The cultivation of cannabis is taboo in the United States, especially in non-white communities.
There are many barriers that prevent non-white communities from learning about cannabis cultivation. Additionally, there is a stigma attached to Black people and cannabis. This is part of the decades-long “war on drugs” in the United States.
Gullybean founder Damian Fagon wants to change the narrative by sharing cultivation knowledge with more people, particularly Black and Brown, so they can take advantage of the multi-billion dollar potential of cannabis.
This episode features insights from Buffer’s Small Business and Big Lessons podcast episode 8. The accompanying unpublished interview with Damian shares his journey from cannabis farmer to teacher to business accelerator leader and the economic reasons why he is so passionate about encouraging others to grow cannabis.
Finding farming and facing the challenges
Damian Fagon, after many years of service in the Peace Corps in Guatemala, and a few more at the State Department in Washington, DC, wanted a change.
He wanted to be a part of economic development, not diplomacy. He made this shift and moved to New York City where he completed his Masters of Public Administration (SIPA) at Columbia’s School for International and Public Affairs. He said that he was able to combine business education and policy work while in New York City. His primary focus was on helping farmers achieve better crop yields. His goal was to go back to Guatemala and other South American nations to aid in agricultural economic development.
Damian realized that, while the market for medical cannabis is large ($5 billion in the United States), this market pales in comparison with other forms of crop farming. He said that cannabis plants could be used in many other ways, including as textiles or plastic substitutes. However, there is one problem: The war on drugs.
Damian stated that “The problem with this crop and the genetics we can access is that the United States spent 80 years with a federal prohibition on studying and cultivating the cannabis crop.”
Damian graduated from Columbia and found investors in Philadelphia that would support him in his venture to start a cannabis farm in rural South Carolina. Damian was forced to return to New York City after the crop failed.
Damian was determined to find the answers. He spent a lot time and money learning from cannabis consultants in states where recreational cannabis had been legalized. He couldn’t help but notice how well-kept this knowledge was as he traveled around the country and hired consultants.
Damian stated that “the people who have had access to growing cannabis are the ones who own their farms and own their land.” “And only 2 percent of farmers in the country are Black. So the inequalities in land access and agriculture are being magnified in the cannabis industry.”
He began to learn more about cannabis farming and opened a shop in New York’s Hudson Valley. He had to face significant difficulties in fitting in as a nonwhite person (and immigrant) in a region that is predominantly white.
Damian said, “I’m certainly not saying all these people are racist. But they don’t have a lot experience in diverse conversations, diverse engagements.” “There aren’t many immigrants out there.” This is a very real challenge that is personal and very real.
From farm to incubation
Damian was able to successfully navigate cannabis farming in Hudson Valley and wanted to make an even greater economic impact on Black and Brown residents of urban areas.
He began his teaching career at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, a historically Black college. He taught not only the agricultural tools of agriculture, but also the business side, including the possibility in cannabis cultivation.
Damian said, “I’ll be teaching Horticulture but a lot will be a larger discussion about the supply chain opportunities in cannabis so people can see it the same way in other states and identify areas where they can make money [or] start businesses.”
He began work on a second, much bigger project in Bronx: a cannabis incubator.
Damian stated, “The purpose of that project is to create a facility in the Bronx where entrepreneurs can find the right people – former incarcerated people who grew cannabis in basements in Bronx public housing and were arrested for it. Those people can access our facility, and rent equipment, and start their own cannabis businesses.”
Damian stated that the incubator’s goals are threefold.
1. Micro-cultivationPods: This will allow you to rent equipment and space so that you can legally grow cannabis on a small scale.
Damian stated that the facility would be designed so that growers, especially first-time growers from the Bronx [can] pursue micro business licenses.”
2. Cannabis education: Educating people about cannabis farming and the economic opportunities it offers. Damian and his team will run this arm.
Damian stated, “They have a lot experience working with marginalized populations, formerly in prison, formerly homeless. Particularly young people, helping to get jobs high-demand industries.”
3. Damian stated that the incubator will have a business. However, Damian wants the incubator to be able to grow its own cannabis business to generate revenue to finance other activities.
Damian stated, “I want the facility to be able to start its own business and make it self-sustaining.” “There will be some profit sharing for those who use the space to start their business, to pay overhead. But I don’t want it to be dependent on ongoing funding and sponsorship from corporate sponsors.
There is a global impact that needs to be acknowledged
There are many uses for cannabis beyond recreational use, including medicinal and industrial. Damian sees this as a huge way to lift historically poor nations.
Damian stated, “I saw this crop as potentially transformative to the global south, specifically West Africa and Caribbean, Latin America, Southeast Asia; some regions that are perfectly suited to cannabis commercial cultivation. I wanted to learn how the crop is grown.”
When he thinks about why he chose cannabis farming to be his source of economic development, his family and passion are the reasons. Gullybean is, in fact, the name of a crop that his father still grows in Jamaica.
Damian said, “I fell in love farming through Gullybean.” “… The legalization of adult-use cannabis in New York has created an unprecedented opportunity for anyone interested in inclusive economic development and generating wealth in low income communities. It’s a great time to focus on the cannabis market.
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