If kids are disconnected from nature, they feel like their actions toward the environment don’t matter. If they can recognize their connection, they realize that they’re part of an ecosystem, not on top of it, and that their actions have a tremendous impact.

It’s as easy as turning off the water when you’re not using it, throwing away as little food as possible or learning about our link with the ocean, the mountains and the sky. Recognizing that what we do affects all other parts of our ecosystem is one of the most important facts for the next generation to comprehend.

As parents, we are responsible for building that connection for our kids, so that they understand everything you bring home to them is produced using resources directly from the planet. We want to be as efficient as possible and take as little as possible to get what we need.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

  1. I wish I had realized the deep and stubborn stigma surrounding cannabis early on, and how much consumer education we need to eradicate it. When I first entered the space, I assumed people opposed to cannabis were simply uninformed or misinformed. The industry has shown that cannabis is not a gateway drug, that it houses a multitude of medical benefits and that it doesn’t have a high potential for abuse. Yet many people don’t acknowledge this information and choose to stay stuck in their position against the plant.
  2. In agriculture, around-the-clock work is a necessity. As the farmer’s saying goes: plants don’t care what day of the week it is. A plant will die on Christmas Day just as easy as a Tuesday. The fact that you can’t schedule meetings with plants or set deadlines is foreign to a lot of us who lack an extensive agricultural background. It is a 24/7, 365-day job, and farmers across all crops deserve a lot of recognition and appreciation for that.
  3. I didn’t realize how much technology is involved in effective precision agriculture nor how much my technological background would help me build Glass House Farms. For example, we rely on programming through advanced climate computers to create the ideal environment in our greenhouses. To have that background and an ability to understand data has been incredibly helpful in my success within the industry, which is something I‘m very grateful for.
  4. A large part of this business is being able to think strategically and make bets on your strategy. In order to succeed, you must see over the horizon and predict what will happen next. You have to understand your products, your market and your consumers, and how they all fit together. Taking a holistic approach is key in entrepreneurship, and my work at Glass House Farms has been eye opening on that front.
  5. Finally, I wish I had known the importance of adaptability. The rollout of cannabis regulations in California has not been what we expected and we were forced to adjust. Having an open mind and a willingness to venture outside of predetermined ways of thinking are crucial characteristics of entrepreneurs. Cannabis highlights this because it’s so new and dynamic, with no written playbook. There’s nothing like it in history — no references or guides to work from — so we are forging a new path and building a new industry. We have a lot to work on but I’m thankful for the opportunity to be a part of it because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance.

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 about that?

There are many people I’m grateful for, but one person that comes to mind is John McFarland, the CEO of both Software.com and Sonos. I started as a summer intern at Software.com when I was only 17 years old during the early days of the dot-com boom. John took a bet on me and mentored me throughout my internship. At the end of the summer, I told him I didn’t want to go back to college because I saw so much opportunity at Software.com. He cared enough to call my parents and make sure they approved before offering me the full-time role. I learned from John and went on to manage a department of 30 people. Software.com then went public, at one point reaching a market cap greater than that of Hilton Hotels. I couldn’t have imagined a better start to my career.

Eventually, I bought a boat and sailed from Santa Barbara to New Zealand, returning two years later. Once back in California, I called John and told him I needed something to do besides work on picking centerpieces for weddings. He invited me to join him and his friends who were brainstorming ideas for their next project and further developing their idea of a wireless iPod for homes. I was the sixth person to walk in the door to what became Sonos, now another public multibillion-dollar company. I wouldn’t have had these opportunities without John.

I watched him grow two companies from 20 employees to thousands, transforming startups into businesses worth billions of dollars. He built these companies thoughtfully and with the perfect balance of business and personal skills. His leadership style informed the way I approached building Glass House Farms.

You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Of all the things I could inspire people to do, I would choose to create a stronger connection to nature and, in particular, to realize how beneficial plants can be for people. We’ve drifted a bit too far on the spectrum, trying to control rather than cooperate with nature. This is evident in big pharma, where they don’t look at plants and nature holistically, but instead as individual molecules. We need to look at how we can interact with nature more effectively, especially in plant medicine, rather than hold onto this idea that we are smarter than it. We’ve already discovered many ways that cannabis exemplifies the potential of plant medicine.

To get there, we need to recognize that just because we don’t understand something doesn’t mean it’s not effective. A full spectrum cannabis extract helps alleviate symptoms of Parkinson’s, epilepsy, PTSD, anxiety, insomnia and much more. We should recognize the opportunity first, then research how cannabis works within the body, rather than jump to the conclusion that our lack of understanding means there’s no benefit.

The idea that we need to fix nature is a flawed one. We must recognize that we are identical with nature and figure out how to better integrate with it. At Glass House Farms, we know that cannabis can help improve people’s lives as we move from a prohibition framework, where we pretend that cannabis doesn’t exist, to a regulatory framework, where we work to make sure we have a healthy relationship with the plant. Society will be a better place by allowing more people to access cannabis in smarter ways.

Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?

“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

This gets to the heart of what it means to be an entrepreneur and goes hand-in-hand with how Steve Jobs articulated that the world we live in is created by people no smarter than us. If you think you can make a difference, you can. It’s imperative that society sees the world in a slightly better state than reality and that we live our lives in a way to bring that improved state into fruition. It begins with the belief that we can change the world in a positive way and follows with a life of intention to make that happen.

What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?

You can follow me personally on Twitter and LinkedIn, and check out Glass House Farms on Instagram for insight into the operations of one of the largest and most sustainable greenhouse cultivators in the world.

This was so inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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