As CEO of Aster Farms, Julia Jacobson brings an expertise in entrepreneurship, supply chain management and business development to cannabis farming—something that is unique in an industry that has only recently legalized. Off the heels of a successful, if challenging, growing season—Aster Farms’ grow operations are in Lake County, which was exposed to this past fall’s historic wildfires in California—as well as a recent partnership with infused olive oil company Potli, Jacobson will soon be heading a panel at SXSW. In particular, the panel will discuss how to overcome bias in industries, like cannabis, with limited capital opportunities.
Jacobson’s personal interest in cannabis is rooted in her battle with chronic migraines, particularly in incorporating the plant with her prescribed routine to mitigate symptoms, balance equilibrium, and chart a healthy course.
Jacobson develops Aster’s high-level vision, ensuring the team is two steps ahead as the company scales. Prior to Aster Farms, she was co-founder and CEO of NMRKT, an affiliate marketing platform for content providers. She led the company through Techstars and its acquisition by XO Group in 2016, where she went on to become the Director of National Revenue Products. Her career began as a buyer for Bloomingdale’s, giving her a solid foundation in retail and supply chain economics. Today, she continues to be a mentor to Techstars and to young entrepreneurs in many fields.
Here, Jacobson talks about her journey with cannabis and other musings on the industry ahead of her SXSW panel appearance.
How did you get into the cannabis business?
A few pieces of the puzzle all came together at the same time. After a decade working as a buyer in retail and running a tech startup, I was burned out and all I wanted to do was put my hands in the dirt. Literally. I stayed up one night until 4am researching soil testing and began looking for ways I could pivot my career into agriculture. My husband, and co-founder, has family legacy in both sustainable agriculture and cannabis cultivation so we began spending more time in the Mendocino area asking questions and learning. Cannabis had already been part of my life both medicinally and recreationally and suddenly it was gaining traction as a legal, legitimate industry. In a market that lacked transparency, we didn’t see a brand that spoke to us as conscious consumers and decided everything was pointing in the right direction to take the plunge and build Aster Farms.
What is your own personal experience with cannabis?
My personal interest in cannabis is rooted in my battle with chronic migraines and anxiety. Incorporating the plant into my prescribed routine has enabled me to mitigate symptoms, balance equilibrium and chart a healthy course.
What is the most challenging thing about your job?
The most challenging thing about my job is being a boss right now during the pandemic. When you run a company, you know you’re signing up for unforeseen challenges, but you can’t anticipate anything like this. Cannabis has been deemed an essential business in California, which means we are fortunate to be able to continue operating and providing patients with their medicine, but it also means additional challenges and responsibility to ensure our employees and our customers are safe.
What is the best thing about your job?
The best thing about my job is being able to be a leader in sustainability. Cannabis has unique properties that make it a particularly environmentally friendly product IF, and only if, grown the right way — outdoors, in live soil, using the sun, rain, cover crop and some organic compost only. Regenerative agriculture has the potential to shift the trajectory of climate change and cannabis can lead the way. Being able to spend a couple days a week at the farm getting my hands dirty isn’t too bad either.
Do you feel the cannabis industry is any more supportive of women than more traditional businesses?
I began my career in retail with many strong, smart womenmentors to look up to. But the tech world was far from that. Cannabis is definitely more supportive of female entrepreneurs than most industries and the best part is, some of the most successful companies right now in California are run by women. However, there are challenges, as well. At my upcoming SXSW panel Overcoming Bias in a Limited Capital Industry, alongside my colleagues Imelda Walavalkar of Pure Beauty and attorney Amy Margolis of the Initiative, we’ll be focusing on equity, women and BIPOC in executive positions, changing the composition of Boards, and raising capital under extraordinary conditions, as well as sharing personal experiences.
What force will determine the future of the cannabis industry?
Brands. Right now there isn’t much brand loyalty as consumers are still exploring the legal cannabis market and taking what they can get from their local dispensary or delivery service. As the industry matures and consumers have more access and experience, we will begin to see branding matter, marketing campaigns move the needle and consumers beginning to gravitate to brands that fit their overall lifestyle.
What’s your preferred method of cannabis intake?
I prefer vaporizing flower in my PAX 2 vaporizer or smoking pre-rolls, and have also started getting intro microdosing with edibles recently. There are a few edibles brands in California that have really gotten the flavor right which is both wonderful and dangerous (I want to eat more than my dose!).
How do you currently use cannabis?
I use cannabis to decompress and that’s usually in the form of a pre-roll because there is something about the act of rolling it that contributes to the calm. Before bed, I typically vaporize flower in my PAX because I feel comfortable vaporizing indoors and being in bed already relaxed makes all the difference. For my migraines, I use a combination of topicals, tablets and flower at the first sign of an attack.
Complete this sentence: The one thing I hope for the future of the cannabis industry is….that there is room for all who have good intentions.