Photo courtesy of Stone Road Farms; This capture is from our all-time favorite cannabis photo shoot. It spurred our quick descent into obsession with Stone Road as a brand.
We had the opportunity to connect with agro-expert and organic, sustainable farmer, Lex Corwin, CEO of Stone Road Farms. Read what he has to say about the state of the cannabis industry in CA, why natural organic farming yields a superior product, and how he approaches those amazing photo shoots we marvel at on IG.
Rogue Paq (RP): Ritual means everything to us. Talk to us about your personal ritual and how your product fits in.
Lex Corwin (LC): The only cannabis I smoke is from my farm. I don’t like indoor flower. The whole experience of growing outdoors comes through in the final product and experience - there's a reason I’m choosing to grow like this. My farm is at 3,200 ft elevation. We are on 57 acres, we grow actual “small batch.” We’re growing on less than 1% of the land. Because we only grow on 10,000 sq ft, each plant gets individual attention. We are entirely off-grid - relying purely on solar power and our own 650 ft deep artesian well. This type of organic, natural versus altered, is at the heart of our brand ethos. It is the differentiating factor between our flower and others. Any time you take a major agro approach to something niche like cannabis you will lose something special. It’s cost-prohibitive for other growers to set something up like this on a large scale and this is the magic in our product. You have to smell our flower - it actually smells like its name. You can tell what something is using your nose only. For instance, our banana OG smells like ripe bananas. You can identify it with your eyes closed.
"The only cannabis I smoke is from my farm. I don’t like indoor flower. The whole experience of growing outdoors comes through in the final product and experience - there's a reason I’m choosing to grow like this."
Rogue Paq + Stone Road = Match Made in Heaven
LC: Well, thank you! I’m extremely detail-oriented. 100% of the stuff that goes on IG I have a direct role in. I’m personally on-site at about 50% of the shoots, the other 50% my schedule won’t allow for but I still have a say in the creative direction. There are very few photographers to whom I can send product and they just nail it and so outside of that small handful, I like to stay involved. Our goal is to always create the highest quality images and for that, you need an army - a huge network of creatives to create an amazingly high-quality shoot on as tight of a budget as possible. The reality is that I spend way more than I should on marketing and photo shoots because I understand that inherently people are fickle and always want to see new images. I do it though because I know the images resonate. For instance, from a cold email which was driven by someone tasting our products and then finding us on Instagram, we are doing our first out of state deal in Oklahoma.
RP: Has the evolution of your company been smooth because all signs point to yes.
LC: Absolutely not. And this is something I think more people should be honest and open about. I have a lot of war wounds. Nothing is ever as it seems. From 2016 to November 2019 we really struggled and only recently the business has taken off. I credit this to keeping my head down and staying in my own lane. When you start comparing yourself to other's success you get disheartened but you never really know the full story. But the truth is since starting Stone Road - I’ve been robbed, betrayed by close friends, gotten into numerous legal battles, etc. Things are never as easy as they seem.
"Our banana OG smells like ripe bananas. You can identify it with your eyes closed."
RP: We feel strongly that through beautiful imagery and thoughtful design, we can help end the stigma associated with cannabis use. We get the sense that you feel the same. Can you talk about how this idea influences the way you present your products and brand?
LC: I grew up on the east coast and the stigma is much more profound there than here in California. My mom is an anti-cannabis person. She’s not against the people who enjoy it but she is just anti-cannabis in general and that has impacted the way I think about it. I have a weird relationship with the plant in the sense that I go to extremes in both directions. In college and afterward I was obsessed with it and indulged extensively. Then I went through a period where I abstained for 13 months. Then I had a great sesh with a friend and I felt amazing. It made me feel like when I first began smoking - the music was enveloping me, the food tasted incredible, and I felt transcendent. This led to me smoking a lot again. I’m super all or nothing with things and I recognize this in myself and so I consciously correct and dial things back when necessary.
All photos courtesy of Stone Road Farms
RP: What’s your policy around smoking on the job?
LC: I work for myself and can smoke all the time so it’s tempting but I keep myself on lock down. The amount of mistakes I made in the past smoking during work has amounted to tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars of mistakes. It’s one thing when this impacts you and only you - you can deal with the consequences on your own. But when the business grows and people rely on you it becomes less about you and is just selfish and irresponsible. I used to be super liberal with my employees like “blaze whenever you want.” But now regulations have also changed and so it’s not possible. We are strictly no substances while working. It used to be lawless and while that was fun, those times are dead and we have to adjust to the new reality.
"The truth is since starting Stone Road - I’ve been robbed, betrayed by close friends, gotten into numerous legal battles, etc. Things are never as easy as they seem."
RP: What is your sense of the current cannabis market in California right now?
LC: Everything is shifting. We are in a correction now. The era of companies who, pre-launch, raised tons of money on the force of an idea alone, has ended. I feel we are on the verge of a mass extinction in the industry. The operating costs of these larger companies are killing them. The party has ended for cannabis in CA for many reasons. It’s insanely regulated here and taxed higher than any industry. When you factor this in along with all of the operating costs, and things like parties and giveaways and discounts and promotions, all of which you need in order to keep the business going, the margins are nil. The reality is that no one is making a profit in cannabis in California. For instance, Stone Road isn’t profitable even though we have a good amount of revenue. We generate roughly six figures of revenue per month but I’m spending between 20-40% above revenue per month to sustain and grow the business. In order to keep going, we have been and continue to operate super lean. I do as much work as I can do by myself. I value-engineer every situation we are in and do that constantly with the business. We just need to stay in business and the profit will come - eventually...I hope....
To be clear, I'm talking specifically about cannabis in California. Out of state is a different story. For instance, in Oklahoma, cannabis is a super lucrative endeavor. In most other states people are making real profit and that’s exactly why we seek out of state expansion. Additionally, regulation is so much more relaxed outside CA it makes doing business a breeze. We have forayed out of state and we suspect that many top brands will do the same.
RP: What’s the most inspiring thing for you in cannabis at this moment?
LC: The new products. I’m very focused on what we’re doing internally because there’s so much noise in the industry. As I mentioned, I attribute a good bit of my success to staying in my own lane. So, I’m most inspired by the new products we are developing, one of which is THC chewing gum which we hope to release in the summer. Outside of my lane, I’d say Pure Beauty makes me feel something when I look at their brand. That they are different and provocative inspires me.
"I used to be super liberal with my employees like “blaze whenever you want.” "
RP: Who are some of your favorite artists?
LC: My favorite artists are always people who are doing something different. Right now I am obsessed with an artist named Devin Reynolds from Venice. He uses beautiful and calming colors to put forward cunning and clever quips about growing up mixed-race in Venice. It makes me feel something and it inspires conversation. That’s what good art is to me.
RP: What do you think constitutes good design?
LC: If it evokes emotion then the design has done its job. We believe in good design at Stone Road. We are trying to keep it authentic. We want to start a conversation.
RP: If you could inject one major idea into the cannabis conversation right now, what would it be?
LC: We need to elevate the industry to something we can all be proud to be a part of. This means in the way we approach branding - keeping it sophisticated and high quality - to also making mindful choices about growing and manufacturing. There are a lot of misconceptions in the industry and we want to be open and honest about our approach. Recently we got rid of most of our plastics and switched to glass. We are always looking to reduce water use and power and energy in our process. Even if these solutions cost us more money, we are dedicated to sustainability.