Cannabis and the New Paradigm at Pott Farms

Cannabis and the New Paradigm at Pott Farms

Ken Wachsberger

The age of unlimited growth is over. We are surviving on scarce resources. It’s time for a change.

That urgent vision, and a lifetime of working with the poor, the needy, and the mentally ill, has inspired Robbin and Ellen Pott, known widely as the Pott Sisters, to embrace the teachings of Bill Mollison, who founded the field of permaculture in the late seventies, and found Pott Farms according to the ethics and principles of permaculture.

As Robbin explains, “Our current economy is based on the need for infinite growth, which is unobtainable and harmful. Earth has finite resources and we are already living beyond our means. The costs of not changing our ways are already showing up in climate change effects, massive income inequality, poverty, and political unrest.”

Applying Permaculture to Make Ethical Decisions

Mollison defined permaculture as “a philosophy of working with, rather than against, nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labor; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single product system.”

“We think of permaculture as a philosophy that can be applied to any decision we need to make. It’s a way to think about whole systems that is informed by ethics,” explains Robbin. “We are always asking ourselves ‘Is this the best we can do for the earth, people, and ourselves?’ which are the three core ethics. The twelve principles help us know if it is. We’re working to create the new paradigm, where we produce only what we need and give back the rest.”

The goal of the company rests on three pillars:

  • To provide stabilizing, well-paying jobs in the cannabis industry for people with barriers to employment, so families can restore healthy resilient lives.
  • To build a company that is responsible to its employees, its customers, its environment, its community, and its members.
  • To influence the cannabis industry to follow these same principles.

Pilot Program

Driven by this goal, they explained to attendees of the Women Grow-Ann Arbor chapter September meeting, they are creating a pilot job program to revolve around the ethic, “Care for the People,” which is about everyone having what they need to thrive.

According to Robbin, “One lesson we’ve learned from our life experiences is that what you need in order to get out of poverty is a stable, well-paying job. By giving them jobs, we help to strengthen the workers’ self-reliance and so these jobs strengthen the families as well. Children do better when their caregivers do better.”

Their plan is to identify and recruit, through local social service agencies, potential applicants who face barriers to stable employment. Candidates will include, for example, those struggling with housing and food stability, ongoing court cases, and mental health issues.

“We’re looking for a diverse set of trainees to ensure a variety of perspectives and experiences. They will exhibit such characteristics as the ability to work on a team, demonstrate empathy and compassion, and show pride in their work. We will also be looking for candidates with minor children in their homes.”

They will be trained in cannabis cultivation through a two-year pilot program, done to honor the permaculture principle of slow and small. Subsequent job programs will follow employee interests and industry needs.

Meanwhile, the program will connect trainees with social workers to identify their social and well-being needs and help them to access community services. “We anticipate addressing such needs as stable housing, reliable transportation, health and mental health, childcare and schooling, literacy, and civil legal aid and providing resources and trainings on life skills such as stress management, work ethics, nutrition, exercise, personal finance, and civic engagement.”

Planting Seeds

The seeds of the business go back to 2015 when Robbin, a long-time lawyer and researcher-advocate for struggling families, and Ellen, a nonprofit professional and artist-advocate for low-income women and girls, collaborated to create a trauma-informed job-training program.

The Michigan legislature at the time was inhaling the exciting job-related news that was drifting over from states that had already liberated cannabis. No one doubted that the day would come in Michigan as well and that the result would be thousands of Michigan jobs.

By this time, the Pott Sisters were already fans of cannabis and its medicinal value, Robbin for its help with her PTSD following a sexual assault during her college years, and Ellen for its help with her chronic pain.

“We wanted to be part of society’s rediscovery of cannabis,” said Robbin. “We believe that the cannabis industry should be rooted in compassion, inclusion, and fairness. We see an opportunity to promote these values through taking a holistic social approach to business that is rooted in the principle of justice, of living in balance.”

The Pott Sisters decided to capture as many of those jobs as they could and give them to those in the community who needed them the most. They would train them in cannabis cultivation. And they would provide social services to those who needed it.

Like the hairdresser named Combs and the concert pianist who lived on Beethoven Drive, the cannabis entrepreneurs had a vision. Pott Farms was born on August 29, 2015, the day Robbin came up with the idea. Their Articles of Incorporation were endorsed by the State of Michigan on May 23, 2017.

Transition to Pot at Pott Farms

In anticipation of their license application being ultimately approved but recognizing that the process would be slow, they are leasing 1.6 acres of secluded, undeveloped land in Ypsilanti. While the cannabis will be grown in a greenhouse when the time comes, they have already created a flower garden in the open field and are tending two bee hives.

Permaculture designs are based on designs found in nature. Using the principle of observe and interact, they observed the land before deciding that the best design for their garden that would cultivate multiple mini micro-ecosystems would be a 2,000-square-foot mandala. The mandala is a Hindu and Buddhist pattern usually in the form of a circle divided into separate sections that is symbolic of the universe. They use biodynamic preparations to build their living soils.

They prepared the soil by building a sheet mulch base that consisted of twelve inches of compost, layered over six inches of mulch, layered over “a lot of cardboard.” This practice illustrated their application of the use and value renewables principle.

Using the principle of use and value diversity, they then built mounds of soil throughout the garden and planted them with pollinator-friendly flowers and herbs, including sunflowers, zinnias, cosmos, dahlias, basil, sage, lavender, and Echinacea.

According to Ellen, “The garden requires very little of our time. We saw germination begin within two to three days versus seven to ten days. We have not watered the garden since the July drought and we rarely see weeds. The garden pathway is filled with a variety of mushrooms, which is a sign of healthy micro ecosystems. Our garden is filled with pollinators, including bees.”

Patience and Flexibility

In August, Robbin and Ellen heard from the Board of Medical Marijuana Review about their prequalification application, including the first list of deficiencies in their application, additional questions, and instructions on how to get their fingerprints taken. Because they’re still adding board members, they anticipate remaining in the first of three approval phases for several more months. Meanwhile, they’re working on the second part, the facility plan.

In the meantime, a team of non-managing members of Pott Farms financially support them while they get the farm off the ground. They plan to start sales of sunflowers and other dried flowers that they’ve been harvesting from the farm and their mandala garden sometime this fall to generate additional revenue.

Though currently the farm’s only employees, they have as their goal to hire their first four trainees some time in 2019.

“We have learned a lot on our journey so far,” said Ellen. “A lesson we continue to learn is patience and flexibility. Our biggest challenge is the ever-changing landscape of the cannabis industry in Michigan and the nation.”

You can follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. And, if you are inspired by their vision, you can email them at ellen@pottfarms.org and robbin@pottfarms.org.

Ken Wachsberger, editor of Bloom Blog, is an author, editor, and book coach and the founder of Azenphony Press. He is the author of the recently released Ken Wachsberger’s Puns and Word Plays for the Job Seeker.