Hemp cultivation expert and CBD ingredient supplier Steven Turetsky of Shi Farms knows his way around cannabis, both the plant and the industry. At Cured, we know when it comes to creating the best possible CBD products you have to start with the best possible source. Steve and Joe discuss the hemp cultivation and sourcing industry, what the future holds for this powerhouse plant, and how you the consumer can make a more educated decision with your dollar.
Shi is attempting to find the sweet spot between the craft cultivation needs of High-CBD Hemp and commercial agriculture type scale necessary to produce large quantities of CBD ingredients. Being sustainable is not just about green initiatives, it’s also about sustainable businesses practices. They want to be a steward of the hemp industry for a long time and educating and assisting farmers is a good first step.
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Podcast: The Cured Collective
Host: Joe Sheehey
Guest: Steve Turetsky
File ID: CC 011 transcript audio
Joe: [00:00] Alright, Steve. Well, thanks for joining me here on the podcast. We’re super stoked to have you here. It’s been really cool just to get to know you over the last couple of months and see how aligned our brands are and everything we’re doing in the hemp world. That’s why we have you here, is to talk about what you got going on at Shi. We’re super excited to be working with you this year. As you guys, the listeners, will hear more and more there’s a lot of reasons why we’ve partnered and why we are aligned, and we want to share that story here. Thanks for joining me, man; and to start, let’s just get a little background on yourself and what got you into this crazy world that we live in.
Steve: [00:41] No doubt. Thanks for having me, Joe. My story in cannabis started 2012, sophomore at University of Pittsburgh. I’m a Philly guy and went across the state for college as a pre-med student. I was on that journey as a science kid thinking I wanted to be a doctor, and I really took an interest in medical cannabis as I started to just go through my research and talk to some labs, the more traditional labs, try to get internships and nothing was sticking; so I just kind of wasn’t sure about traditional medicine and started to do other research. Right around that time was when Amendment 64 was in debate in Colorado. I saw that and took a really big interest in that medical side and decided to apply to go to this conference out in Colorado, which was the first national marijuana business conference. I applied for a fellowship at my university that would send me out on a full scholarship to go and learn about a new industry, because they had a program for that. Got approved, initially, and was thrilled. Booked my flights, the whole thing. About 3 weeks before the conference, university said we’re rescinding your fellowship. We can’t support cannabis as an initiative because of federal funding.
Joe: [01:53] I was super curious about that. I was going to ask about the lay of the land there.
Steve: [01:59] It’s 2012. There’s nothing, right? Colorado is setting the landscape at that time to go recreational, but there was nothing. They’re really adverse, and obviously universities have even more strict rules because they’re getting federal funding for research. To send someone for research in the industry was taboo. So, called my mom freaking out… I have all these plane tickets, things like that. She said, you should just go anyway. Give it a shot. I go out to this conference in November 2012, and the day before that conference recreational passed. I fly out to Denver, just on a whim. I’m the only guy in there wearing a suit, everyone’s still looking hippie back in 2012 and I’m a college kid in a suit just going around the industry; and I met a company called Dixie – it’s an infused product manufacturer in the space on the marijuana side – and asked for an internship… and the rest kind of just started writing itself. I started interning for them in college, doing anything from the ground up, wrapping chocolate bars or whatever I was asked to do, and started there full time after I graduated. I really was a student of the industry in the first part of my career and I think that set me up for a different kind of perspective on the industry, which was one that was forged in professionalism and high quality and doing things in the cannabis industry like you would in any other industry that is formally regulated.
Joe: [03:25] Sure.
Steve: [03:26] I was just brought up in that environment. You fast forward a little bit and we started launching some CBD brands at Dixie, and I really took a liking to those. As recreational started coming online, the mission of the company started to change slightly because the profitability in that part of the world is in getting people high and my initial interest in the industry was in getting people better.
Joe: [03:53] You were going across the nation with Dixie, right? Setting up companies in other states. That’s a really interesting part about THC versus CBD and what we can do in the CBD world. That’s actually what made Cured Cured was the fact that we could have this nationwide industry.
Steve: [04:16] Absolutely. We saw a lot of issues with that. My role at Dixie when I was there was national operations, so I was copycatting the model in Colorado and having to set up in every single state. Super capital intensive. The rules in every state are different. Different consumer needs in every state on that front. It was definitely challenging. The CBD story, having a national audience was enticing for sure. You can touch more people more quickly.
Joe: [4:47] And it’s for more people. You see the beauty of the plant and you see the beauty in all the cannabinoids, but there’s a lot of people that think THC, and they think hemp, cannabis, marijuana, and they think it’s all one thing. They think it’s THC. They think high. They think stoner. Which is like, whatever. That stigma, that’s what we’re fighting, obviously, and there’s nothing wrong with THC.
Steve: [5:14] Education is everything. Hemp and CBD have been a really good method for getting people comfortable with the plant because there are a bunch of different uses. Psychoactive effects are a part of that, it’s part of the plant’s story, but there are a lot of other effects that people are not aware of and need to be educated, and that’s what hemp and CBD has really done. We would get calls on our CBD side at Dixie – I’m sure you guys get the same calls – from a 75 year old in Texas that is using this just to sleep at night; or someone with GI issues that it takes the edge off; or maybe just it’s something to get someone through sitting in traffic on their way to work. All of those things are wellness focused things that it doesn’t have to be an obvious medical effect or doesn’t have to be getting you high. It can just be, wow, this makes my life better. That was the interest that took Drew and I – Drew Ferguson’s my business partner now, and I worked with him at Dixie – that’s what drew us to the hemp space and the success we had at Dixie on the CBD side.
Joe: [6:23] So you moved out… you finished your degree… you said you were pre-med. What was the actual degree?
Steve: [6:31] So I finished with a double major, economics and biology. I stayed the pre-med course and did all those courses, then picked up an economics background as I saw that this was more a business opportunity than for me to be in the medical side of cannabis. I ended up writing both my capstones on cannabis which was really funny, to the chagrin of all the advisors in my space. A really funny anecdote with that is I’m sitting in my economics graduation, and I’m sitting next to my mom and she’s just hanging out, talking to people. They go into the grand thing where they say everyone’s names in the department, what they’re graduating with and what they’re going to do next. It starts classic, like Molly’s going to freakin’ Harvard, and this person is going to go to London School of Economics, and everything like that. And riding down the list and they get to Steve Turetsky, and she goes – Steven Turetsky, he’s umm… he’s going to go work for a botanical extracts company in Colorado… just like that, super awkward. I get a standing ovation round of applause. Everyone there had no idea what she was saying, and everyone in my department knew what I was doing. I was the black sheep of the department, so that was really satisfying. I remember when they were reading all those people’s names, I look at my mom like what are they going to think of me? And she’s like yeah, you’re fine. Learning to be proud of what I was doing and supportive of myself was a big thing I had to overcome, because the stigma of the industry was even living in me. I was still not buying into what I was getting involved with, so that was crazy. You really have to look yourself in the mirror and be like, “oh, no, we’re doing good stuff here.” It doesn’t matter what people are telling you.
Joe: [08:20] Right, and that gets really hard when you go through – and we can dive into this a little bit – when you start getting into things like fucking, just banking and credit card processing and you’re like, “am I criminal?” Living in this space is hard. Starting a business is hard, let’s be real. Starting a business in this space, especially years ago when we both did it, is extremely hard and now… I think that’s one thing that frustrates me about the lay of the land now, is people don’t see all the grinding – and we’re still grinding – the things that we had to overcome in the very beginning are fucking tough. So, you moved out here. You’re with Dixie. When did you and Drew-
Steve: [09:09] Make the big leap?
Joe: [09:10] Yeah.
Steve: [09:11] It was late ’16. We were the grinders at Dixie, so we’re the ones getting in a U-haul and driving to Vegas for conferences with a trade show booth, and just putting in the hard work on the ground level. We called it our cannabis MBA because we learned so much there. You learn the good things how to run a business, and you learn things that you should do differently. We just looked at each other and said we should do something ourselves. We’re capable. We have the tools. We can do this. And it took a lot of time – when I started at Dixie, I thought I signed up at Google and I was going to work there for the next 40 years and retire. And we got hungry. We really wanted to make an impact on our own and start our own thing and start doing some consulting specifically in the hemp space. I did some traveling around the world doing some hemp research and things like that. We got an opportunity at this farm in Pueblo that had amazing infrastructure and it just really needed someone driving the bus – like it had the wheels and everything, and it really just needed someone driving the bus. We went down there, took a look at it, and we said yeah, we’ll put the wheels on this place. That’s how we started building Shi Farms. The beginning of ’17 needed to begin to monetize this business that had infrastructure but no leadership, so we worked with the investors to get some more money into the company and start building the brand.
Joe: [10:42] You immediately went after raising capital?
Steve: [10:45] Yeah, we got some capital in and started to go to work. The big thing was you got to turn the wheels of a business, so you got to make money. You got to start creating things. We were able to generate cash flow with the hemp that was on site and look to plant that year. The best thing we did – and this is now a staple in the way I would entrepreneur in the future too – is you got to start small. Whatever you can chew, just chew that. Don’t try to eat the whole pie. In ’17 we did 15 acres because that was what we were capable of. We put all the clones we could in the ground and we just went for it. You hear about now in this space people trying to plant 10,000 acres or 20,000 acres or we’re going to go into 10 states the next day. We learned that the hard way at Dixie. You try to go into 4 states at once, that’s cumbersome. Just do what you can do. So, we started with 15 acres and we did really well, and we learned a bunch. We weren’t cultivators by trade before. You have to learn the ropes. So, we learned the ropes and we started building the company. It was interesting because when people ask me about the first year in business, how did we start building the brand equity, the mission, the customer service… how did you start building all those things; and the secret in our industry – which I’m sure you realize – there’s really no secret. The biggest thing you can do is just do what you say you’re going to do.
Joe: [12:12] That’s it.
Steve: [12:13] If you just run a real business with high integrity and your customer places an order and you have product to deliver, that’s enough, which is nuts. You don’t have to do anything special.
Joe: [12:25] It’s very easy to complicate that. We could probably talk from the entrepreneurial perspective for a really long time. That was the same for us. It was like creating that minimal viable product. Who the hell knows what’s going to sell? Just try to sell something, get it going, and see what your customer base does and what they need and evolve from there. That’s continued to evolve for you. Let’s talk about Shi specifically and what the brand is, what it stands for, because there’s a lot that I want to share with our listeners, and the industry standards need to be held, and I think that’s what you guys are doing really well. Talk about what Shi is, what it stands for.
Steve: [13:16] Shi stands for “Sustainable Hemp Initiative” and we came up with that name for a couple of reasons. The first reason was sustainable business practices. Like we said, doing what you say you’re going to do. Build long term relationships and create quality product that allows this industry to flourish, because we really want to be stewards for this industry and push it forward so that all of our companies can succeed together and really educate the population, educate people on hemp and CBD. The second founding principle was sustainability in terms of green initiatives, which I think we talked about before we started. It’s funny, when you want to buy a bunch of toys and I want to get solar panels, and I want to do wind farm and the whole thing, the investors go, you should make some money first. Sell some CBD first then we can talk about all the fun stuff. One thing we have done to start to poke away at that initiative is a program Bokashi, which is you take your old hemp stalks and you can turn them into fertilizer for your crops, so we’re actually trying to create some zero waste initiative where the whole plant is being used. Today it’s Bokashi and in the future, we hope to do industrial products because CBD isn’t where the buck stops with hemp. The other anecdote for why we named it Shi was we were doing some research online and we found that Shi is another name for an albatross, which is a bird with the longest wing span in the animal kingdom, and we thought that’s fitting for hemp because it represents today it’s CBD, but hemp can do so many things. There’s that one book by Jack Herer, 27,000 Uses for Hemp. We can displace a lot of different issues.
Joe: [14:50] Is that that hemp bound book?
Steve: [14:53] No, that one is another good one. This is called The Emperor Wears No Clothes. Going back to when I was at that first marijuana business conference, I had an old man come up to me, and I don’t know if he was actually a real person, but he was there. This person comes up to me, it’s the first person I talk to, and he hands me this book. And he’s like, I know you’re here for marijuana, son, but this hemp stuff – this is the truth. Read this book. And I go, “okay” And he goes, “what’s your address?” I give him my address. Three weeks later when I get back to campus, that book shows up in my dorm. This guy sends me this book and I read it cover to cover and it’s like this omen that you’re going to do hemp one day. So, go figure.
Joe: [15:35] The Constitution was written on hemp paper. Sails on the ships when people were immigrating here in the very beginning of the United States were made from hemp. The uses of hemp are – well, what did you say? 2,700?
Steve: [15:53] 27,000! I might be misquoting the book, but I think it’s that many.
Joe: [15:57] We’re living… it’s amazing to see hemp coming back because it’s been 70, 80 years where something was kind of wrapped up into the same classification of marijuana but it wasn’t the same thing… but paper mills were coming online and hemp was really threatening, so we can make a buck through a different avenue here, through trees and paper and so many other things.
Steve: [16:21] We can do a whole podcast on history of hemp.
Joe: [16:24] And nobody asked questions for a really long time, and now it’s changing.
Steve: [16:30] Which is amazing because CBD has been that usher. It wasn’t necessarily all these industrial uses, so it’s amazing that CBD has already had such impact on all populations in our country that people are really opening their eyes, and that’s been the steward that’s driving this train; and now as it drives, we’re going to unlock a lot of new sustainable technologies in paper, in plastic, in biodiesel, all these great things that hemp can do.
Joe: [16:58] I Last time you were here you were talking about… I don’t even know if you were saying the dual-purposed crop, where you’re talking about the different layers… we don’t even have to dive into that here, but the things that you can do and the possibilities are actually endless. I think something that’s really confusing for a lot of people is the difference between hemp and marijuana and the fact that they’re both cannabis. And the fact that now the hemp that you cultivate for CBD for cannabinoid extraction looks like marijuana. So there’s been a process to get it there versus where hemp used to be just industrial use, use to be very stalky. What has that taken? Obviously, a lot of work has gone into creating what the hemp is that you cultivate compared to the industrial hemp.
Steve: [17:47] Absolutely. There’s been a lot of really smart breeders in Colorado that over the last probably 10 years have started to reengineer marijuana back to more of an original type of hemp product. We go back a little bit, hemp and marijuana are the same plant. Same species, same genus before that. What you’re really doing is you’re creating cultivars that are selected for a use. You have original hemp that grows wild in a lot of parts of the world that’s really is this industrial type product. Low in cannabinoids, really high in fiber content, has textile uses, all that kind of stuff. As we’ve realized that I can clip the flowers off this cannabis plant, it makes me feel good – whether it’s super high or just a decent wellness effect – we started selecting for that, this is millenia ago, people say if I select for this THC trait, I’m going to get high. Let’s start selecting for that over and over and over again. So that’s how we have the marijuana that we have today. Even that’s been supercharged. In the 70s, the marijuana that our parents’ generation was smoking, our grandparents, is nothing like…
Joe: [18:55] They come back into it now and are like what the fuck is this.
Steve: [18:57] I know! And I’m a mids guy. I like the weed that we had in high school. That was great. Give me mids all day long. Move out to Colorado and like, I can’t even finish a whole joint to myself. It’s definitely changed and for better for worse, for some people love that; some people that’s not great for. When we talk about the CBD side of things, there’s lot of different cannabinoids in the cannabis species. What we’ve done in the past 10 years is we’ve started selecting for CBD again because as we started selecting for THC, you lost a lot of these other rare cannabinoids out the profile. They basically took marijuana plants of today and started breeding them back into the industrial variety that’s very low in cannabinoids but has a ratio of CBD that’s higher than THC. The baby of that, over many generations is this, what I call a medicinal hemp plant, which is below 0.3 THC so it’s defined as hemp – those are just really legal terms to help us work in these worlds. A plant that grows marijuana cultivars, it grows with a high cannabinoid content, but specializing in high CBD content with low THC, so now we have a non-psychoactive plant that has the CBD that allows us to create high CBD products because that extraction process is now more efficient, since you have higher CBD content.
Joe: [20:18] What about the other cannabinoids? Are you specifically showing… I mean, you’re talking about all the other purposes of just hemp in general, but what about all the other cannabinoids that people don’t talk about? We can dive into the full spectrum and terpenes and that type of stuff. Are you having more interest in other cannabinoids right now, or more just the other industrial purposes of hemp?
Steve: [20:44] No, cannabinoids is definitely first. As we look at CBD today and then next year, the following year, it’s really going to be trying to purse out these rare cannabinoids. CBG and CBN are probably the leading two that are coming online and people are starting to research on, and a lot of your listeners in the wellness community, and these are things that are going to make a big impact. CBN is more of a sedative so for sleep it’s really good, people with insomnia. CBG we’ve heard a lot about GI issues and I think that’s going to be something that we’re really going to see research coming online now as universities start to crawl in to being able to research, especially in this country and abroad they’re already working on it. These other cannabinoids are going to be really interesting. Going back to the agricultural perspective, because it really starts with the farmer doing selective breeding to try to push these other rare cannabinoids so we can make products that are not cost-prohibitive and have these other cannabinoids in them, so people can start seeing the benefits of these other cannabinoids.
Joe: [21:45] How about terpenes?
Steve: [21:48] Terpenes is an even older science than cannabinoids really. Every plant that we know of has terpenes in it, so it’s really the smell of plants. Oranges, limonene, and some of those citrus terpenes are what makes citrus fruits smell like they do. When you look at aromatherapy – that’s a tale as old as time, right? Lavender is relaxing, and cinnamon is grounding. All these different kinds of smell flavors, those are all powered by terpenes, and a lot of other compounds that we really don’t know about yet because they’re even in more trace amounts. What they really think, and as we move into full spectrum, they really think that terpenes are the key that unlocks the door for CBD to push the door open, so they really work in conjunction.
Joe: [22:36] There’s so many arguments out there right now on CBD isolates versus full spectrum. We see in the medical world there are the isolates and, to be honest, a lot of our consumers come from the supplement world, and that’s the question that I get asked. Like, how pure is this? Well, like 99.8% CBD and that sounds really good. That sounds very pure, and I think that is great, but I think that everything else you’re discussing about all the other cannabinoids and the terpenes, that’s what a lot of people are missing, especially in my world. I think there’s arguments both ways to be honest. I don’t know where you stand with all that.
Steve: [23:20] It’s a big question. They have pros and cons and a lot of it has to do with the world that we live in and how the pharmaceutical industry and the dietary supplement world has conditioned us over time that it’s one molecule, one purpose. In the supplement world, you take creatine monohydrate or something right before you work out. It’s the one thing for one purpose. You can look at CBD isolate like some of those single compounds that are for a use. As you look at a full spectrum, it goes more that naturopathic medicine, but a lot of the research is showing that full spectrum oil is more effective than a synthetic cannabinoid or a single CBD isolate naturally extracted cannabinoid. There’s not enough research done yet to say which is right. What we’ve seen is they both have different use cases – high doses of CBD isolate are really, really effective for certain things. We don’t have enough research yet to know what dose treats what thing. That’s something that has to be figured out. The other part about full spectrum is that dosability is really challenging because, as a product manufacturer, that batch of oil is typically very different every time you get it because the plants aren’t being grown at scale yet to make a plant that then makes a naturally extracted oil that has the same terpene profile, that has the same CBD ratio, same rare cannabinoids. That end product you’re making is the same every single time, for the consumer purpose, but also for the manufacturer’s purpose because it’s really hard to change your recipe every single batch, especially as a company like yours goes. The pros and the cons, one might be more effective but makes it hard to commercialize and get to the people, and then…
Joe: [25:06] Consistency.
Steve: [25:07] And consistency, and quality of CBD in that kind of affinity to what we’re used to. I take this supplement for this one thing, so more research needs to be done, and more education, and also trial and error. Seeing how these effect you because all of our bodies are different too so they might respond to these two things very differently. There’s more to uncover as we go.
Joe: [25:25] I just had a psychiatrist on the podcast. Actually, it released today, Dr. Hyla Cass. That was one of the questions I asked, was dosing, and that was her exact response too. The medical professional saying there isn’t one specific dosage and you just need to try it out, and there is going to be variability in the product, but there’s going to be variability in the effectivity in each person and in their endo-cannabinoid system and how they’re utilizing it.
Steve: [25:54] We’re doing future stuff right now. We’re doing really pioneering stuff, like you and I aren’t qualified to give people dosing instructions for what they need, for what their bodies need, and the doctors haven’t been empowered with the research to prescribe effectively or recommend. That’s something that needs to happen in this country. We need universities to be allowed to research this plant and these cannabinoids.
Joe: [26:20] I think that’s a really good segue into everything that you’re doing outside of Colorado. We’ve talked about Shi, the initiatives you have here in Colorado, but what else are you doing across the nation?
Steve: [26:30] Shi is really turning into this national farming cooperative where we are trying to help farms get accustomed to growing hemp. A lot of them still think it’s marijuana and you think you grow it in your basement, and you don’t have to grow it in your basement. You can grow it on your acreage. In a lot of cases, the opportunity in growing hemp is going to be a lot more lucrative for the farming community than growing onions, or growing alfalfa, or growing soybeans. It started as we were just getting hit up by a lot of different farmers in other parts of the country that were seeing the effects of these tariffs or seeing the effects of shrinking margins on agriculture at large, and they’re always moving from crop to crop to crop. That’s why we created the cooperative, which was help us scale our acreage because we need to grow more and can only buy so much land. On the same time, help farmers across this country have another crop that they can do stuff with and since it doesn’t end with CBD. It’s a crop that I don’t think gets commoditized as quickly because it’s for CBD, then you can pivot and grow for fiber; and if you find one customer that’s making t-shirts, one customer that’s making plastics, now you have someone that you can always sell your hemp to. You can start to specialize and breed this plant for specific industrial purposes too. We’re giving the farmers the tools to start those missions themselves. What that looks like today is providing our genetics and helping teach these farmers how to cultivate cannabis at a commercial scale and then providing them a way to monetize it because we end up buying it back and turning it into CBD. It helps us scale our business which helps the industry at large and support CBD in products.
Joe: [28:11] My wheels were spinning when you were talking about the plastics and everything else. As we continue to grow at Cured, that’s one of the initiatives we basically say is can we get our packaging made out of hemp?
Steve: [28:23] Why not?
Joe: [28:25] We do see all these other CBD brands coming online but unfortunately – there’s an unfortunate piece of this industry and there’s a very amazing piece of this industry which we’re trying to shed more and more light on and push forward, but the dollar sign is what a lot of people see, just that. And the 3 letters, CBD, sells a product. It doesn’t matter, nothing else matters. If it says CBD – and the problem is that there’s very uneducated consumers buying from brands that are running ads crazy via the internet, social media and people aren’t being educated. All we can do is sit back and say yes this is happening, yes the industry’s growing, and all we can do is live on the other end saying we’re going to try and educate and be leaders in the industry in the way that we can; and yes, there is a dollar sign there, but the sustainability – the ‘S’ that you talk about is what we’re about. We’re about the longevity of our business and the industry. It’s tough.
Steve: [29:33] Absolutely it’s tough. And you have to stay the course and we can’t divert from what our mission and values are. The hope is that we connect to consumers that share those missions and values. The broad range of consumers today are looking for – I heard a phrase last weekend at a conference called conscious capitalism – where they want to be connected to the product that they’re buying because you can find any product anywhere now but you want to buy from a company that you relate to and serves your purpose. When you talk about things like selling hemp in packaging made from hemp, that’s going to speak to a lot of people, and I think that’s what a lot of consumers are looking for nowadays because they want to reduce their carbon footprint. They want to make sure they’re buying from a company with mission and values. You look at all the one-for -ne companies that exist and paying it forward and things like that. My hope is that we’re going to stay the course and sift through a lot of this crap that’s in the industry right now, and consumers will start to identify the brands that will give them the high quality goods they need in a format that’s appealing and good for the planet; and over time as the fad of CBD goes away and the actual use cases for CBD start to become even more obvious, people are going to make the right decisions and find the right brands, and a lot of that other stuff kind of consolidates out. It’s natural with the boom. We’re in the pets.com phase with the internet.
Joe: [30:59] One hundred percent. I was talking to somebody in Miami last week; he said, “I see 18 months. Get through these next 18 months and you’re going to be golden.” But like, it’s right now. It’s just the industry is going so crazy that it’s just important to hold that integrity. I think that’s what you guys are doing really well. I wanted to talk about quality control. We started to dive in a little bit about organic certifications, the practices that you guys use. What are the practices that you guys use, and what can consumers look for when trying to select a product or a farm, or understanding a source that’s going to help bring them the best possible product?
Steve: [31:45] Absolutely. A couple prongs to that question. The first thing that we do is, single source single origin is big for us too. We’re only selling hemp that we’ve grown or our cooperative has grown based on our procedures. People aggregating biomass from all different places and then pushing that through into their final CBD products, there’s less traceability and trackability for consumers all the way back to where the plants grew, so that track and trace is really important. The second part of that is, like you said, organic certification, which we’re still waiting for the USDA to create a framework for hemp ground. A hemp company going and applying directly for that organic certification, we haven’t seen that yet even with the farm bill. A lot of those things are coming online though. We’ve been hearing whispers of those doors opening, so that’s something we’re actively pursuing. All you can do until then is just do your best to live those practices. On our crop, for example, it’s just water and sunshine after the plants are in the ground. We’ve seen that the plants do really well just on their own. If you try to supercharge them like with a lot of more like marijuana type cultivation techniques, like foliar sprays and things like that, you actually can send the THC higher than it legally can be. When you raise one cannabinoid, you raise all of them typically. We’ve seen just let the plant doing its own thing in its natural state, it ends up creating the best product. Except for things like pests, because silly caterpillars. We’re out there in the field picking off caterpillars and stuff, but some of that stuff you just can’t really prevent. We’ve seen the plant is pretty resilient and doesn’t have a lot of native pests. It outcompetes weeds and things like that. The fact that it’s such a sturdy crop, we’ve been able to let it do its thing. In a greenhouse, we cultivate our mothers – that’s an all organic tea-based fertilizer that we’re creating for the plants, so it starts with the hemp stalks and our Bokashi like we talked about, and things like kelp, different organic practices. If we had Drew on the line too he could give us all those little tiny ingredients. As we start to grow, I can’t remember every single one of them. It’s a big part of the initiative. As we go through, in terms of quality, finding ways to reduce our carbon footprint at the farm is huge too. Some of those solar and wind initiatives we’re going to bring online in Pueblo because there’s 70mph winds that rush through that farm that we’re not utilizing. That’s a goal too.
Joe: [34:13] One thing that stood out to me in your guys’ brand video is the farmers and the community of people that you have working for you. It sounds like you’re really building a family of people there that all have the same mission. That really speaks integrity to the brand because the… I can’t even think of the word you said it was… the people that are just going out and buying hemp everywhere and bringing it together and going to get it processed, that is… nobody knows what they’re actually getting. When you actually have people putting their heart into the plants and you’re creating something that you know where it’s coming from, you know the hands that actually cultivated it, I think that that speaks a lot. None of that the consumers on our end know anything about.
Steve: [35:10] It’s the most important part of our business and we’re really trying to take that story and allow our retail partners to use that story and educate their consumers because you can go into food in this country and you really don’t know where it comes from a lot of the time, especially like the meats and the poultry side of things. You don’t really know what goes into a steak that you eat. Plant wise, I’ve never eaten a salad and thought about the farmers until I started operating this project. Our farmers are the lifeblood of our entity and they give us the spirit to go push forward everyday. It’s from that back end with the farmers and on the front end, the people we’re helping with CBD. Those guys have been there much longer than we have. We have a brother-sister team that has been working that ground 10-15 years, even back to when it was a sod farm before hemp. We got there and were like, wow – first off, you love what you do, and the spirit that you bring to this project was so invigorating and that’s helped us put those wheels on and start driving the bus, and empowering those guys and making sure they felt like they were appreciated, that they felt they were educated about what they were growing, so they want to keep coming to work everyday.
Joe: [36:23] And they’re the farmers; they understand their land. They’ve been growing there for a very long time. That was one of the reasons that we approached you guys to work with you guys is that we dove into it last year; we dove into the whole thing. We’re going to sell a product, we’re going to grow it, we’re going to do EVERYTHING, because we want to have that quality for our consumers. We want to say we see the plant, we put it in the ground, we see it through harvest, we see it going to the lab, then we get the product back. We have our eyes on it so we can bring the best possible product to you guys – but – fuck, that’s biting off way more than we can chew. That was one of the things that you said the first day we met was, we’re just going to stick to our wheelhouse and we’re going to do the best that we can there, and we’re looking for companies that want to do the same in their wheelhouse, and then we’re all going to work together to bring this industry forward.
Steve: [37:17] Correct. That’s a lesson I learned from my cannabis MBA at Dixie. You got to do one thing right first before you try to do a second thing. We wanted to focus on cultivation because that’s the opportunity that we had, and we did that. On the extraction side, we could’ve done it ourselves too and we said no, we’re going to partner. We’re going to find the best lab that has the highest integrity, GMP certifications, and we’re going to give them our hemp to extract.
Joe: [37:42] The respect that we gained for the rest of the stack of the supply chain was just massive.
Steve: [37:53] Oh yeah, because even on just us doing the cultivation, there’s a million challenges, a million failures, and you have some success because you just keep pushing forward, but you’re focused. Just like you guys on the branding side. I couldn’t create the kind of brand that you guys have created, the equity in that brand and the love and support and care that goes into that, and your consumers feel that. Everyone does their job. I’m not a Patriots fan, but the Bill Belichick model like, do your job. I’m going to grow, we’re going to have our extractor, you guys are going to do the branding, and we’re going to create a product that all of us our proud of and that ultimately, the consumer wins. That’s the goal here, because if we don’t give the consumers good product, there is no CBD space. They’re not going to trust it and they’re going find something else to take.
Joe: [38:36] Yeah. So, we’re sitting here in the beginning of April and what does the year of cultivating hemp look like? Where are you guys right now?
Steve: [38:45] Gosh, yes. We are going to go for another 10x scale up this year.
Joe: [38:51] Damn.
Steve: [38:52] We are looking at somewhere between 1,100 and 1,500 acres. We’re going to be in Oklahoma with 5 different family farms. Same story – pecans, peanuts, all these different things – they’re going to try hemp this year. New Mexico as well. We did a footprint in New York last year, which we’re going to continue to expand upon, do some greenhouse stuff up there. So, we’re going to go for it. Our customers are scaling up. Brands like yourself are scaling up. We got to keep up. We have to scale up before you guys even scale up because the plants have to be planted this time of the year. We’re really going to go for it. Second to the scale up of the agricultural side, we talked earlier with cannabinoids breeding projects to try and start to proliferate some of these over cannabinoids so we can start to hit on these other scientific discoveries that are happening in the space. CBG is being asked for, CBN, CBT, all these different kinds of things. Working on that genetic side to make sure that we keep pushing the ball forward in terms of research because that’s going to help the industry grow.
Joe: [40:00] The CBN is extremely interesting to me because I don’t know if I understand it completely correctly, but I’m pretty sure THC degrades into CBN. But can you express CBN genes?
Steve: [40:20] It almost happens like – it’s not fermentation, but you can think of it as fermentation – like the rotting of cannabinoids sometimes goes into CBN. We’ve done a bunch of experiments on this. A lot of them don’t work. Like, leaving plants out in the sun after they’ve been cut to dry. The UV lights, we’ve heard, is supposed to increase CBN concentrations in the plant. There’s a couple of different things and not a lot of them have worked so far, but like we said earlier, just keep plugging away and you try to figure it out. You’re right, the cultivation of the plant, it’s very difficult to get CBN to express in the plant because it’s a secondary cannabinoid that’s actually a breakdown of THC. Also, CBD can break into CBN too. Some of these post-processing techniques on that front to try and proliferate CBN for extract purposes. It doesn’t take much either because you can start to concentrate. As our extraction technology gets better too that allows us to proliferate some of these cannabinoids in extracts that can then go into products.
Joe: [41:20] It’s super interesting. It’s going to be exciting to watch because CBD is so crazy right now. But that’s the thing, there are so many components of this plant along with all the industrial purposes and the food purposes that are just not even really tapped into yet.
Steve: [41:37] I know your listeners are super in to nutrition and hemp seeds actually have one the most complete amino acid profiles of any plant seed. The omegas in the plant are amazing. I’ve also heard some studies that show that, I think it’s omega-6, is that an omega? Omega-6 in conjunction with CBD actually proliferates the effects of CBD. There’s an entourage there with nutritional supplements too. We’re at the tip of the iceberg here. We have no idea, but there’s all these things that are coming out.
Joe: [42:09] You see people blasting other people saying, oh, it’s hemp seed oil. You have hemp seed oil in there. Well, yeah, we have hemp seed oil in there, and then we also have hemp extract, which is all the cannabinoids and the terpenes, and we combine them. What’s great about the hemp seed oil is the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. That’s important too, so shut up!
Steve: [42:25] Exactly! No one’s an expert yet. I gave a talk in Illinois the other week, and I said when I started it, “I’m going to say a bunch of stuff today. Some of it’s right, some of it’s wrong. I’m not here to tell you that I’m right. I’m here to tell you what we’ve learned doing this.” Anyone who says they’re an expert, they’re wrong because we still have so much to learn because the research hasn’t been done yet. The people on the ground doing it, you and I, all these different companies, we’re just learning still. There’s a think tank that’s occurring and we’re going to put out a lot of good stuff. Not everything’s going to be right, but we’re going to learn from it and keep putting out stuff because you just have to keep trying. As this industry matures, we’re going to figure this stuff out. As universities can start doing research, we’re going to figure this stuff out.
Joe: [43:12] Absolutely. I wanted to give you a chance to dive in to anything else that you wanted to share and then, specifically, how people can get in contact with you, learn more about Shi, and everything else that you’re doing. So, anything else that you wanted to dive into first?
Steve: [43:28] No, I don’t think so. I think just saying thank you for having us on the program, and there’s a great resource for people that want to learn more about CBD called projectcbd.org, which is great and they have a bunch of different research, so I think that’s cool. If you want to find out more about Shi, shifarms.com. I think we have a great Instagram personally, so I definitely recommend checking that out.
Joe: [43:52] Check out the April 1st post.
Steve: [43:54] Yeah, the April Fool’s joke was crazy. Drew has a history of doing amazing April Fool’s pranks. One at Dixie was infused salmon that got a big, big hit.
Joe: [44:03] I saw a bunch of those yesterday.
Steve: [44:05] And this one was winter hemp because I’ve had people tell me that you can grow hemp outside in the winter and it’s not true, but we had snow in October and the plants loved it. They looked great, so we took some pictures and threw them on.
Joe: [44:16] It’s a very resilient plant. Talk about that because I know people are always trying to like – the harvest aspect of getting the plants out of the ground before – specifically in Colorado – get these crazy storms. You guys saw, you got snow storms, then it heated back up and they were okay.
Steve: [44:34] They can deal with frost. They can deal with the freeze. The plants start to turn brown. They look like it’s autumn, but cannabinoids still stay there. The plants are resilient. It’s pretty amazing that they can just last through that kind of stuff. We got a good snowfall on them and they just looked really pretty, started turning purple and brown, all kinds of crazy colors. It was one of those things where every time something happens that we’re not ready for it, we just start sweating and are like, I hope we didn’t ruin this. Whew, it’s good, we’re good, keep rollin’. But that’s everything. One thing we learned about scaling agriculture is you can’t treat every plant like your baby. On the marijuana side, you grow 100 plants in a greenhouse, you’re like every plant is my child; I can top it and trim it and make it look beautiful. When you have 100 acres of hemp growing, you have to give it up. Every single plant we put in the ground I kissed when I put it in the transplanter. When it comes to harvest, you’re cutting them, lay on the ground, cut, cut, cut. You just got to get it done. We learned that the hard way and that was from our industrial farm team that’s like guys, you got to get over it. I know they’re babies but like, it’s go time. That philosophical transition to agriculture taught us a lot and that’s why we love the co-op. All these different farmers in Oklahoma and New York that we’re working with, we learn stuff everyday. It’s awesome that we’re continuing to grow this think tank of agricultural knowledge to then start applying to this because we’re pioneering the space.
Joe: [45:59] To all our listeners, if you guys have any questions for Steve, if you guys have any questions for Cured specifically, our companies are going to be working together hopefully far into the future. That’s really what we’re trying to do is have this sustainable hemp initiative, Shi, be a good example for what the industry needs to follow and the consumers need to understand on the supply side. Then on the brand side, how we can educate and bring you guys the best possible product. Thanks for coming on and sharing everything that you guys are doing. I guess one last thing if anybody wants to connect directly with you, I don’t know if you want to share that.
Steve: [46:36} firstname.lastname@example.org and then st_cannabis is my personal Instagram, and then @ShiFarms for the Shi Farms instagram. I was just going to say, you got to come tour the farm sometime. We got to get you down there!
Joe: [46:49] We’ll be down there soon.
Steve: [46:52] We’ll be glad to host you. Thanks for having me.
Joe: [46:53] Absolutely, man.
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