The HVADC Cultivator
Business of Cannabis Forum
As New York State sculpts the framework of its burgeoning legal cannabis industry, it can be hard for policy makers and industry insiders to stay abreast of the ever-evolving rules and regulations. It’s even harder for the small business entrepreneurs looking to enter this exciting new agricultural market to figure out the opportunities and challenges.
In July, HVADC and partners Awaken.Space, Seasoned Gives, and Co-producers Women Grow, hosted the Business of Cannabis virtual master class, with the aid of funding from The American Farmland Trust. What resulted was an incredible two-day event filled with informative panels of experts who provided the most comprehensive collection currently available of information on how the New York cannabis industry works. The nearly eight hours of content is now available to all interested parties for free online at the Women Grow Youtube Channel. The first day can be viewed HERE and the second HERE.
The event was moderated by Founder and President of Seasoned Gives Tamika Dunkley and Founder and President of Awaken.Space John Gilstrap. Both of the business/nonprofit leaders have work closely with HVADC and are current advisory group members of the HVADC Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) fund.
The moderators are both extremely influential in fostering equity and diversity across the agricultural industry by providing entrepreneurial resources and information to underserved communities. During both sessions each led speakers in informative and engaging discussions. Panels covered areas such as Cultivation Strategies, History and Policy, The Retail Experience, “CannaTech”, Key Careers and more.
“What we identified is that there was a huge amount of misinformation and misunderstandings about what’s approved or not,” said Dunkley. “Some of us are in paddle boats, some of us are in cruise liners and some of us are just swimming. It is really important for us to be involved in creating pathways.”
Dunkley’s advice to any entrepreneur considering a cannabis venture of any size is to first establish a strong strategic plan and get their legal and accounting affairs in order. Then she says, build a strong team and seek advice and mentorship. It is important to consider whose experience and expertise you can strategically leverage for competitive influence, she stressed.
As part of the Cultivation Strategies panel, HVADC Deputy Director Mary Ann Johnson provided attendees with information about the resources and Business Technical Assistance (BTA) tools available to farmers looking to get into the cannabis business. She also provided information on the landscape of community support across the ag-industry. In addition, Johnson addressed the issue of aging and retiring farmers and how the potential for these new products to be of more interest to the next generation of farmers.
Breakdowns of current state policy and expected timelines were discussed and farmers already farming hemp shared their insights on the specific hurdles and technical aspects of growing this specialty crop.
Appropriately, the event also took the time at the onset to discuss and contextualize the fraught history and of cannabis prohibition and its vastly disproportionate impact on communities of color. When it comes to the future of cultivating cannabis, HVADC continues to support the dismantling of discriminatory barriers, in terms of providing access to BTA and loan programs.
Dunkley, who is also a steering committee member for Black Farmers United NYS, says BIPOC farmers farm differently and have different borrowing and technical needs, so when organizations such as HVADC provide tools that recognize diversity and equity, such as the CDFI loan program and participating in the online cannabis forum, it means a lot.
“One of the most beautiful parts is (HVADC’s) willingness to absorb new information and learn,” said Dunkley. “They’ve constantly reached out and looked for ways to include people with different experiences in the conversation. That’s very rare. They walk the walk.”
Dunkley said the success of the Business of Cannabis event was owed largely to the attending experts’ eagerness to collaborate. She said she hopes the momentum continues and that more forums like the master class can be held in the future.
For those interested in learning more about the Incubator Without Walls and the Agribusiness loan fund programs, visit https://www.hvadc.org/iww and https://www.hvadc.org/hvadc-agribusiness-loan-fund-program