Sisters, Michelle and Lauren Hackett, were born into food farming, raised in the Salinas Valley, located in Central California, south of San Francisco.
Together, they now run Riverview Farms, a commercial cannabis company founded by their father, Mike Hackett. Michelle is acting President, having been with the company five years. Lauren is Retail Sales Manager, now with the farm for three years.
“My sister and I were born and raised here in Salinas,” Michelle Hackett shared. “We are from three generations of agricultural entrepreneurs.”
The valley sits between two mountain ranges, the Gabilan and the Santa Lucia, with the Gabilan range made famous in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Steinbeck hailed from this fertile valley long known for its agriculture.
Called the “Salad Bowl of the World,” growing more than 70 percent of the country’s lettuce. Celery, broccoli, tomatoes, peppers and cauliflower are crops that also do well in the cool, humid environment of the coastal region, as the marine influence of the Pacific Ocean flows into the valley, creating the perfect condition for cool weather crops.
Salinas was also known as one of the top cut flower producers. But with the global flower market dominating, the valley was left with empty Dutch greenhouses, with roofs that roll back to let the sun in – perfect for growing cannabis.
Born into it
Michelle received a degree in business from Saint Mary’s College in California, and interned at Growers Express for its CEO, learning all she could about the business strategies of agriculture, sales and marketing.
“I always knew I’d be farming due to my roots here in the valley,” she continued. “After I completed college I came home ot work in produce sales for a local grower/shipper, Church Brothers. I joined the sales team and quickly moved up the ladder, collaborating closely with my boss and friend, Jeff Church.”
Michelle worked for the Church Brothers for four years, when he father was approached to lease out the family’s greenhouses to a cannabis company in 2016.
“Dad turned down the offer to lease out the greenhouses, and then requested an exemption to grow medical cannabis himself,” she said. “Everything I learned in agricultural I’ve been able to use here in cannabis. There are many parallels to what we do today. We are not reinventing the wheel, we are growing commercial high-quality cannabis in the same way flower, poinsettias, and succulents were grown here – with the same crews and best practices that lettuce, broccoli, and artichoke farmers use today.”
Compliance, inventory, distribution, fulfilling orders, everything any other farmer would do for food, Michell and team do with cannabis.
“Working closely with clients to keep production moving, as well as working with our retail team and production to fulfill orders in a timely fashion is key,” she added. “Communicating with my grower Sean on new genetics, upcoming harvest, trends in the market yields, working with our accounting team on keeping accounts clean – the list goes on and on!”
Flowers are Female
Lauren Hackett also studied business, graduating from California State University at Monterey Bay. She worked locally for a large agricultural recruiting firm until her sister, Michelle, asked her to join the team at Riverview, as Retail Sales Manager.
“Michelle asked if I could run the retain team,” she shared. “I’ve been overseeing our retail and packaging team, organizing logistics each week, checking quality of products between both retail brands, Riverview Farms – a premium product and 4Republic, our budget line.”
Vertically integrated, they control every aspect of the flower they sell from seed to shelf, with both brands hitting competitive price points.
“We control everything we do from seed to sale, including our own in-house nursery, ” Lauren said. “We are able to sell clones and teens from the nursery. We also have our own harvest, bucking/trimming crews, on-site pest management team, and in-house sales team. We do not have to rely on a third-party distribution company to do the work for us.”
With more than 75 percent female minority workforce, Riverview Farms is the largest female minority owned cannabis farm in Monterey, let alone the state of California.
Riverview provides work for all its employees 365 days a year – a departure for the transient agricultural workers in the area who must relocate six month out of the year to Yuma, Arizona to harvest food crops.
The future of cannabis in Salinas
With many of its greenhouses how converted into cannabis farms, Salinas has come on board for the plant, but it’s not perfect.
With ordinances drawn up regionally throughout all states legal for cannabis, California is no different in its disjointed rules and regulations in dealing with the plant.
Just one such ordinance seemingly based on a lack of knowledge, is the destroying of leaf, stems and roots. All must be trashed, when in most other regions the material is considered a viable commodity, with medicine makers using the entire plant for a full cannabinoid and terpene profile – including the roots. At the very least, this type of material should be put into compost for a rich nutrient-based fertilizer and soil conditioner.
“My hope is that regulators can be gently educated on these points, and open their eyes to the full potential of this viable business,” Michelle explained. “We need fair treatment, less taxation, more retail outlets, a cap on cultivation licenses to correct this surplus of product in the marketplace. We need lots of changes, but that only happens when people come together and make it happen. We can all sit back and complain about what’s wrong, but what are we doing to fix those issues?”
In order to enact change on the local level, Michelle sits on the board of the Monterey County Cannabis Industry Association (MCCIA), sitting on monthly stakeholder meetings with the county.
“I participate and ask questions, bringing topics up that I would like to see changed or improved,” she said. “I also sit on the county’s taxation subcommittee, and attend Board of Supervisors meetings to stay educated on discussion that affect our industry. And I speak up when need be. Bottom line, I try to stay active in the community as much as possible.”
One hope the sisters have is to find more networking opportunities throughout the state, attending Hall of Flowers and the MJ Biz Con to build stronger business relationships and to enact real change where needed.
At the end of the day, both sisters agree they enjoy partaking of the plant they grow, together.
“I have to say, I enjoy flower after the work day is done,” Michelle said. “And I must say, I enjoy it the most with my sister, Lauren, having laughs, talking about how far this business has come.”
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