MILE HIGH WITH MILE DEEP ROOTS
By Felisa Rogers
Rasta Ronnie has an easy manner of speaking: relaxed, forthcoming, quick to laugh. A former street vendor who’s now lead grower at an up-and-coming Colorado farm, Ronnie’s story illustrates how personality and promotions are now a vital key to success in a rapidly changing industry.
It all comes down to brand these days, so it’s fitting that Rasta Ronnie’s entry into the world of legal cannabis started in the merchandise business, selling gear at hip hop, dubstep, and Reggae shows. Medical cannabis was booming in Colorado, and he realized his Rasta jewelry and accessories might sell well at dispensaries. Eventually, he developed a reciprocal relationship with Native Roots dispensary. They sold his gear in their stores and he sold their gear at shows and other events.
Working as a trimmer and promoter, Ronnie stayed with the company as Colorado transitioned from medical to recreational and Native Roots expanded from one store to nine. “Essentially, I became the street team for the brand, and I did the footwork on Instagram,” Ronnie says. “I built the brand.” His work paid off. When the owner revamped the company to prepare for the recreational market, Ronnie survived the shake- up. “He came to me,” Ronnie says, “And said, ‘Hey man, I’m starting a new company. We’re gonna call it Rasta Bubble—and you’re the Rasta.’”
To get Rasta Bubble off the ground, Ronnie put his head down for two years, working on invoicing, sales, manufacturing, deliveries, client relations, budtender training, and—his specialty—promotion. It helped that the owner saw the value of the social aspect of marketing. Rasta Bubble was a staple at weed-friendly events, and, as the face of the brand, Ronnie cultivated an impressive Instagram following.
When Colorado celebrated its first 4/20 after legalization, Ronnie was invited to teach a hash-making workshop alongside Ed Rosenthal, who was teaching the grow portion of the workshops. A photo of the two together further increased Ronnie’s audience.
“There’s a lot of people making quality hash, but some people do better than others, and it’s about the branding,” he says. “You can have four people doing concentrates and they can all look the same and they can all be really good. But the one guy that’s in the lead usually has a technique. He either knows somebody or he’s got really good marketing and branding or there’s something about it—something catchy that people respond to.”
A quick scan of Rasta Ronnie’s Instagram makes it clear why his persona is appealing to thousands of cannabis enthusiasts. In addition to pictures of giant sticky buds and fields of organically grown plants, his feed is peppered with Rasta philosophy, quotations from Hailie Selassie and Bob Marley, pictures of his beautiful family, and thoughts on healthful living. The tone is positive and down-to-earth.
Ronnie, who grew up in Denver, is the son of a Utah Mormon and a Jehovah’s Witness from Honduras who met at a boxing match in Colorado. As a young man, Ronnie found his own brand of rebel Christianity through listening to Bob Marley, which made him want to look deeper into the singer’s philosophies. “I read every book of scriptures I could get my hands on”, he says. “I read the Book of Mormon. I read the New Testament. I read the Old Testament. I read the Torah. I read the Koran. I read the Subtle Universal Law of Taoism. With that said, I did a lot searching to find out that I’m a Rasta.”
Being a Rastafarian in the cannabis industry can have its advantages, but he’s also experienced the downside. As his popularity has grown, various businesses have co- opted his image to lend legitimacy to their product. “I had someone contact me and tell me, ‘Hey man, this person’s using your face and your picture, and they’re trying to sell me mushrooms in another state,’” he says. “I’ve had people using profile pictures of me and my wife and kids.”
That said, the power of his personal brand has opened doors for him and allowed him to continue learning new aspects of the industry. When he felt like he was growing out of his role at Native Roots, he moved on. His next two industry jobs, at a transdermal patch company and another dispensary, weren’t quite right, but he eventually found a good fit at Best Day Ever farm, an 11,000-square-foot hybrid greenhouse facility in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Settling into the farming side of things felt like coming home.
“When I was hired on, the owner, Michael Gurtman, was really adamant about being the best, of having top quality,” Ronnie says. “He was such a lover of genetics that it revived me. It put such wind in my sails. I’d walk into the room and smell every plant and I’d walk out of there and my mustache would be trich-ed out from the trichomes. I’m, like, ‘Damn I shouldn’t have done that!’” Gurtman was set on finding the right line of organic nutrients, which led to Ronnie’s first win as a new employee. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Instagram was involved. “We were experimenting with different soils and nutrients,” Ronnie says. “The first or second week that I was there, I took a picture of my story on Roots Organics soil and sent it to Roots. The sales rep was like ‘We’d love to come visit you guys.’”
The Roots rep’s hands-on approach resonated with Ronnie. “From that point on, they treated me like family,” he says. “The dude brought up a personal line for me to try at home, gave the owner a really good discount on the whole product line, gave us their Terp Tea six weeks before it was available in stores.” Both Ronnie and the owner were impressed with the product. “Roots was the better product for what we were doing commercially,” Ronnie says. “Once we started to enter the Terp Tea into it…it was a world of difference. High resin production and super terp value. The terpene profile on the plants was through the roof. It was like night and day.” Although Ronnie has since moved on from Best Day Ever, he continues his partnership with Roots Organics, and is now working with the company to test custom organic teas at Seven Five Farm, a hybrid greenhouse farm in Boulder County, where Ronnie supervises three 2,500 square-foot flower rooms. He likes the new job because he has more creative control.
When asked for his personal grow philosophy, says, “Cleanliness is Godliness…” He laughs and corrects himself: “Cleanliness is Jah-ness. I like to pride myself on having a clean facility. That and attention to detail.” To Ronnie, that means not being too big for the little stuff: defanning, checking water lines, or opening up canopy space. “I don’t have that ‘I’m the best grower’ mentality,” he says. “I’m always looking for ways to make things better.”
With his savvy for branding and his upbeat attitude, Ronnie demonstrates how personality and network building are both key to standing out in the modern industry. In a market flooded with killer weed, the savvy farmer creates a sense of personal connection with consumers. For Ronnie, this has meant constantly evolving and sharing his adventures and his enthusiasm with the cannabis world. More than 16,000 Instagram followers dig it.
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