Hydrate yourself and find a skincare regimen that works for you, whether it’s Vitamin E or Chamomile. Also, drinking a lot of water can lead to healthy, glowing skin. Our skin is the largest organ on your body, so we need to take care of it!
As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sara Rotman.
Now in her 5th year as a cannabis professional, Sara Rotman is CEO and Founder of Wellfounded Botanicals and is an industry leader and pioneer. In addition to launching Wellfounded, Rotman owns and operates one of California’s largest legal outdoor cultivation farms (the largest woman-owned legal outdoor cultivation farm in CA), described as the gold standard by CDFA compliance officers, local politicians and fellow farmers alike.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I began my career in the fashion, beauty and entertainment space, which led to me starting and running a leading New York-based marketing, branding and creative agency. I was traveling nonstop and gone for weeks at a time when one day in 2014, I was in an important meeting and began to lose consciousness. I had been suffering from a mysterious series of painful symptoms, which turned out to be undiagnosed Crohn’s disease. It’d gone undiagnosed for so long that I almost died. I was immediately hospitalized and dosed with opioids.
This next chapter of my life started me on a lengthy odyssey of healing. I had tried everything to restore my health and change my lifestyle, but honestly, I could barely walk or eat, yet alone work — ultimately, I ended up selling my company since I couldn’t perform as needed. It also didn’t help that the medicine prescribed to me was not working — not only was it expensive, but the side effects were dangerous. My husband had been wanting me to try cannabis and suggested products made with high doses of CBD, the non-psychoactive compound found in cannabis and hemp plants. Needless to say, I was skeptical but out of options. I tried it and the results were incredible. For me, it reduced inflammation and took away my debilitating pain. I could finally control my symptoms and reduce my chronic inflammation.
However, I couldn’t access products that were consistent, safe and accurate in terms of dosing, quality control and actual composition of cannabinoids. At the time, my husband and I already had land in Santa Barbara where we grew our own organic food. It soon became clear that we had to start growing our own medicine on our organic family farm, dedicated to wellness for people and the planet.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) has surprised and saddened me. I had not even heard that term before I moved to California. Unfortunately, NIMBY has become a painfully familiar phrase lobbed at every cannabis farmer and our supporters since Proposition 15 passed. And one of the techniques NIMBY’s use to great effect to hinder any new industry in California is the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The mere utterance of the phrase ‘CEQA’ can send even the most hardened developer running for the door. It is such a potent tool that the majority of businesses who even come up against the threat of a CEQA lawsuit almost always bend to the will of their opponents and often abandon their projects. These suits can cost well into 7 figures and most businesses simply can’t sustain such a fight, and many of those who can are unwilling to with an undetermined outcome. Even if the law is on your side, a CEQA suit can bankrupt you before you get out of the starting gate, and more often than not, that is the opposition’s main goal. To force an accommodation or dissolution because the fight is too expensive to engage.
Very sadly, as a pioneer in the space as one of the first legal outdoor cannabis farms in the state, we have been targeted by an opposition group as a case study in how to prevent legal cannabis farmers from actually operating on our own land. So together with Santa Barbara County (who has been named in the suit, with our farm as a real party of interest), we are fighting a lengthy and expensive battle to keep my independent cannabis farm alive. Our local ordinance requires that all cannabis farmers indemnify the County against legal action, so even though we believe the suit is specious and we feel confident we will prevail, our farm must pay our legal fees and those of the county. Making the case that the whole point of the action is to drive us to financial ruin.
And yet we stand strong. We refuse to submit. A stubborn refusal to die is not surprising, nor is it uncommon in any entrepreneurs’ actions. It’s just part of the job and our DNA.
What has surprised me is the requirements to be deeply engaged in our local and statewide civic process. At no other time in my career has this level of constant engagement been so necessary. And I am grateful for it. I am a far more active member of my community and more involved in the process that makes the local laws that have far more impact on my life and business than anything that happens on the National level. It was during this engagement that I have learned other less surprising but no fewer distressing facts. For example: Today, less than 10% of cannabis leaders are women, and even fewer are people of color. As the owner and operator of the largest woman-owned outdoor cultivation in California, I can tell you the current model is not built for independent operators like me to succeed, or even dare to enter. Even if we do amass sufficient capital to begin, it can all fall apart at the local level if we’re not engaging with our civic leaders in an effective way. Local legislation continues to be a moving target, putting small business in peril as local leaders bend to NIMBY pressure. The onus should not be on the ‘little guy’ to pave the way for a more inclusive and competitive industry, but currently it is.
Activism has become a core pillar of our business and of my personal career. In addition to Wellfounded, I am a founding member of the North County Farmers Guild, an organization dedicated to advocacy for farmers, and our campaign ‘Good Farmers, Great Neighbors,’ dedicated to driving education and awareness around the plight of farmers locally and around the state. We have also founded a membership based consumer program called Santa Barbara Sun Grown that showcases and celebrates farmers and produce from all stripes of Santa Barbara Agriculture and connects a community with common fundamental values: Love for the land, love for the miracle of growing, and a dedication to making the community a model for responsible, cooperative farming. I also plan on putting my money where my mouth is — my aim is to launch a fund to support independent female operators and women of color.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Even if you are a beginner in a new industry, learn everything you can about what you don’t know so you can be sure any ‘expert’ you work with has verified credentials. In the fledgling legal cannabis industry, there is a whole cottage industry of informal ‘masters’ who peddle themselves as vastly experienced professionals able to safely guide your new business to a successful result. Most of these folks have zero experience in the real world and even less professional acumen.
While there are exceptions to every rule — and I have had the great fortune to know some very talented people in cannabis — as cannabis is only just now emerging into the legal market, there are virtually no professionals who have operated at scale as that simply wasn’t possible a scant 3 years ago. As we worked to create scale and sustainable margins for our farm, we were besieged by a plethora of these so called ‘consultants’. As we ramped up our knowledge while also ramping up our farm, licensing and local entitlement, we had the misfortune of trusting a few of them very early on. This resulted in a very expensive series of painful mistakes, that not only cost us money it cost us precious time — something no farmer can afford to squander.
As a longtime entrepreneur I knew what I was being told didn’t make sense for any business, but I didn’t have the experience of running a farm to know how to make it better. Fortunately, it didn’t take long for us to decide that we were farmers first and cannabis professionals second. Once that was decided we sought out the best farming professional in the region who had a long history of safely guiding our neighboring organic strawberry and wine grape farmers towards successful practices. This was pivotal to our learning about how to safely and effectively manage our crops and agricultural business. The licensing was a difficult task that I had committed to tackling on my own as strict adherence to all local and state laws continues to be a zero-sum game for us. So, as we were learning how to farm, my primary focus has always been learning how to safely maintain strict compliance with state and local agency requirements — even as they continuously evolve. Thankfully that was a responsibility we never abdicated to a consultant because a mistake there could cost us our licensing and our livelihood.
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?
I credit much of my work ethic to Stacy Drummond, a Creative Director I worked under when I was at Sony Music. She was, and still is, a mentor figure to me to this day. I call her a ‘mama grizzly bear’ because she is absolutely unforgiving in her desire for getting things done the right way, while remaining incredibly humane in terms of making sure you get there safely. Stacy taught me about integrity, but more importantly, how to be disciplined and kind in parallel. She’s influenced most of my management style and taught me how to scale a business, become more independent, and how to really listen to my staff.
A good example of this was back in the day when I was a Junior Art Director at Sony. I was taking on too many assignments and kept saying ‘yes’ to projects that came my way. I was overworked and exhausted and ended up working 18+ hour days for 15–20 days in a row. It was, frankly, way more than one person could take on at a time, but I was so afraid of letting my employer down, saying ‘no’ and failing — or worse yet, being perceived as incapable. When the physical toll of the excess work started to show as my facade was cracking, Stacy noticed. She sternly but gently explained that in order to be successful, I needed to be transparent with her — if I’m unable to take some work on, that’s OK! Just let her know before I drop any of the hundred balls I was juggling and do it in enough time to make it possible for someone to successfully take on what I could not. She helped me realize it’s crucial to set professional boundaries for yourself and communicate your limits and to be aware of the other team members and their ability to both help and guide my professional process and progress.
Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
As a beauty and branding expert, the opportunity to turn my home remedies into a viable wellness brand that could help others was obvious. For me, THC’s psychotropic effect did make cannabis a challenge, but the promise of CBD was more than just exciting, it was a lifesaver. By creating therapies that combine the highest allowable concentration of full spectrum CBD and THC as our core active ingredient with other powerful healing botanicals native to our California family farm — Wellfounded was born. I sought out the best chemists working in the business and set about making the best supplements and skin care products available-anywhere that are also environmentally friendly. It’s sustainability for the three P’s: plants, people and the planet.
I’m also a huge advocate for the plant, and what it can do for people — I now know first-hand how it can help and the benefits it provides. There’s still an enormous amount of fear and a stigma around cannabis. Educating others and serving as a local and statewide advocate for the cannabis industry, and really pioneering in the wellness place is of utmost importance to me.
Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
- Prioritize good, quality sleep. As someone living with Crohn’s disease, one of the things I do when I feel a flare-up coming on is try to get as much sleep as possible. I take a lot of CBD with minimal THC to sleep better.
- Quit caffeine. Some of you might gasp out loud at the thought of this, but consuming caffeine can bring unnecessary tension and anxiety into your life. Ever since I stopped drinking it, I noticed a decrease in my stress and anxiety levels — and my skin even improved.
- Get your nature on and step out into the sunshine. It’s true what they say about Vitamin D, just remember to use sunblock!
- Hydrate yourself and find a skincare regimen that works for you, whether it’s Vitamin E or Chamomile. Also, drinking a lot of water can lead to healthy, glowing skin. Our skin is the largest organ on your body, so we need to take care of it.
- Eat healthy, locally and organic. Extra stress on the LOCALLY. Support your local small farmers. Get to know them. Understand what you are putting in your body, where it came from and who cultivated it. Talk to your farmers, learn about their practices. It makes the food that much better and you soon begin to understand why a tomato grown with love and ripened under the sun can taste so much different than the one you get in store that ripened in a cargo hold traveling thousands of miles. The more you know about your food and where it came from, the better choices you can make. None of this is new, but it makes a huge difference in your health. When I got well it started by literally growing all our own food to ensure a safe supply, then we branched out to other farmers whose practices we trusted and admired. I’ve always been an avid cook and these lessons informed the joyfulness of my cooking. I’ve learned over time how much feeding others feeds me. To me, cooking represents love and is beautiful, primal and pure. Perhaps even more importantly, it’s a means of salvation.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Take reforestation to heart. If everyone cared about protecting and replanting trees, the world would be a healthier place — it has a trickle-down effect. Trees can help fight global warming and climate change since they remove the carbon dioxide in the air and release oxygen. I also encourage everyone to plant as many trees as you possibly can, anywhere you can. It takes decades for new forests to mature, and we all have to do our part for our planet and for future generations to come.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- Honestly, I wouldn’t wish good advice on anyone. I am so happy that I didn’t know how hard this part of my career would be before I started, or I might not have ever gone down this road. Inevitable failure is only overcome if you refuse to recognize it. So not knowing what I was in for was a huge asset.
- However, I do wish someone told me the hard truth about red wine not being all that healthy for you! The acceptable levels of poisons and pesticides that the USDA allows Americans to eat and drink is a concern. I’m not anti-farming and very much not anti-wine (I truly love good wine), however, I’m definitely anti-pesticide.
- To wear sunblock every day, no matter how little sun you think you are getting.
- That things are never so bad that they can’t get worse. And they will only make you more formidable.
- It’s OK to ask for help! Just don’t abuse it.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
I think that regenerative agriculture impacts everyone and everything, including sustainability. Large scale industrial farming has created a broken system, globally and is killing local, independent farmers. It’s also negatively impacting the diversity within our food ecosystem and the health of every consumer who has spent a lifetime consuming food grown with heavy use of pesticides. The environmental impacts that cascade from this broken system are the things that I’m most passionate about.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
You can visit our site at: https://wellfounded.com/. We’re also on Instagram, @wellfoundedbotanicals.
Thank you for these fantastic insights!