Cannabis cultivation is a taboo subject in the United States, especially in non-white communities.
Not only are there barriers to entry for non-white communities learning about marijuana building, there is a strong negative stigma associated with black people and marijuana, part of the generation-long ‘war on drugs’ in the United States.
Damian Fagon, the founder of Gullybean, wants to change the script and share knowledge about marijuana building so that more people, especially black and colored people, can access the multi-billion dollar opportunity of marijuana.
With insights from Buffer’s Small business, big lessons podcast episode eight and the accompanying unpublished interview, Damian shared his journey from dagga farmer, to teacher, to business accelerator leader, and the economics behind why he focuses so hard on encouraging people to become dagga farmers.
Finding farming and facing challenges
After years in the Guatemala Peace Corps and a few more in Washington, DC at the State Department, Damian Fagon wanted a change.
Instead of focusing exclusively on diplomacy, he wanted to work in economic development. This shift brought him to New York City, where he earned his Master’s degree in Public Administration from Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA). While there, he said he balanced business education with policy work, and explicitly focused on learning how he can help farmers get better yields from their crops. His goal was to return to Guatemala and other South American countries to aid economic development through farming.
Damian realized that although the market for medical marijuana is quite large (about $ 5 billion in the United States), it is pale in comparison to other types of crop farming. However, the possibility for cannabis plants, he said, has several other use cases from textiles to plastic alternatives. But there is one key problem: the war on drugs.
“The problem with the crop and the genetics we have access to is that the United States has spent the past 80 years with a federal ban on the study and growth of the marijuana crop,” Damian said.
After graduating from Columbia, Damian found investors in Philadelphia who would support him in a marijuana farm in rural South Carolina. Unfortunately, the harvest failed and Damian returned to New York City.
Determined to figure things out, Damian spent a lot of time – and money – learning the ropes of dagga farming from consultants in states that legalized recreational dagabis. While flying around and paying consultants, he could not help but realize how transparent this knowledge really was.
“The people who had access to the cultivation of marijuana own farms and they own land, and they live in communities that have very traditional agricultural roots,” Damian said. “And only 2% of farmers nationally are black, and so the inequalities that already existed in agriculture and land access are only intensified in the marijuana space.”
After learning more about dagga farming, he set up shop in the Hudson Valley in New York. Unfortunately, however, he had to deal with significant challenges to fit in as a non-white person (and immigrant to the village) in a region that was majority white and settled for generations.
“I’m not saying that all the people in these communities are racist, but they do not have much experience in divergent conversations, divergent commitments,” Damian said. “There are also not many immigrants who move out there. So, that challenge is very real and very, very personal. ”
From farming to business incubation
After successfully navigating cannabis farming in the Hudson Valley, Damian wanted to use his knowledge to have a greater economic impact for Black and Brown people in urban areas.
He first started teaching at Medgar Evers College, a historic Black College (HBCU) in Brooklyn. Not only did he learn the agricultural tools of farming, but he also brought in the business side, especially the opportunity in marijuana building.
“I will teach horticulture, but much of it will be a larger discussion about supply chain business opportunities in cannabis, so that people can actually see it as it exists in other states and identify places where they can position themselves to make money. [or] starting a business, ”said Damian.
Second, he began work on a much larger project in the Bronx: a marijuana business incubator.
“The idea with that project is specifically to create a facility and an environment in which those interested in the Bronx – entrepreneurs, former prisoners who previously grew marijuana in the basements of public housing in the Bronx and were arrested for it – those people access have our facility, rent equipment and start their own marijuana businesses, ”said Damian.
The goals of this incubator, Damian said, are threefold:
1. Micro-cultivation pods: These pods will allow people to rent equipment and space to start growing legal marijuana on a micro scale.
“The facility will be designed in a way that producers, especially first-time producers from the city, of the Bronx, [can] to pursue a micro-business license, ”said Damian.
2. Cannabis education: Disseminating knowledge of marijuana farming, the economic opportunity behind it, and the jobs for people who do not want to start a business right away. That arm, Damian said, will be run by a nonprofit founded by Damian and his team.
“They have a lot of experience working with marginalized communities, previously in prison, previously homeless, especially young people, to help them get jobs in high demand industries,” Damian said.
3. A business inside the incubator: Damian said this part is still being expanded, but he wants to see the incubator run its own marijuana building business so that it has an active revenue stream to fund other activities.
“I do want that facility to have its own business that can make it self-sustaining,” Damian said. “Of course there will be a level of profit sharing with those who come in and use the spaces to start their businesses, to pay for the overhead, but I do not want to start something that depends on continuous funding and sponsorship from donors and corporate sponsors. . ”
A global impact waiting to be recognized
There are so many possibilities for cannabis, whether medicinal or industrial, beyond recreational use. And Damian sees this potential as a massive way to uplift historically impoverished nations.
“I saw that crop as potentially transformative for the global south, specifically West Africa, Caribbean Islands, Latin America, Southeast Asia; “Some of these regions are perfectly suited for commercial cultivation of cannabis, and I wanted to learn how to grow the crop,” said Damian.
When he thinks of the reason he ended up on dagga farming as his way of economic development, he ties it back to his family and his passion. Even the name gullybean, for example, comes from a crop his father still farms in his native Jamaica.
“I fell in love with farming through Gullybean,” Damian said. “… With the legalization of cannabis for adults in New York, there has never been a better opportunity if you are interested in inclusive economic development [and] to generate wealth in low-income communities… there has never been a better time to be focused on the marijuana market. ”