As the season of giving kicks off, the cannabis industry continues its year-round effort to give back, recently highlighted by some of California's biggest brands and a ton of local dispensaries joining forces to raise awareness of hunger on United Nations' World Food Day.
Led by Bloom Farms, which since 2014 has fed more than 1.4 million meals to Californians in need, the companies kicked off a monthlong effort starting Oct. 16, which is World Food Day. During the campaign, Bloom Farms doubled its standard donation of one meal for every one product sold. Pax, whose Pax Era is one of the most popular pieces of vaporizer hardware used for consuming Bloom Farms oil, kicked in $10,000 toward the campaign.
"There are too many people wondering where their next meal will come from in every county in America, even those with significant wealth or great agricultural traditions, like many counties in California," said Michael Ray, Bloom Farms' founder-CEO. "We built Bloom Farms around two missions — to provide great legal cannabis products and to end food insecurity in the communities that we live and work in. We've made great strides so far and, with the help of so many community-minded members of the cannabis industry this month, we can move even further toward our goal."
We spoke with Ray on the eve of the campaign's end.
"It went really well," Ray told L.A. Weekly. "We feel like World Hunger Day was a great success in bringing awareness to the United Nations–recognized day. We were able to take a unique approach here, something we've never really done before, and bring in our partners, both our dispensary partners and our product partners, to collaborate on this."
Joining Bloom Farms, Pax and Eaze were 30 retailers across the state. Nine L.A. dispensaries took part, making up nearly a third of total retail participants. Among them were Buds & Roses, Herbarium and Urban Treez.
"We got everybody behind this initiative. People sharing it on social media, people sending messages to their email list. And we got [the media] who kind of picked up on it and wrote about it as well. We think it was a big success from a visibility standpoint. There is an end goal of no hunger by 2030 — it's all about spreading the message and getting out in front of it. It was a lot of fun," Ray said.
Ray took pride in how fully his team and partners got on board with this mission, which he has worked for years to embed in Bloom's corporate culture. He brought the entire company together to help promote this mission. "This wasn't just some kind of marketing team initiative," he said. It went from the production department to the legal team and even the accountants.
"Everybody did whatever it was that they could do," Ray said. "For a lot of them it was small things like volunteer day at one of the participating food banks, or just changing their email signature to bring awareness to World Food Day."
And it wasn't just his staff. "We had Eaze volunteering at the food bank with us, we had brick-and-mortar dispensaries partners volunteering with us at the food bank. It was a big success in my eyes."
As we enter the official season of giving, Ray noted the cannabis industry's penchant to give back all the time, as opposed to when it's at the front of people's mind during the holidays.
"For us, our season of giving and participating in our social good program is year-round, not necessarily something special for the holidays. We just continue to promote our one-to-one program. It's a never-ending initiative," he said.
Ray noted, thankfully, that around the holiday season food banks get a lot of support from the community.
"That's the time the general population really wants to give back as well. So they get very busy with volunteers workers and help, which is fantastic. In November and December, they're pushing out a lot of meals to people who need it."
But for Ray, the problem really doesn't change a whole lot no matter what month is on the calendar.
Here in L.A., Bloom Farms has spent the last three years working with World Harvest Food Bank and founder Glenn Curado. Curado started the food bank in 2007 after seeing the process from a volunteer perspective at other food banks and believing it could be improved.
"He's a total sweetheart and one of the nicest people I've ever met," Ray said of Curado. "He's dedicated his whole life to this. We're proud to be working with them."
The praise was mutual from Curado's end as he explained how it all came together.
"They gave me a call and said, 'Hey, we're a one-for-one company' and asked if we wanted to be a part of it. I said yeah. Then he said, 'Do you have any problems with marijuana and cannabis?' I said no," Curado said.
Curado told Ray he was raised in Hawaii, "so it was all over the place," he said with a chuckle. While Curado doesn't personally indulge in cannabis, he thought the whole thing sounded pretty awesome. "And they have been great ever since," he said.
This kind of deal hasn't always worked out well for the food bank, so Curado takes joy in how well the ball has kept rolling over the years.
"They support us every step of the way," he said. "Some people say this is what we're going to do for you, for every something that we sell we're going to donate back this much. And you never see the money. They use you for publicity somehow and you'll be lucky if you get 35 cents."
While Curado was on board early, his team at the food bank initially had some reservations about working with cannabis companies. The concern came around the branding on trucks, advertising, the website and other places the food bank might want to show their big sponsor some love. After a quick glance around the table when they met on the subject, everyone was ready to move forward.
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As for ramping up around the World Hunger Day Campaign, with new companies and volunteers coming through, Curado said it continues to be nothing but a positive experience with the cannabis community.
Curado said he is glad to see the influx of support during the holidays. But the standard canned-goods drive doesn't so much fit in with the healthy-eating ethos attached to the food bank's mission. This makes the kind of financial support the cannabis community brings extra helpful.
"We're not your grandma's food bank," Curado explained. "What we do here is everything is certified organic. We do as little as possible in regards to canned and nonperishable goods. So we're all about healthy, sustainable eats. What Bloom does for us by giving us the cash is we're able to purchase stuff for the families that we might not otherwise be able to afford. Simple stuff like milk and cheese that we don't always get on a regular basis.
Seven other food banks also will be supported by the program this month.