If you told a friend that David Bronner, the grandson of the founder of Dr. Bronner's, the company best known for its hemp-based soap products, was launching a cannabis brand, he or she might joke, “Will it come in almond and peppermint?”
Superficially, the idea of Bronner getting into the weed business might seem like another high profile brand known for catering to health-focused consumers — Whole Foods, Neiman Marcus, Martha Stewart — is cashing in on growing consumer base of the modern cannabis industry. But Dr. Bronner Magic Soaps's is no ordinary brand.
Its soap is evangelized by a slew of celebrities and its label has more than 3,000 words printed on it. And, fittingly, Bronner is no ordinary CEO, but one with a long track record of advocacy, including making his company a “model of workplace equality” and planting “hemp seeds on the Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA) lawn,” according to a Vox.com profile.
Bronner's support of marijuana legalization and entrance into the cannabis industry makes sense.
— Dr. Bronner's (@DrBronner) May 16, 2019
Bronner has his eyes set on addressing some of the largest sustainability issues facing the burgeoning weed industry and culture by steering cannabis growing towards an environmentally and ethically sound model. To do that he's backing a new sustainability certification program, Sun + Earth, and his own non-profit weed brand, Brother David's, which he considers an outreach arm of the certification program.
“As we legalize [cannabis], we're starting to see the same sets of problems we've had with every other crop,” Bronner told Weedmaps News. “The corporate-industrial players are coming in and the regulations are generally geared towards their kinds of operations and not towards the small family-farm ecosystems — back-to-the-land, multi-generational pioneers growing cannabis in a really diversified, next-level way.”
Knowledge from a 'Cosmic Engagement Officer'
Bronner, who has been both a cannabis and organic farming advocate for decades, wants to see the cannabis industry not just achieve a high level of sustainability but become a blueprint for other agricultural industries to follow.
As “Cosmic Engagement Officer” for the Dr. Bronner's brand, he's had a lot of experience with establishing industrial agricultural systems in place around the world by working directly with small farms under Certified Fair Trade agreements that include guaranteed crop prices and community development projects, such as coconut oil from Sri Lanka or olives from the Middle East. He hopes to do the same with cannabis, though not under the Dr. Bronner's brand umbrella. Bronner claims to have the family's full support.
Bronner has partnered with Flow Kana, a cannabis supply chain company working with more than 200 independent outdoor growers. Flow Kana is also the exclusive California supplier for Willie Nelson's brand, Willie's Reserve.
Bronner selected 15 small farms to work with on the Brother David's brand, all of which are third-party certified through the Sun + Earth program. The company just launched its initial products — three sativa-like hybrids, three indica-like hybrids, and three strains with 1:1 CBD-THC ratios — for sale in the San Francisco Bay Area. The product is expected to roll out across Southern California in late May 2019.
“We're also featuring what the farmers are most proud of and then over time that will shift depending on seasonality,” Bronner said.
Brother David's sees itself as less a traditional cannabis brand and more of a “not-for-profit communication platform for high-level regenerative agriculture,” according to Bronner. With his product in retailers, the company can begin talking to consumers, budtenders, and other brands about “regenerative agriculture,” fair labor practices, and the “importance of buying medicine the same way you buy food: from farmers who are taking care of their land and getting a fair price so they can pay their workers fairly,” he said.
The company's profits will be rolled back into helping pay for certification for the farmers, training on regenerative practices, and advocacy at the state and federal level around issues concerning cannabis farming and ending cannabis prohibition, Bronner said.
Bronner (and Dr. Bronner's) partnered with several groups, including Flow Kana, the International Cannabis Farmers Association, and two sustainability certification providers, The Cannabis Conservancy and Certified Kind, on the new program.
Farms can't be certified organic for producing cannabis. The organic label, and the certification behind it, is granted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and since cannabis is still illegal on the federal level growers can't earn the classification even though they are growing by the same organic standards.
While there are already a number of sustainability certification programs for the cannabis industry — Clean Green Certified and Envirocann — small growers can't afford to participate in all of them. It then becomes somewhat of a guessing game to determine which will provide the best return on investment in regard to consumer recognition, according to Michael Steinmetz, the CEO and one of the founders of Flow Kana. "The hope is that Sun + Earth can become the gold standard that consumers will be willing to get behind," Steinmetz said.
Sun + Earth is specifically geared for outdoor growers using regenerative organic practices. But the program goes beyond the USDA's organic standards that are more about what farmers aren't allowed to use — synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, for instance. The new program promotes the use of diverse crop rotations and interplantings, keeping soil covered with nitrogen-fixing cover crops, composting, and the smart integration of livestock, Bronner said. There are also labor and community engagement aspects.
“We definitely want to see the ecosystem that supplies the industry move to the high bar,” Bronner said. “Sun and Earth is the next level of regenerative practice. We want to help farmers get certified and then market that certification to consumers to say 'Hey, this is the real-deal medicine being grown righteously.'”
Feature image courtesy of Brother David's.