Home Valley Advocate Trailblazers: The first Black-owned marijuana cultivation center on the East Coast has...

Trailblazers: The first Black-owned marijuana cultivation center on the East Coast has set up shop in Cummington

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The first Black-owned cannabis cultivation center on the East Coast is, remarkably, located in the tiny hilltown of Cummington — with a population of 875, mostly white, residents.

That fact didn’t dissuade Reginald Stanfield from selecting the community in northwest Hampshire County best known for farming, the homestead of William Cullen Bryant and the Cummington Fair as the new home for his fledgling marijuana-growing company, JustinCredible Cultivation.

The marijuana grow facility’s remote location off Powell Road — inside a building that Stanfield helped renovate — also didn’t stop the young entrepreneur from trying to meet another of his important goals — staffing his operation with as many minorities as possible.

Given Cummington’s rural location, finding the right employees hasn’t been easy, even when the company used fancy job-search sites and hired a recruiter. The goal from the beginning, Stanfield said, has been to hire the most qualified people, which is why the company expanded the search outside of the region. In doing so, they have managed to recruit some of their staff members from North Carolina and Maryland.

“We were going to make the hiring experience as fair as possible. We were just going to aim for the best-qualified people and just give that focus of representation in the market,” said Stanfield, the company’s CEO and head horticulturist.

Stanfield has also recruited people that he knew to join him on this business venture. Ashanta McGhee, who is the chief marketing officer, knew Stanfield from when they both attended college at Bowie State University. They remained friends after college, and when Stanfield approached McGhee about joining JustinCredible, McGhee recalled being excited at the prospect of working together and the chance to join the quickly expanding industry.

JustinCredible has managed to reach its hiring goal, as the majority of its 19 employees are people of color, Stanfield said.

“We’re [a company] that takes a lot of pride in having family-owned values. So we want it to be pushed is that the fastest way is not always the best way. You have to take your time, believe in your people and believe in the dream,” Stanfield said.

A journey begins

But Stanfield and others who work at JustinCredible believe that there’s much more that sets the company apart besides the fact that people of color make up the majority of its workforce.

Opened less than a year, JustinCredible’s journey from an idea to a reality is one of perseverance, facing obstacles and taking chances.

Upon graduating from college, Stanfield has been pioneering his own path within the business field and JustinCredible marks his fourth business venture. While the majority of his businesses involve creating services that he noticed were lacking in the entertainment and accounting fields, this is his first venture within the marijuana cultivation field.

But his innate interest in the growing of things was sewn into his DNA. Not only did he learn a thing or two from his grandparents, who were farmers, but Stanfield also grew up on a farm. When the market for cannabis cultivation began to grow exponentially over the past couple of years, he saw the opportunity to develop his long-held hobby into a business.

“I was living in Texas, and we had just moved one of my businesses down there. Then the hurricane happened, which temporarily destroyed our market so I was looking for new ideas to lead my team and we decided on cannabis,” Stanfield said. “I have been a recreational grower of it for years, so we saw the notification in 2016 when marijuana became legalized in Massachusetts and watched [the market for the right opportunity].”

In 2018, Stanfield decided that it was time to invest, along with business partners, in what would soon come to be JustinCredible Cultivation. When it was time to invest in land, Stanfield said he scoured available real estate along the eastern seaboard of Massachusetts before deciding to settle in Cummington due to it being “the only affordable option.”

Once they bought the building, Stanfield and his staff rolled up their sleeves and did 90% of the construction themselves, under the watchful eye of a general contractor. Stanfield explains that they did this because they didn’t know where their next investment would come from and couldn’t rely on finances that may or may not come through in the long run.

They also didn’t want to have to wait, because they wanted to be among the first on the market. But similar to that of many small businesses owners who are trailblazing paths in the industry, their journey is one that has been comprised of both exponential growth and unforeseen challenges.

Ready to open, then shut down

For two years, Stanfield and a few employees worked on creating a harvest of a unique blend of genetics using “organically derived ingredients” and “high-quality growth” methods in order to get to the point where they could open the business.

When they finally got to the point where they had obtained enough of a harvest — in addition to raising enough money to open the business — the novel coronavirus emerged and shut the industry down, leaving them to regroup from a monumental setback.

He says, “On the day of our inspection, we were shut down. … It was just lined up perfectly. And we [ended up] losing the majority of our genetics and our mom plants. We had to basically survive for four months off of the plants that were left with a wrench in not knowing when anything was going to reopen.”

After recuperating from that setback, the cultivation center officially opened on Aug. 6, 2020.

McGhee is excited to be along for the ride.

“We had worked together in the past on other projects and he always told me that once he started his company that he was going to find a way for us to work together again. I was able to watch him grow this company from nothing to where it is today and when he came to me to offer me the position, I don’t think I even let him finish asking me,” McGhee said.

McGhee is currently living in Maryland and is working remotely, but the company does provide some relocation services for employees that need to work hands-on with the cannabis. Stanfield acknowledges that JustinCultivation is not as competitive wage-wise as he would like due to the business being underfunded at this point. He hopes to be able to offer more competitive salaries to attract more employees as the company continues to grow in the coming months.

Surprisingly, the lack of relocation money has not deterred many of his employees. He has found that because the cannabis market offers so much career potential, and because he offers extensive training and education options, many employees are willing to relocate on their own dime.

Growing through cultivation

Because JustinCredible is a cultivation center, Stanfield explains that the company sell prerolls, concentrates and flowers to both dispensaries and manufacturers. The three different strains that they currently offer are often turned into different concentrates and edibles.

Stanfield says once JustinCredible opened, the business had little difficulty accruing a client base — and sales have followed.

“We did a lot of prework,” Stanfield said. “And once we got the license, it was pretty easy. People contact us daily once they figure out that we’re out here and working.”

Looking to the future, Stanfield says that they plan to invest into growing their customer base. At this time, he is content with remaining in the cultivation business as opposed to opening a dispensary, and wants to continue focusing on the well-being of the cannabis plants and perfecting their methods.

“Someone has to care exclusively about the plant, right? I understand that it’s business, but do we all have to be greedy? I own other businesses and cultivation is profitable enough and the plant deserves a company that isn’t all about [the] bottom line,” Stanfield said.

Source: ValleyAdvocate.com