The owner of B & H Flowers on Foothill Road, Hans Brand, spent most of his life in cut flowers. Now he grows cannabis in his greenhouses and heads up the cannabis cultivation company Autumn Brands, with co-owners Autumn Shelton, Esther, Hanna and Johnny Brand. I met with Hans at his office on Foothill Road to learn more about his company and its agricultural footprint in the Carpinteria Valley. This interview has been edited for publication.
COASTAL VIEW NEWS: I understand that this is your first interview since pivoting your cut flower business to cannabis cultivation. Why now?
Hans Brand: Yes, this is my first interview. I stayed in the background because of banking. Now that Autumn Brands has full banking, we are OK [to be more public].
A neighbor came to me, a Concerned Carpinterian, and we talked for two hours. In the end she said, “Hans, you have to tell your story, people are killing you out there.” She said, “I’m not your friend. I’m not your foe.”
CVN: Your neighbor must have brought up what many people are saying, for example, questions about how much money you’re making and if you’re paying taxes, political influence and odor issues. How do you respond to those concerns?
HB: In my business, I can show you everything. Every gram. We do not spray. Zero pesticides. Everything gets measured. There is not a gram that can get off this farm and into the black market.
These rumors out there have no basis, no fact. When you get statements out of us [cannabis cultivators] they have to be backed up. This is a serious business… we have to be honest and have the facts to back it up.
I’ve heard statements that are completely false, like that I don’t pay taxes. That’s false.
CVN: How did you make the decision to move from cut flowers to cannabis?
HB: The switch to this crop was economic. We got hurt by the Free Trade Agreement. We couldn’t compete with countries paying $10 a day. The flower business was hurting. This was an economic decision. That’s business. If I’m profitable that doesn’t mean I’m a criminal. We are definitely for profit and I’m not embarrassed about it.
When we started this, probably at the end of 2015, at that time it was solely medical. I wasn’t sure. I was against it, actually. The people that came to me [from within my company, B&H Flowers], they had to convince me. Yes, the money is good, but that’s not the only thing. I asked Autumn Shelton, then CFO of B&H Flowers [now co-owner of Autumn Brands], to research it. I also asked my lawyer to look into it. Autumn investigated the rules and came back and said, “Yes, you can safely grow medical.”
I personally have never used the product, but I think we do a lot of good.
CVN: What does Autumn Brands do that differentiates it from other businesses in the sector?
HB: We really try to grow a clean product. We do our best to be one of the best products in the market—that’s by doing things right—so that we’ll have a long-term future. Building a brand is expensive. This is for my kids.
We really want to [support] holistic and healthy living. Our product is cleaner than any product out there.
CVN: Some say that major global investors are financing some of the cannabis grows in the valley. Is Autumn Brands backed by outside investors?
HB: We have been approached, yes, but we have no interest. We are self-financed. We are smart and frugal. We didn’t go buy expensive new systems. We use what we had.
We have great employees. We pay our guys really well. Our employees are doing better than when we were in flowers. They are the big winners and they are happy.
CVN: How have employee wages changed?
HB: The starting hourly wage is now $15 whereas before it was $10. If you’re brand new and you don’t have any experience, you might start at $14, and it goes up to $25.
CVN: What is the company ownership breakdown?
HB: My wife Esther and I own 25 percent; my daughter Hanna owns 25 percent; my son Johnny owns 25 percent, and Autumn owns 25 percent.
CVN: How did Autumn Shelton transition from CFO of B&H to co-owner of Autumn Brands?
HB: We were able to adjust our business and stay afloat because of Autumn. She knew how to measure and adhere to regulations … At the beginning, we’d see a helicopter and get scared. We thought we knew everything, but you never know. Autumn keeps me safe … that’s why the partnership. And I brought in my kids—one day it will hopefully be a nice exit for me.
CVN: Recreational marijuana is still prohibited federally. How do you feel about the legal issues, specifically federal verse state laws?
HB: Now I feel really good. We’re a good industry. Politicians can’t figure it out, but I think over the next five to 10 years it will all be figured out. The influence of this product on the medical portfolio is great and it creates jobs. All over America, they’re voting and they’re opening up new markets. I think the state borders will stay closed. But I do think there’s a future for this product. The fear mongers will lose. People are getting better because of this drug…beating cancer, beating depression.
CVN: Because banks adhere to federal regulations, banking has been difficult for California cannabis growers. What is the status of banking for your business?
HB: We have found a bank where the costing is in line with normal accounts, so we can make [cannabis business] deposits. A lot of sales are done by wire transfers and checks, and in the past we were not able to take those because they were clear cannabis companies and our bank would have gotten upset.
CVN: As cannabis cultivators grow more and more product, they’re going to need to grow a customer base. How do you respond to criticisms that the industry will start to target children?
HB: Yes, that’s a big concern for me. I don’t want that. Right now, it’s not possible for that to happen unless someone 21 or over buys my product and gives it to a child. Clearly my market is not children. What we go after is people ages 30 to 60 and over, and women, especially.
CVN: It seems like you’ve come a long way — from reluctance to growing medical marijuana to a leader in medical- and recreational-use cannabis cultivation. Do you think cannabis cultivation is here to stay in the Carpinteria Valley?
HB: The benefits of this industry being here will outweigh everything. Crime is down and housing is up.
These greenhouses are so clean, it’s crazy how clean they are. My farm is so clean that I brought someone out to look at our avocados and test them for pesticide contaminants. She said, “No, there’s nothing there. Everything is clean.” I think [cannabis cultivation] is a good influence to growing. It’s a positive thing.
They hated me when I grew flowers. People complained about the trucks; they said the greenhouses were ugly. We used to light up this town at night with lights to grow chrysanthemums and other flowers. Everyone complained. This is just a new fight. Now it’s dark at night.