When Sara Rotman caught wind of the public health crisis, her response was nothing short of extraordinary. While suffering from an autoimmune disorder, her risk of severe illness did little to halt her emerging cannabis business, which by the looks of it, is becoming more indispensable each day.
“I don’t know one person in California that’s not losing sleep over what we’re experiencing,” said Ms. Rotman. “We’re so fortunate the governor deemed us an essential business. Apart from supporting our business and employees, it’s necessary medicine.”
Alongside her husband Nate Ryan, Ms. Rotman co-owns and operates Busy Bee’s Organics, a 65-acre farm in Buellton. There, she cultivates cannabis for a few of California’s leading cannabis companies, as well as some recreational brands of her own design. These include Bluebird805 and her newest product Wellfounded Botanicals, which is set to hit the markets this spring.
With a planting season from April through October, Busy Bee’s has had little choice but to continue growing if they hope to release Wellfounded Botanicals on time. Fortunately, that schedule has yet to change, as the cannabis industry remains one of California’s few essential sectors.
Apart from deciding dispensaries should be treated something like pharmacies, Gov. Gavin Newsom also kept recreational sales open, so long as cannabis businesses adopted safety measures like curbside pickup, delivery and distancing in retail stores.
In fact, the industry seemed to have hit its stride just before the statewide shelter-in-place order came into effect on March 19, with many stores reporting some of their biggest days of sales since recreational marijuana became legal in 2016. Since then, some businesses have noticed a continued increase in orders, including Busy Bee’s.
While having just cleared out their inventory from 2019, Ms. Rotman has noticed an influx of interested callers over the last few weeks, many of which she was surprised to hear from.
“To be honest, I thought the black market would have taken a stronger foothold at this time,” she said. “The demand is still there. Customers from last year are wanting to know when we’ll be ready with materials. There’s a strong demand that doesn’t seem to be abating.”
And although the social distancing orders have slowed down their operations, Ms. Rotman has assured customers products are coming soon – despite recent setbacks.
“On the one hand, it’s been fantastic to continue to operate,” said Ms. Rotman. “But it’s also been challenging, like it has for any business right now.”
As Busy Bee’s gears up to produce its first crop of 2020, Ms. Rotman and her husband, as well as the farm’s five full-time employees have had to adapt to a new normal. This means covering their faces with anything they can find – like cut up bandanas as masks dwindle – maintaining 6 feet apart of separation on the fields and keeping spray bottles of bleach handy for breakrooms.
“Nothing in farming can be done remotely,” said Ms. Rotman. “We have had to figure out how to space staff out properly and find the right protective gear. We were keeping faces covered before that became a recommendation.
“We spend everyday securing the proper safety equipment like the hospitals. But maintaining the distance is possible because we live on a 65-acre farm.”
Still, some practices have proven to be less flexible. While initial seed germination, an integral part of preparing the cannabis crop, lends itself to distanced production, the planting process that follows requires much closer contact.
“Planting for all farm workers does necessitate close quarters,” said Ms. Rotman. “Working together getting the seedlings from the seed trays. That’s very challenging.”
If adapting operations wasn’t enough to tackle, the farm’s need for additional staff during planting season has given Ms. Rotman another element to consider. To keep up with their planned rate of production, the farm has hired 24 contract workers, who need safe lodging while the season runs its course.
“There’s a housing issue for contract laborers,” said Ms. Rotman. “We contract labor during planting season, so we’re working with the contract company to make sure their guys can operate safely.”
Beyond localized challenges, setbacks are stacking up at the national level, with the marijuana industry unable to tap into the federal stimulus package or bank loans. Still, Ms. Rotman is determined to remain open, as she knows firsthand the impact cannabis can have on someone’s health.
“I can personally tell you that cannabis is the only medical therapy that successfully aided in the grave and incurable disease,” she said. “Cannabis is the thing that helps me. Countless other Californians use cannabis for stress relief, pain reduction, inflammation reduction. There are literally millions using cannabis to treat their ailments.”
Never a recreational user herself, Ms. Rotman turned to cannabis out of necessity. In fact, when Ms. Rotman and her husband purchased the farm in 2014, they did so hoping to create a sanctuary.
Before moving to Santa Barbara, most of Ms. Rotman’s career was centered on the fast-paced fashion and entertainment industry, where she formed the identity for countless big-name brands like MTV, Vera Wang and Tory Burch.
Instead, her newly-acquired Buellton property offered Ms. Rotman a change of pace. And as an avid equestrian, she knew the open space could house her horses. But soon after the purchase was made, Ms. Rotman found herself in debilitating pain.
A trip to the emergency room and what turned out to be 11 years of misdiagnoses left Ms. Rotman a victim of Crohn’s disease. The autoimmune disorder, which causes inflammation of the digestive tract, has no cure, and often puts patients in extreme discomfort.
To deal with the relentless pain, Ms. Rotman’s doctors suggested traditional treatments like morphine and oxytocin, both of which offered Ms. Rotman little relief.
“Western medicine didn’t have any good treatments, so we started exploring other ways to get well,” she said. “We really hit a lot of roadblocks. We started growing all of our own food to control the symptoms… Then my husband suggested cannabis.
“I wasn’t particularly interested in that. I didn’t know a lot, but I was gravely ill. Cannabis ended up really working to alleviate the symptoms. That started our journey of delving into the legal cannabis market.”
By diversifying their property to include cannabis, Ms. Rotman had her own personal supply of medicine. Since then, the horse retreat-turned cannabis farm has expanded to help others like Ms. Rotman.
“People like myself can’t take a gummy,” she said. “They are panicked about taking too much THC for their comfort. Our products are designed to give people accurate doses based on their needs and comfort.”
Personally, Ms. Rotman is most comfortable with taking a small daily dose of CBD, the non-psychoactive component of cannabis and hemp. From there, she takes a commensurate amount of THC based on her pain level that day, a regimen that seems to be working well.
“I haven’t had a severe flare up for a while, probably since around the holidays,” she said. “My condition is well-managed through cannabis… I’ve never been a smoker. I take quite a high volume of CBD as soft gels, edibles if I’m making them myself because I like to control the dosage and tinctures. There’s always some THC, but I take as little as I can because I struggle with it mentally.”
Modeling her brand after her own preferences, Ms. Rotman has designed Wellfounded Botanicals to include a relief tincture – or concentrated herbal extract – tablets, face serum, body balm and bath oil. Each with a different CBD to THC ratio, the products provide customers with a controlled dosage they can comfortably include in their daily routines.
And if doing so helps someone like it did Ms. Rotman, she knows she’s done her job.
“I want to relieve stress,” she said. “To take the edge off, not put them in a coma.”
Those interested in Ms. Rotman’s upcoming line of products can visit wellfounded.com. To find out when the brand will hit the markets, email firstname.lastname@example.org or keep an eye on their Instagram @wellfoundedbotanicals for updates.