Brother David’s, a not-for-profit cannabis company that launched in April, is trying to set high standards for cannabis cultivation in California—and the country—and invest in small family farmers at the same time, by using and backing a new certification system that goes beyond organics. Cannabis farmers, and until recently hemp farmers, cannot get their products certified organic via the United States Department of Agriculture as cannabis is still federally illegal.
Brother David’s is a partnership between David Bronner, CEO (“Cosmic Engagement Officer”) of the organic soapmaker Dr. Bronner’s, and Flow Kana, a California-based cannabis brand. Brother David’s only sources its cannabis from small family farms that are Sun+Earth certified.
The Sun+Earth certification not only requires cannabis farms to grow their crop outdoors using sustainable and regenerative practices, such as crop rotation and organic farm inputs, but to also treat their workers fairly and engage their local communities. Brother David’s currently sources its cannabis from eight Sun+Earth certified farms in California.
The Sun+Earth initiative comes as the state of California is creating a “comparable to organic” certification system, called O Cal, which is set to begin in January 2021. On July 24, regulators met for a fourth time with growers and other interested parties to discuss O Cal’s rules and standards. The idea is to largely mimic federal USDA organic standards, in hopes of an easy transition when cannabis becomes federally legal. (Read Cannabis Wire’s coverage of that meeting here.)
David Bronner has a long history as an activist for cannabis legalization. He started using hemp seed oil in Dr. Bronner’s products in 1999, and was arrested in 2012 for locking himself in a metal cage full of hemp plants outside the White House to protest against the ban on industrial hemp. To date, Bronner and his family have spent $5 million on efforts to legalize cannabis at the state and federal level. They say they plan to spend another $2 million for the 2020 cycle, along with a plan to end cannabis prohibition in twenty states, Bronner told Cannabis Wire.
Brother David’s, which has been in the planning for two years, began sales in May and is independent of Dr. Bronner’s. Cannabis Wire spoke to David Bronner to find out more about Sun + Earth certification and the non-profit, which is financed by the RiverStyx Foundation, an organization that funds projects on drug policy reform, criminal justice, environmental conservation, and research on the benefits of psychoactive compounds. (This Q&A was edited for clarity.)
Nikitha Sattiraju, Cannabis Wire: What is the goal of Brother David’s?
David Bronner: Brother David’s aim is to first, promote and help small farmers and set a really high bar in agricultural and labor practices. And second, to raise buyer power to end cannabis prohibition once and for all. We’re a not-for-profit because we want all our profits to go back to help the small family farming ecosystem. This is not about Brother David’s or Flow Kanna. We want this to be about the Sun+Earth’ certification.
CW: Could you talk about the Sun+Earth certification?
Bronner: We realized that with legalization, cannabis is facing the same dilemma that every other legal commodity crop faces—huge industrial, corporate actors get involved and start producing crops in a way that is environmentally and socially destructive. In the case of cannabis, we’re seeing huge indoor, energy-intensive corporate grows. And regulations favor these big players over the small family farm ecosystem that’s been supplying cannabis forever. A lot of these family farmers are organic pioneers that saw the disaster in industrial agriculture.
But they’re not able to compete or really distinguish themselves at point of sale. So we saw a need for a consumer-facing certification that will communicate very high-bar practices as far as soil health, taking care of the land, and paying workers fairly is concerned.
CW: How will Brother David’s help small family farmers?
Bronner: We want to cover Sun+Earth certification costs for farmers and provide farmer-to-farmer training in best practices through the Sun+Earth program. We also support efforts like that of the International Cannabis Farmers Association, which is lobbying at the state and federal level on behalf of small family farmers.
CW: What drew you to Flow Kana?
Bronner: Just to be clear, Brother David’s and Dr. Bronner’s are completely separate. We wanted to realized that we needed to establish direct trading relationships with farming communities and make sure that they’re farming in a way that wasn’t destroying the land or wildlife habitat, and that they’re paying workers full price. A friend in the industry apparently worked with Flow Kana in the past and gave us a heads up. We checked them out and realized that this is a company that acts like Dr. Bronner’s does, but in the cannabis world. So I decided to partner with them.
CW: You’ve actively worked to legalize hemp cultivation. What was your reaction to the 2018 farm bill?
Bronner: It was amazing. It was a long and hard cause. None of us thought it would take this long. But I’m really happy it finally happened and we can be a country with a rational policy for hemp. It’s a watershed moment.
CW: The Senate held a hearing on hemp production on Thursday. Do you have any thoughts on the ongoing debate regarding hemp regulations?
Bronner: Hemp should be treated pretty much like any other crop. We appreciate why there need to be regulations for higher THC cannabis, but for hemp, things need to be easier and not such a headache for farmers to plant it in rotation with other crops.