Passionate people are often characterized as working “tirelessly.” But in reality, the time and energy we devote to our passions can be exhausting. No one knows this better than the very passionate (and very tired) Tess Interlicchia. As Founder and CEO of Grateful Valley Farm, and one of the first licensed marijuana cultivators in New York State, Interlicchia has spent the last year navigating a rapidly-growing industry that is still figuring itself out.
“It’s nonstop, the regulations are changing constantly. It’s a full time job alone just reading up on everything,” says Interlicchia.
Grateful Valley is situated on seventy-two acres of land which has been an organic farm for decades. Interlicchia purchased the property in 2019 to grow hemp and planned from the start to grow cannabis once it became legal. She applies regenerative farming practices and grows weed the good old fashioned way. “I love outdoor, I don’t ever want to go indoor. It’s just ground grown. It allows the plant to do what it’s supposed to do,” she says.
When applications opened up for Adult-Use Conditional Cultivator licenses last March, Interlicchia found the process of paperwork relatively painless and, within about a month, was one of more than fifty farmers approved. But since then, things haven’t been so easy.
The very morning of this interview, Interlicchia was notified by New York’s Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) of a new change to lab testing. “There are so many bottlenecks. It’s been a nightmare,” she notes.
Nearly 300 farms have become licensed marijuana growers since Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a conditional cannabis cultivation bill last February and Interlicchia says that currently there are still too few labs approved to test product. “It started out with just four labs for the whole state – that’s all there was at the beginning. And now there’s more, maybe seven. The turnaround time is not ideal.”
Fortunately, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. After many hoops and hurdles, the farm’s line of cannabis flower – including strains Blueberry Muffin and Humboldt Sour Diesel – is expected to finally hit New York dispensary shelves this month. And Tess is working on an expanded product line that will include gummies, concentrates, topical ointments, and tinctures.
Even when she’s talking about how demanding her work can be – “it’s constant triage” – Interlicchia frequently punctuates her sentences with reassurances like, “But it’s great. It’s awesome.” Whether she’s reassuring me or herself doesn’t really matter. It’s clear that she believes very strongly in the importance of her work. So what keeps her going?
“My heart is in it for the medicinal aspect. I’ve just seen it change so many lives.” explains Interlicchia, a third-generation nurse, and licensed nurse practitioner with more than 20 years experience in the medical field. Interlicchia says she’s seen the positive effect cannabis can have for people suffering from mental health issues, inflammatory bowel disease, chronic pain, muscle spasms and many other conditions. “People love it recreationally and that’s cool. But it is amazing medicine.”
Growing up in the scenic Finger Lakes region of New York State with parents who were both hippies and nurses, Interlicchia never viewed cannabis as taboo.
“Funny story,” she begins, “I was fifteen and I was smoking a cigarette – a nasty tobacco cigarette – out of my window. My mom was outside. She’s like, ‘Tess? Is that a cigarette?’ I was like, ‘No, Mom, it’s just a joint.’ And she’s like, ‘Oh, okay. Nice.’ It was like, you can smoke your weed, but no tobacco!”
Unsurprisingly, Interlicchia encountered far less-accepting attitudes throughout her medical career. She found herself frustrated by the limitations of mainstream medicine, including federally-funded conglomerate hospitals where even mentioning cannabis is particularly taboo.
“So many places I worked, they’re like, You can’t recommend cannabis. You can’t even talk about it,” recalls Interlicchia. “It’s like, ‘What do you mean? I can’t talk about cannabis, but I can give people Oxy?’ That’s not okay. I’m like, ‘eff this.’ That’s not how I want to spend my life.”
Taking matters into her own hands, in 2021 Interlicchia co-founded the Roots to Rise Wellness Center, a holistic women’s health clinic, in Corning, New York. “Our practice really took off the exact same time that the cannabis thing came up.” Interlicchia says of her wildly busy last year. “It was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is so insane.’ I’m almost capped out with taking any new patients. But it’s awesome. It’s great. I mean, it’s a good problem to have.”
It might be hard for Interlicchia to complain because her professional life now – balancing her medical practice and her cannabis business, is the culmination of many years of work and the product of deeply-held values. “I’ve always loved cannabis and I’ve always been promoting it and trying to destroy the stigma around it to help educate people on how amazing it is,” she says.
Grateful Valley Farms was the realization of a lifelong dream. “I always wanted to be a farmer,” says Interlicchia, who has fond memories of her grandparents’ farm as a child. Today her own children, ages eleven and thirteen, help out on her farm in the ways they’re allowed. (Minors can’t legally come into contact with THC.) “I absolutely loved picking vegetables and planting with my grandparents and I wanted that lifestyle for my children too. It’s pretty badass to grow up on a farm.”
Interlicchia hopes that her story and her position as a business owner can help get more women into the male-dominated cannabis industry. “It definitely sucks,” she says of being a woman sometimes pitching to men, who may overlook her. “Sometimes you think, ‘You know, if I had a penis, I probably would have found funding.’ So yeah, it can suck. But we need to keep pushing forward. And you know, keep on keepin’ on. I’d absolutely love to help other women get into this business, because we need help.”
In the meantime, Interlicchia has her product launch, and hopefully, a nap, to look forward to. “I just don’t want to be stretched too thin. It’s all so important to me,” she says.