Chem Tales: Flow Kana Founder Believes Cannabis Could Crumble Big Ag

It started with a visit to a farm but ends with a global paradigm shift.

Flow Kana founder and CEO Michael Steinmetz had an epiphany while touring a small Emerald Triangle farm. It was around 2015, and the Venezuela native had only recently relocated to California. While visiting with Casey and Amber O’Neil of Happy Day Farms, Steinmetz realized that he was looking at something he’d never seen.

“On that farm, for the very first time, I saw cannabis in its rightful place under the sun,” he recalls. “That may sound obvious, but I was used to seeing indoor in San Francisco and Oakland — grows in big warehouses. Under prohibition, you never got a chance to see cannabis out in the sun.”

He was intrigued by some of the farm’s practices, which included solar panels, rain catchments, and a fully diversified array of crops.

That last point in particular grabbed Steinmetz’s attention. He saw that Happy Day Farms was essentially using cannabis as a “cash crop.” As opposed to a farm dedicated solely to pot production, Happy Day was growing tons of companion plants like cabbage, carrots, strawberries, and sunflowers. Thus, the idea for Flow Kana — a way for small farms to scale without losing their identity and guiding morals — was born.

“I started digging deeper,” Steinmetz explains. “I really woke up to the idea that, for these small farmers, cannabis was a cash crop that subsidized their existence and subsidized the production of a whole gamut of vegetables and other farm products.”

In a fascinating twist on the normal trajectory of cannabis farms, Flow Kana says they opted to focus on pot plants first as a way to eventually circle back to a much more diverse offering of produce. By uniting what Steinmetz terms a “decentralized, fragmented” collection of cannabis farmers in Northern California’s Emerald Triangle, the company offers small operations a centralized supply chain and a common brand.

Eventually, the plan is to expand this model to include a full array of produce. Steinmetz envisions a CSA bundle that includes a box of vegetables and an ounce of cannabis. Given the difficulties of establishing a cold chain and amassing the number of refrigerated trucks necessary to operate, Flow Kana figured it might be best to start with cannabis and go from there.

In the past few years, the company has partnered with Emerald Triangle farms like Mendocino’s Swami Select, Humboldt’s Moon Made Farms, and Sonoma’s Family Florals. According to Forbes, Flow Kana is now the best-selling flower brand in California, meaning Steinmetz finally feels he has the infrastructure and finances in place to continue putting his plan into action.

Recently, Steinmetz enacted a program to ensure all employees at Flow Kana receive a monthly CSA box of their own — something he’s hoped to do since the company was founded. In a sample offering provided to SF Weekly, the contents included green garlic from Tequio Community Farm, lemons from DMS Ranch, and turnips from Cinnamon Bear Farm.

Beyond staff CSA boxes, Flow Kana also partnered with Dr. Bronner’s CEO, David Bronner. The release of Brother David — a curated line of sun-grown cannabis products and the first to donate all of its profits to charity — was announced in a fashion befitting someone who has aspirations of redesigning one of the planet’s most entrenched and stubborn industries.

On May 7, at San Francisco’s Vapor Room dispensary, Bronner and Steinmetz staged an afternoon demonstration that involved “freeing” farmers caged in a jail cell as a means of bringing awareness to the plight of growers trying to remain viable in the face of Big Ag. It will take more than a brand launch and some clever props to change the way we grow, distribute, and consume produce, but it’s certainly a start.

Others will need to adopt Flow Kana’s blueprint if systemic change is the desired goal. That doesn’t make the designer of the blueprint misguided — it simply means they’ll need a lot of help. On the other hand, it’s quite possible that the legalization and regulation of cannabis may prove to be the best — and last — chance we’ll get to alter the fabric of agricultural production in a meaningful way.

In fact, Steinmetz is counting on it.

“Small farmers in [the Emerald Triangle] account for almost 80 percent of the cannabis consumed nationwide,” he says. “We really see this ecosystem of small farmers as an incredible new model for agriculture. Because of its mainstream nature and all of the capital and interest that’s there right now, I really think cannabis has an opportunity to reshape the old paradigms that we still rely on today.”

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