Once upon a time, in the dark ages of cannabis prohibition, you probably didn’t know who grew your cannabis, but if you did, they sure didn’t have their name and a smiling photo on the bag. At California’s BLOOM FARMS, the company wants customers to know who grew the cannabis, whether it’s flower, tincture or oil form. You can find its name on the label and in some cases customers can even read a profile of the product on the company’s website.
It’s just one of the many things that makes BLOOM FARMS a different kind of cannabis company, one that donates a meal to a food bank for every product purchased. “We’ve got to give something back. We’ve got to provide for the community,” says BLOOM FARMS Founder Michael Ray. “We’re focusing more around the reasons why people enjoy cannabis versus just focusing on getting as high as possible for as cheap as possible. A lot of the brands out there seem to be focused just on the highest potency and lowest price.”
Circuitous Path To Cannabis
Ray, 39, was raised in foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Calaveras County wasn’t quite the heart of California’s black market cannabis industry, but Ray says it was “Humboldt County’s kid brother, little cousin.” Many families lived off cannabis cultivation, lived in constant risk of being raided and arrested.
While Ray enjoyed his share of the local agricultural product that supported so many friends and neighbors, he saw a different path for himself. He left the family farm—known as the BLOOM FARM—for college, dropped out and, in a radical change of directions, went to work on Wall Street.
The year was 1999, the economy was booming and the internet was transforming the stock market trade. His brother, who had already made the move there, told him “they were pretty much hiring anyone willing to mash buttons.”
“It was definitely a culture shock but everything I wanted to do when I was young,” says Ray. “You grow up in the country and you want to go live in the big city.”
But as boom times transformed to bust times, of taxpayer bailouts and the housing market collapse, he grew cynical about the stock market and it wasn’t fun anymore. So he went home in 2009.
Back in California cannabis circles, plenty had changed.
“I wanted to make products I’d feel comfortable giving my grandmother and 90 percent THC didn’t fall in that category.”
Reconnecting with old friends, Ray found many were now second- and third-generation cannabis farmers. And they were doing it legally, under the auspices of California’s revolutionary medical cannabis legalization.
And the first time he walked into a dispensary, it was the classic “kid in a candy store” feeling. In New York, he was used to a bicycle delivery guy with three kinds of weed: Brown, kind of brown and green. “There were 40 strains and they all had names and they were lab tested,” he says. “The light bulb went off in my head and said to me, ‘This is the next big industry.'”
So in 2009 he began to learn how to cultivate. Since people were still getting raided by the feds those days, he kept the operation small, selling to a handful of dispensaries and learning the methods and technologies that were changing how cannabis is grown and how consumers enjoy it.
The more he learned, the more he grew fascinated with extraction and vaporizer technology. He saw how crude butane extraction was leading to home explosions and residual butane in the oil. He began to consider starting his own brand, with clean, safe and responsible practices. So BLOOM FARMS was born.
Not All About Potency
Ray believes in four essential tenets of cannabis use: Relief (from pain), relaxation, creativity and fun. These are the focus of the BLOOM FARMS brand, and Ray doesn’t believe delivering the most potent dose of THC every time, which he says is what many products do, is necessarily in line with these outcomes for the user. “I wanted to make products I’d feel comfortable giving my grandmother and 90 percent THC didn’t fall in that category,” Ray says.
That sense of responsibility is also why the company adopted it’s “1-For-1” policy of donating a meal to a food bank for every product purchase, providing 1.4 million meals to date.
“We are first and foremost a mission-driven company. It’s really important to focus on the double bottom line, not just the financial bottom line of the company but the bottom line of the positive impact we are making in the community and for our employees,” says Ray. “Our goal is to improve the quality of life for all people.”
Most BLOOM FARMS products tend to range in the 60 to 85 percent range, which Ray believes is more conducive for many people to actually enjoy cannabis. Their cannabis is sourced from growers all over California thought not, ironically, from the namesake BLOOM FARMS. That’s because Calaveras County officials in 2018 banned cannabis cultivation.
For now, their products are only available in California and Nevada, though they just released a CBD tincture that can be sold throughout most of the country. Ray plans to expand to other states with legal cannabis in the future. His plans are based on his love for the plant and how it can help people.
“I believe (cannabis) is making the world a better place,” he says.