Grower Stories #2: Iris Rogers
Interview With the Owner of the Homestead Hemp Farm and Her Success Story
The AskGrowers team is pleased to share real-life stories of growers and cannabis product manufacturers with you. Last week we talked to Iris Rogers, CEO & Founder of Homestead Hemp Farm. She is the owner of a family farm in the 8th generation. In the 70s, the dairy industry was in decline. Thanks to Iris's entrepreneurship, the family was able to resume their business in a new niche. Cannabis farm development was not easy, but that is where we wanted to focus your attention. The history of the Rogers family is an example of how irresistible desire and hard work is all that is needed to succeed. But I will not tell all the details; below, you can read the full interview of Iris about her Homestead Hemp Farm.
Julia (AskGrowers) : When did you start your business?
Iris Rogers (Homestead Hemp Farm) : We applied for our license to grow hemp in the NYS Pilot Research Program and got approved in February of 2018. We immediately started growing in May of 2018. We were among the first farms in New York State to be approved and start researching.
Julia : Why did you choose to invest yourself in the cannabis business? How long have you been harbouring this idea?
Iris Rogers : The idea was born in a Chipotle parking lot, when a family member was telling us about their visit to a hemp farm in Colorado, and the owners had told them a pilot program was starting in NYS for hemp. It really was a dream we didn’t know we had. Our family farm in Hebron, NY has been in our family since 1787, but became inactive in the 70’s when we could no longer meet the new requirements the dairy industry was enforcing. We’ve been looking for a new journey for our farm for some time.
Julia : What was the hardest thing you faced starting/running your business?
Iris Rogers : The hardest thing we faced was actually working with family. Not everyone got along, there was plenty of conflict, opinions, and very little resolution. It ultimately resulted in some family leaving the team, and some new family members joining.
Julia : How many people work at Homestead Hemp today?
Iris Rogers : This is our third growing season, and we still aren’t making enough to have permanent employees. We have a lot of people who give their time where they can, mostly family and a few friends, but our business roots are still developing. I do quite a bit on my own.
Julia : What is your production volume?
Iris Rogers : Our first year we grew 5 acres, and had a consultant group sell it, who took 50% of the profit. So we didn’t see much money off of that. Last year we tried upping our acreage to 8 acres, and our crop unfortunately failed. This year we decided we needed to come back to the basics, and really focus on growing a beautiful high quality crop, and then up our acreage after we perfect our growing methods a little better, so we are only growing 1 acre this year. But 1 acre can be processed into quite a bit of oil and smokeable flower.
Julia: Do you use Homestead Hemp products yourself/your family? What products are your favourite?
Iris Rogers : We do! We all use our CBD oil, and some of us including myself smoke the flower. We also have a few products in the works, such as our CBD eye serum, and we are testing out the prototypes now! My favorites are definitely the skincare products, such as our CBD hand made bath bombs ( I love me a good tub sesh).
Julia : What agricultural/ production techniques do you utilize that you are proud of/feel make you stand out from other CBD brands?
Iris Rogers : We practice organically, and much of the farming equipment that we use is my grandfather’s from when the farm was operating as a dairy farm. We are an 8 generation family farm, still using some of the farming equipment from the 6th and 7th generation. We also do not use industrial drying resources. We use the slower barn drying method, similar to tobacco, in our 152 year old barns. Our hemp is crafted carefully, all by hand from start to finish. We also practice quality, not quantity, and take our growing methods seriously to ensure that our hemp is the very best quality. I think the thing that really makes us stand out though is our story. The Rogers family farm was originally 558 acres and was bought from a soldier who was allotted the land in payments for his efforts in the war. Since then, the farm has been handed down to a Rogers son for seven generations. I am the 8th generation of Rogers to farm the land, and the first woman to manage it in my line, though our family has always been full of strong, hard working women. I grew up on my family farm and moved to NYC when I was 18 to start my professional modeling career after being scouted at a gas station in upstate NY. I eventually went to college for vocal performance and operatic training, and moved home to help give the family farm purpose once again.
Julia: Which Homestead products are most sought after/are bestsellers?
Iris Rogers : We haven’t launched our online store yet, but we have been making our hemp pre-rolls and CBD oil available. As of right now, our pre-rolls are a big hit. I think there are a lot of people who do like to smoke socially but don’t want to get high, so this is a great alternative for them. The hemp pre-rolls are also more of an instant aid to anxiety vs the oil that can take some time to get into your system to sustain you throughout your day. If you are someone prone to harsh anxiety and have trouble controlling it, the pre-rolls are a great way to take a minute to yourself and just breathe. With no psychoactive side effects, you can collect yourself, stay relaxed and get on with your day. We are planning on launching CBD skincare products soon, so I am hoping those will be a big hit as well.
Julia: Where do you learn to grow hemp? Books, Forums, Youtube? Conferences you attend?
Iris Rogers : I would say learning how to grow is a moving target. Once you think you have the basics down, your soil throws you for a loop, and mother nature decides to hit you hard. Each year, growing hemp is different, and you have to learn how to battle your way against the elements to get a decent crop. But most of what I have learned has come from reading and asking others. I am fortunate to live in an amazing community who wants to see young farmers move home, establish and succeed. So if you’ve got questions, they’ve got answers. The key is not being too proud to admit you don’t know and need help. And then helping in return when they need something. That’s community. I’m also lucky to live in one of the biggest marijuana growth sites in New York State! Washington County has a lot of illegal growers who have been crafting their skills for years. There were a lot of people who had advice when I first started. And to be honest most of the books I read are about the growth of marijuana. But you have to obviously make adjustments because with growing marijuana you’re trying to get the THC level up up up, and with hemp, you don’t have a lot of wiggle room with your THC level content.
Julia : How often have you had issues with people not knowing the difference between CBD and THC and applying stereotypes to your business?
Iris Rogers : We were recently featured in The New York Times and on CNN about a robbery our first year. Two men stole $1500 worth of plants right from our field before they were ready to be harvested. A neighbor called it in and the police showed up. They ended up chasing these by car, then on foot. The police caught the men and we sought restitution and won. When I gave my deposition, I heard the officer’s testimony, and it was pretty clear that these men thought our hemp was marijuana, even though we had signs up saying it was hemp. As for applying other stereotypes when it comes to our products, it never happens. One of my biggest pillars in the business is education, so we make a strong effort to hold public meetings, seminars and events for people who have questions.
Julia : What is your stand on recreational marijuana (THC) and why did you choose CBD?
Iris Rogers: My siblings and I grew up in a strict Christian home so marijuana was frowned upon. Now that we are all adults and my parents who are the farm owners have seen that hemp isn’t really so bad, and that cannabis can really help people, they’ve changed sides to: we only don’t like marijuana because it’s illegal here. Once it’s not illegal, have at it. I think the growth of Marijuana is in our future and Hemp is a really good way to establish good growing techniques and practices, while still continuing to help people through CBD.
Julia : Your advice to people who consider starting their own cannabis business?
Iris Rogers: Educate, ask, be practical, and don’t get lost in the numbers. The numbers lie, and you might think you’ll make a fortune, but there’s a lot that goes into it. Be prepared to fail, because you will. Learn from your mistakes and keep going. Hold on until you’ve got nothing left. And for the love of God, DON'T grow more than you can handle. New Hemp farmers coming into the game should not be growing more than an acre their first year. Not because you won’t be able to grow that much but because you won’t be able to SELL IT. This industry is a lot of word of mouth and connections. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re going to be a hot shot your first year just because you’ve got investors and a lot of Daddy’s money.
Julia: What are the key marketing channels for Homestead Hemp today? What other channels do you consider?
Iris Rogers: Key marketing as of right now (during covid) is instagram. We can’t run any social media marketing ads, it’s not allowed. Some companies get away with it by not mentioning hemp or CBD anywhere and then when you click on their website they have CBD products, but we can’t get away with that especially because our business name has hemp in the title. After Covid, we hope to do a lot of events, and conferences, but honestly social media is our game. We are trying to normalize cannabis into everyday life and instagram and honestly pinterest is a great place to do that. But I highly suggest hiring a marketer who knows what they’re talking about and knows how instagram works. Algorithms and hashtags man, it’s a wild thing.
Julia : Do you ship worldwide?
Iris Rogers : We try to! I was just speaking with someone from Ireland a second ago. If we can make it happen we will!
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