How did the “hippie in high heels” break out of the golden handcuffs of my corporate career in pharmaceuticals and into the cannabis industry, during the era of it being illegal?
We have all heard our greatest attributes are also our greatest challenges and so for me, I am a daydreamer. I get excited, thrive and love to think about all the possibilities of what could be which often leads me to be light years ahead of what is actually manifesting in current day reality. My colleagues and leadership team refer to it as “Franny’s LaLa Land.”
I read and wrote a paper on “The Emperor Wears No Clothes” while in Forestry School in the early 90’s and ever since have believed that one day, the US would utilize hemp to revolutionize our economy and agriculture. Here we are decades later and it is playing out.
I began my pharmaceutical career with King/Phizer Pharmaceuticals in the cardiovascular division. I felt like the luckiest woman in the world to have the opportunity to educate physicians, nurses and healthcare staff, especially considering my degrees were in Forestry and Education. After 4 years, I transitioned to representing respiratory medications for GlaxoSmithKline for almost the next decade. I was traveling for business, managing a 10 million dollar territory and expanding my professional experience with interim positions in management, specialty divisions and training. I had the endearing nickname of “the Hippie in High Heels” across NC and within the company. Daily, I was promoting and an example of living a healthy lifestyle as best way to avoid our “un-healthcare industry.” I grew continually disgruntled with how to help, make a difference, educate, provide access to prescription medications, navigate the changing healthcare system with the introduction of Medicare Part D and ever increasing prices and access to medications.
We decided to buy land and build a regenerative farm. It had always been my lifelong dream and hobby and our country was in the midst of the worst recession since dot com. In 2012, Franny’s Farm was born and everything changed, even though it took more than 3 years for me to quit my corporate job or “break out of the golden handcuffs” of my corporate career.
First came the heritage chickens, then sheep, a donkey and goats which are now a tourist attraction as Goat Yoga Asheville, and famous for being on VICE TV. Our agriculture expanded to edible crops, herbs, nut trees, berries and so of course, we needed bee hives to pollinate our crops. I was teaching a “Business of Farming” class in Raleigh NC when I noticed in the Vendor section a sign saying “Let Farmers Grow Hemp!” I learned that the only way for NC to get federal approval for the “Industrial Hemp Pilot Program” was to deliver 100K signatures of support, $200k dollars, set up a Hemp Commission and partner with a university. I certainly did support and drive momentum for the goals although I did not spearhead these as I was still working in Pharma. Well, NC farmers made it happen and after 5 dismissed motions, we were losing hope. Minutes before the stroke of midnight, our NC Hemp program was approved and only weeks away from the ideal planting date.
I leaped then looked. I quit my Pharma job and committed to the farm. In collaboration with Blake Butler, at the time an acquaintance as the public relations guy that had been putting on educational events called HempX for several years, we planted hemp in 2017. How we got hemp seed from Italy and shared it with the NC State Research Station to duplicate the hemp trial is another fun story. After the harvest and a nationally recognized educational event, I learned from the NCDA (North Carolina Department of Agriculture) that I was the first female farmer in North Carolina to plant hemp! And North Carolina was the 9th state to grow hemp and the only state where farmers funded the program. Months later, I was invited and delivered a TedX talk on “Hemp as a Crop” and awarded the honor of being the “Featured Farmer for Hemp History” in 2018 and the voice for US farmers at the national press conference in 2019 after Hemp became federally legal.
When there is no road, build it, and so we did. With a savvy and determined business partner, Jeff Tacy, by my side, we developed our vertically-integrated businesses called Franny’s Farmacy. The heart is still, and always will be, the farm. Helping others is still the mission as we deliver “Seed to Shelf, Hemp and Health.” As we opened our first CBD Dispensary in Asheville NC and were planning the second, we filled the need to also develop manufacturing and distribution businesses. We now have the privilege of helping others develop their own private label products, supplying dispensaries across the country with our quality branded products and partnering with entrepreneurs to open franchises which now total eight in four states. As Robert Earl Keen sings, “the road goes on forever and the party never ends.”