Indoor, outdoor, greenhouse or a combination: Greenhouse
Can you share a bit of your background and how you and your company got to the present day?
I was born and raised here in the Salinas Valley by my parents, Mike and Sylvia Hackett. We were educated here. My parents have been entrepreneurs their whole lives, having multiple businesses—agricultural businesses, commercial real estate, restaurants. After they educated us, I was a St. Mary’s graduate with a business degree. I decided to move back to the Salinas Valley and [start] my career in agriculture at a local, family-owned and -operated company called Church Brothers. I was with them for about five years in the sales department, running their largest account, which was Sysco Food Service. Then, I decided to transition into our family business, which is Riverview Farms.
Riverview Farms was established in 2016 by my dad, Michael Hackett. He was the first cannabis operation in the Salinas Valley to get the exemption to even grow within our county and our city. Riverview Farms is a family-owned and -operated cannabis company that is vertically integrated. We hold nursery, cultivation [and] distribution licenses, so we control everything that we do from seed to sale.
It’s an incredible experience because I get to not only work side-by-side with my dad, who founded our company—he stepped back and put me in the lead position—but [also with] my sister, Lauren, [who] has also come on board and manages our retail division. Now, I would consider ourselves the largest female-owned and -operated cannabis company out of the Salinas Valley and possibly even in the state of California. We’re definitely very proud of that. My mom is our landowner, my sister and I run the company together, and we employ over 75% to 85% of a female workforce. I find that extremely important to me and to the ethics we hold here at Riverview Farms because I just don’t think a lot of companies could say the same about themselves. We employ our people 365 days a year. We don’t stop for a winter or fall crop. We are a consistent, 365-day-a-year supplier, producer [and] grower.
What tool or software in your cultivation space can you not live without?
For our style of growing, which is greenhouse-grown, we are relying 100% on the natural environment. We don’t have any supplemental lighting in the greenhouses. So, the software or tool that I would say comes in most handy for our lead cultivator and our entire team is an atmosphere control system that allows us to monitor the temperature both inside and outside the greenhouses 24/7, 365 days a year. It measures the temperature, the humidity [and] the wind speed both inside as well as outside the greenhouse, which is really awesome. Temperature control is everything. The atmosphere for the plants can greatly dictate the success of the crop. Being sure that we have a tool that we can monitor 24/7 the atmosphere of our greenhouses is very important.
What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your business in the last six months?
The best purchase of $100 or less would be the king-sized Advil at Costco for the headaches that Monterey Country has put on our industry as a whole. I feel that Monterey County has been one of the most challenging counties within the state to work with. My family and I come from ag. We’re looking to run this as an agricultural operation. If you come visit us, no one is stoned. No one is doing anything that’s not on the up-and-up, and [there is] a lack of local enforcement and [the] headache of the hoops that our county is making us go through.
For example, we already report to the state through Metrc—that’s out track-and-trace system. Our county decided to add on CC reporting, which is basically a redundancy of what Metrc’s doing. [There is also a] lack of opportunities for additional licensed retailers. I think that creates a lot of challenges for us and makes it almost impossible to succeed. So, I guess the Advil helps you ease those headache days.
What cultivation technique are you most interested in right now, and what are you actively studying (the most)?
The most important thing for us in terms of longevity is finding the strongest genetic library that we can possibly have. Part of being vertically integrated means that we have our own nursery on site, so we generate 100% of our own clones. Finding the plants that are going to do the best— [that are] going to yield the highest, have the highest THC percentage and cannabinoids—and making sure we keep it fresh and consistent is very important to us. Some of the strains that work, for example, in an indoor or outdoor cultivation [operation] might not work well here in the greenhouse model, but I would say the No. 1 thing that Riverview Farms focuses on is making sure we have the strongest genetic library possible.
How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?
For us, failure is not an option. This is our family’s legacy that we’re putting into this company. I’ve made this 100% my career. My sister has made this 100% her career. We’ve tied up 20 acres—that’s what we cultivate on—of my parents’ commercial real estate to make this a successful business.
We have learned from our mistakes and we grow every time that we are faced with a challenge. Part of being in a new and emerging industry is no one has done production to this scale before, ever, [with] cannabis cultivation. I think for us, [we’re] learning how to be the best grower we can be and how to sustain our business long-term. We’re in it for the long haul. Longevity and consistency and being a sustainable, successful business is really what we’re focused on. Every single crop comes with its own challenges. We’re on a waiting list for power upgrades. We’re dealing with Mother Nature. This is still a plant—not every single crop performs the exact same way, but we always learn from previous challenges and better ourselves for that next round.
What advice would you give to a smart, driven grower about to enter the legal, regulated industry? What advice should they ignore?
If I were new to this space and coming in, I would really do my research. If you’re in the state of California, which county is really working best with their growing operations? You want to be in a county where [cannabis is] widely accepted, and the regulators are actually trying to understand the challenges that growers are faced with and understand that it’s a commodity-based business. [Do] your research into where you’re actually going to be putting your cultivation space and [make] sure it’s sustainable. Rent, taxation, distribution fees—it really adds up very quickly. It’s a money pit, and you have to be prepared to sustain your business. [Make] sure that you’re in the best possible area that’s setting you up for success long-term because a lot of people enter into these high-end leases and think they’re going to turn a profit immediately, and that’s not always the case. In any start-up business, it takes time to generate cash flow and there are a lot of expectations in terms of compliance. It’s a very exciting industry to get into, but also one of the most challenging industries I’ve ever worked in. The United States is still against you—[cannabis is] still not federally regulated. There’s a big red target on your back always. [You have] payroll, taxes, crop loss, construction, power upgrades—there are so many things that you’re faced with on a daily basis that you may not see in the beginning or you don’t think it will affect you directly, but it affects us all. It catches up with any business, so be prepared.
Some of the biggest and most talked about brands, companies [and] retailers in the industry, unfortunately, are failing tremendously due to the amount of investor capital they’ve taken in and some of the poor business decisions that have been made. So, just because it’s potentially a big or widely known name in the industry, do your research. Make sure that’s a company that can pay you on your product. Some of the biggest retail names or some of the biggest brand names are not paying their vendors because they’re in so much debt that they’re in fear of closing down businesses. There are huge walkouts of employees who were once paid these large salaries but are now doing large-scale exits of 50, 100 [or] 150 employees. Six months ago, they were the talk of the town, like “Oh my gosh, are you in Shop x?” or “Are you carrying Brand x?” Some of these very hyped-up retailers or these very hyped-up brands have not been sustainable due to the companies’ lack of organization and financial independence. So, I guess my advice would just be to keep your circle small of who you’re doing business with and make sure that you are very aware of people’s cash flow. Not all business is good business. Do your research into who you do business with and who you’re selling to.
How do you deal with burnout?
Because we’re a family-owned and -operated business and because our headquarters is actually on our cultivation site, we keep a very tight-knit community atmosphere. My employees see [me], my sister and my dad on a daily basis—we’re very active in the day-to-day activity. So, ultimately, we always have a list of people wanting to come and work with us. We’re very fortunate and very blessed that in Salinas Valley specifically, we employ a very large amount of ag labor. In the other local commodity crops—such as lettuce, broccoli, spring mix, berries, artichokes [and] wine grapes—most of those are only seasonal opportunities, so only about six months of the year are those crops growing here, and then the other six months, they’re moving to Yuma, Ariz., so you have to uproot your family if you want consistent work. At Riverview Farms, because we’re choosing to grow 365 days per year, we can offer that consistency in terms of workflow. So, we are very fortunate to have opportunities to bring on additional staffing [to avoid burnout].
How do you motivate your employees/team?
I really try to go above and beyond for our Riverview family. I make sure that every single month we do an appreciation barbeque or, as it gets hot, I’ll grab snow cones or Jamba Juice for everybody. [Sometimes it’s] just going out and having lunch and talking with our people about what’s going on. We’ve very involved, making sure they’re treated with the utmost respect because without them, we wouldn’t have a business.
Things [can be] as simple as proper meal breaks, clean lunch areas [and] making sure our restrooms are sanitized daily. You would think that these are all common-sense requirements for this industry, [but] I’ve heard horror stories of people who have worked at other grows or other operations, even locally, who aren’t treated to that same high standard. I think the way we motivate is by ensuring that we are doing best practices, not only on a day-to-day basis, but also making sure that we’re working hard but have a lot of fun, too. For senior management, we do appreciation days, we do Christmas parties, we do team bonding events. I really try to make sure that we stay very engaged with one another.
What keeps you awake at night?
What really keeps me awake at night is knowing how skewed the perception of our industry really is. I feel that our county sees [cannabis], as a collective group, as the enemy, and that makes it very challenging. I don’t feel like our local jurisdiction wants to see cannabis succeed in our county, which is a real bummer. What really keeps me up at night is knowing that we just constantly have that big target on our back, and instead of working together and being transparent and educating people, I feel like our local county is so closed off to learning about our industry and growing together and making it a successful and safe business for our state and our community. What bothers me or what irks me is knowing that we don’t have that support, and I wonder if it would be different in other counties or in other jurisdictions, where it would be a little bit more well-received.
What helps you sleep at night?
What helps me sleep at night is knowing that I have an incredible team that I can rely on to get this done 365 days a year, knowing that were are in full control of our business, being vertically integrated and family-owned, and knowing that I don’t have any outside investors expecting unrealistic returns on a profit. We’re being modest and growing at a rate that we can actually afford to and [we’re] being sustainable for the long haul.
Because we’re part of the Salinas Valley, which is known as the “Salad Bowl of the World,” it’s so important that we are thinking about our environment and being sustainable. We want to be eco-friendly and conscientious as much as possible. For example, in our greenhouses, we use drip irrigation to make sure we’re not overwatering [or] overfeeding our plants, but then we’re also recollecting that water at the end of its cycle and reusing it here on the farm. We also reuse and sanitize all of our pots throughout our operations, so we’re not going through as much plastic. Even the style in which we grow—being a greenhouse cultivator, relying on 100% natural UV light and not using any supplemental lighting in our greenhouses is growing green in the natural way. Whatever you’re getting is true to that time of year—during the colder or winter months when you’re not getting as big a bud structure or as high a THC percentage, that’s true and natural to the time of year in which we’re growing. When we have full sun in spring and summer and we have these big buds and high THC, that’s because we have the UV light. We’ve also added a special topping to our roofing, [which] helps us save on our heat bill by about 20% to 30%.
Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for style, length and clarity.