When it comes to organic farming, Aster Farms has an edge over the competition: president and co-founder Sam Campodonico’s family has been growing in Mendocino County since 1968. His grandfather was the first person in the family to go to prison in Mendocino for growing cannabis, and legend has it that his family brought some of the first indica seeds to California. “Cannabis has been in my family for over 50 years now,” says Campodonico.
When Campodonico founded the 78-acre Aster Farms with Julia Jacobson in 2018, he was committed to staying all natural. In search of a clean high, the third generation farmer chose sunshine over grow lights and implemented regenerative agricultural practices that would make his hippie forefathers proud. As Jacobson puts it, “We believe that outdoor grown cannabis, grown not just in pots but in living soil in the ground, creates an exceptional, complex cannabinoid and terpene profile. That entourage effect truly does affect your experience consuming cannabis.”
Whereas some companies might guide their consumers based on the type of experience the strain might elicit, Aster Farms takes a different approach. “We didn’t want to promise that anyone was going to become super creative or have the perfect night’s sleep,” says Jacobson. “Every body is different and every experience with cannabis is unique.” Instead, the high is characterized with the help of celestial bodies, ranging from sunrise to outer space. “The plant cycle is based around the sun cycle, the star cycle, and the moon cycle,” says Campodonico. “We felt when we were creating an effects code to our brand that the sunscape system felt as organic as our company.”
The brand’s Sunrise label serves a few purposes. It tells consumers to expect a mellow high, with THC levels ranging between 14-17% and a strong limonene terpene presence. But it also signals to consumers that the desire to “wake and bake” doesn’t mean they have a cannabis problem. “We want to make sure people understand that cannabis can be part of your life from day to night. and that doesn’t necessarily mean you are abusing a drug,” says Jacobson. “It’s about waking up while easing into your day.” At the other end of the spectrum is their Outer Space line, which includes their “hardest hitting strains” for the more intrepid cosmic cannabis explorers. Radiant strains like Aster Farms’ proprietary Maui OG hits the sweet spot in between, and they recommend taking a few good hits before going on a hike or spending time with friends.
This month, another celestial presence is in the Aster Farms orbit. Customers looking for a way to celebrate Pride can look to the rainbow, thanks to the company’s collaboration with queer Guatemalan-Slovak artist Ludi Leiva. “Pride is special to us particularly because it’s a celebration of our friends and family and coworkers and colleagues,” says Jacobson. “We want to make sure we’re showing our support with financial contributions– 100% proceeds go to LGBTQ+ organizations– but also showing it through our packaging. What is a more tangible way to say what we stand for and what we care about?”
The first step in creating the Aster Farms Pride pre-roll was selecting the perfect strain to show LGBTQ+ folks the love, and after some deliberation the two landed on Mimosa. A hybrid, the citrus-forward flower is bright and tangy, and its high THC level makes it as bold as a parade performer. But its name also has Pride significance, as Campodonico explains. “It’s tradition, I’m told, to go out after the pride parade for mimosas, so we wanted to include that within our strain selection. We wanted to choose a strain that you could celebrate with, and could give you that buzz, but still have that radiant effect.” As Jacobson puts it, “It is the perfect joint to take to the pride parade.”
The packaging on the Mimosa one gram pre-roll depicts an idyllic queer pastoral bursting with color and is an homage to the spectrum of possibilities Pride represents, and its proceeds go to the LGBTQ non-profit Black and Pink. According to Jacobson and Campodonico, trusting Leiva’s creative instincts throughout the process was the key to producing such a stunning end product.
“When we reached out to Ludi we really liked the way she created a sense of inclusion and worldliness, and her exploration of themes like hearing and empowerment,” says Jacobson. “It was really important to make sure we weren’t dictating the creative on this, and allow her to speak with what she wants to say from the art to the nonprofit we donated to,” Campodonico adds.
Beyond collaborating with Leiva, the company’s founders also sought out input from their LGBTQ+ employees to make sure they were getting it right, and they found themselves enjoying the chance to step back from the business side of things and see a bigger picture. At Aster Farms, the sustainability ethic goes beyond environmental consciousness; social justice plays an important role. “We are really focused on sustainability not just being in the field or in our packaging materials, but in our community and in our employment practices and in our culture,” says Jacobson. “It’s really important to us to make the additional effort if needed at any point to be hiring people who bring a new perspective to create a diverse and inclusive community.”
These different perspectives came in handy when it came time to craft Pride outreach. As CEO of a thriving business, Jacobson likes to get down to brass tacks. But when she solicited the advice of her queer employees, they encouraged her to make it less of a business transaction and more like a celebration. “It’s easy as the CEO and the president of this company for us to live and breathe the business of this business,” she says, “so to have someone tell us to step back and take a moment to really make sure we’re celebrating in the language we’re putting out there was so helpful.”
Jacobson and Campodocino have worked to create a space where their diverse staff can feel at home. “We’ve heard from our employees that we are creating that safe space,” says Campodonico. The founders are grateful for the opportunity Pride gives them to reflect on the strength of that community. They remind themselves that celebrating inclusivity is something that goes beyond just one month out of the year. As Jacobson puts it, “We shouldn’t need a holiday for that, but it’s always a good chance to stop and take that moment.”