The hardships of running a Hemp Farm & CBD Business during a Global Pandemic
May 1, 2020 / Business
“Woah, what a long strange trip its been…”
We know that everyone is feeling shaken, stir-crazy and traumatized by the COVID-19 pandemic that has gripped the world. None of us are immune to the fear and unknowingness that exists currently. The direct impact on small businesses and farms has been incredibly detrimental. In the long run, I believe that consumers will put their trust back in their communities and support them directly. However, large/medium businesses are equipped better to weather this storm and are more likely to gain access to relief funds and loans.
There is nothing more resilient than the hardworking Vermont farmer. Able to withstand frigid-winters, recessions, and less than ideal planting/growing conditions.
The hemp industry has been a strange and ever-changing entity since we became involved in 2014. Laws, regulations, and consumer perceptions feel like they change almost daily. Interacting with Banks, Merchant Processors, Manufacturers and Shipping Entities has always been greeted with uncertainty.
Sales & Retail
In mid-march when the Pandemic began to grip New England, we found many of our friends & retail accounts shifting to a curbside, website or no-contact form of selling products. Others shut their stores. And an unlucky few have been robbed while closed.
We work with a distributor out of the Boston Area, who services Co-Ops and Health Food Stores primarily. While these accounts have remained open to the public and have seen increased foot traffic, CBD product sales have plummeted as consumers tackle lengthy lists so that they can stay at home for weeks at a time.
This winter we had prioritized optimizing our website: vtfarmacy.com and worked with an amazing agency (Cannaplanners) to help with new features and a new look. As of April, our website is up 450% from last year during this time. While we are grateful for our fans and the direct sales to consumers, losing the majority of our retail business has definitely hurt.
Farm Etiquette and Helpers
Working in our greenhouses and prepping our fields has also been a major shift in mentality. Our farm is fortunate to have family and friends help during our busiest seasons, planting and harvesting. This year we have had to shoulder the field work and greenhouse prep with a much smaller team of two (Erin & Colin, the owners). On the rare occasion that someone else has felt comfortable helping, we enforce distancing guidelines and work on opposite sides of the greenhouse.
One of the most challenging things we have faced during the Pandemic is manufacturing of containers and labels for our products. The disruptions began during the Chinese New Year when manufacturing in China stopped for 2 weeks. This year, operations did not return to normal with the virus striking China in the midst of the Holiday.
We moved one of our projects to a much more expensive and limited manufacturing facility in Rhode Island, only to have the state shut down all operations in mid-march. The project moved back to China as they reopened, but was then hung up in Customs upon importation. Communications between the company we work with, customs agents and UPS have been strained as many staff have been furloughed or are working from home where they don’t have ready access to information or contacts.
One of our biggest disappointments was not being able to attend the 7th Annual NoCo Hemp Expo, the largest hemp-centric and trade show on the planet. Colin was slated to speak on the main-stage about growing organically, soil health, and field management. Erin was going to give a demonstration on salve making, and talk about bio-dynamic infusions. We were both also going to show our support for our farm partner, Doug Fine, on his newest book release “American Hemp Farmer,” in which we are both characters.
It was also disappointing that many other VT and NE conferences that we love to attend were cancelled or postponed.
On April 20th (420!) we launched a new collaboration line of products with Liquid Blue, a national retailer of tie-dye, music and sports apparel. This project has been in the works for 8 months and launch has been tempered by LB’s client’s stores being closed as well.
We recently appeared in an article on Patagonia.com about regenerative hemp farming, with our farm partner Doug Fine.
We have had more time to create content for our website, blog, and youtube channel (now if only we could get strong enough internet service to upload everything).