Hesitance can hinder success; sometimes you need a little guts. How many times have men blamed the gender pay gap on women’s “politeness” or “fear of asking for too much”? For Julia Jacobson, CEO for cannabis brand Aster Farms, being bold and welcoming change paid off, both mentally and professionally. Goodbye stuffy corporate job environment and hello happier, sustainable lifestyle.
Jacobson used to work in tech. After graduating with honors from Brown University in 2007, she joined the executive program at Bloomingdale’s and became co-founder and CEO of NMRKT, a Techstars branch now owned by XO Group. It was during this shift that Jacobson, who’d suffered from chronic migraines for years, noticed that work-related stress caused a severe increase in her condition - one that would radically change the direction of her life.
“Right around the time I was moving to XO Group I was getting horrible migraines, they were every second of every day,” Jacobson said. The message that would change her life came not from the heavens but an ER medic who suggested cannabis instead of prescription medications to treat her ailment. Though Jacobson had smoked recreationally, she’d never considered cannabis a potential curative for her migraines. Following her doctor’s advice, she stopped taking her prescribed meds and found her migraines became bearable with cannabis. “It changed my life,” Jacobson said.
At that point, Jacobson and her then-boyfriend (now husband) Sam Campodonico-Ludwig decided to steer toward the cannabis industry, and in 2018 Aster Farms was born. “We believe that cannabis can be part of an active and healthy lifestyle: a clean product,” Jacobson said.
Dedicated to sustainability, the Aster Farms ethos is one of responsibly-farmed cannabis, sun-grown with organic and regenerative agricultural practices and living soil to help replenish the planet. Situated in Northern California’s Lake County, Aster Farms provides a distinctive terroir to their cultivated strains, which are available to consumers in products such as their signature eighth jars, pre-rolls, and infused olive oil in collaboration with the women-led brand Potli. Recently, they announced their most ambitious project, the first single-strain live resin cannabis beverage on the market - a new version of the aperitif Founders’ Blend from infused beverage company Artet. The partnership merges Artet’s seven-botanical blend base with Aster Farms’ sun-grown Honeydew Funk live resin and is said to produce a uniquely euphoric effect, in a huge step forward for the cannabis beverage space.
In hindsight, what seemed on the surface to be a dramatic change for Jacobson and Campodonico-Ludwig is actually rooted in familiar territory. Campodonico-Ludwig’s grandfather used to grow and sell plants in Signal Ridge Mendocino in the 1970s. For Jacobson, she fondly remembers childhood memories related to smoking, including the times when her father used to sneak out and do “something” her mother wasn’t too pleased about—years later she connected the dots and realized that he used to go out to smoke cannabis. She reckons that the first time that they actually smoked together was right after her parents’ divorce: “He came over in his car, rolled out the windows and smoke poured out in front of the neighbors.” She explained that her father is her biggest supporter with Aster Farms. Though he later had lung cancer, he remains a big fan of weed in edible forms. “He’s a healthy guy, definitely not a gummy guy. He likes the Atlas Edibles’ granola bars best,” says Jacobson.
In addition to both their families’ support, the young couple has one another to rely on. Though many would often recommend separating personal and professional relationships, Jacobson completely disagrees. According to her, there are more benefits than disadvantages when working with your spouse; “it takes a lot of trust and you trust them more than anyone.” In fact, Jacbson describes her relationship with Campodonico-Ludwig as a yin and yang combination, their skill sets complement one another. While Campodonico-Ludwig has a marketing background and is generally the creative one, Jacobson is more business oriented and calls herself the “the Excel nerd.” Their symbiotic chemistry never hinders Aster Farms’ progress but, rather, drives it.
This is particularly evident in the brand’s approach to regenerative agriculture and planetary wellness. According to Jacobson, cannabis alone accounted for 1% of all electricity used in the United States in 2015. Unsustainable farming practices like overtilling and mono-crop cultivation have left whole swaths of land infertile. Jacobson thinks soil damage, excesses of carbon footprints and waste from packaging are major issues that should be addressed more in the industry. However, seeing as cannabis use is only legal in some states and relatively new on the public market, she notes that there is a significant lack of data.
“There is no funding for cannabis research. In order for cannabis to enter the green legislation conversation, we first need to start gathering data ourselves,” Jacobson said.
Taking matters into her own hands, Jacobson collected all of Aster Farms’ data and put together a detailed Sustainability Report in 2020. “We found out that concerning levels of waste were being generated by trellis netting, so we immediately looked into solutions. Now we source composting trellis and it doesn’t end up in the ocean!” In addition, minimal and recyclable packaging material is used, their crops are all grown using the closed loop system which utilizes living soil ground and the generated compost is fed back into the soil to keep it naturally nourished and minimize waste. Step by step, Jacobson has been ensuring that Aster Farms causes the least amount of environmental damage possible.
Aster Farms’ positive impact mission extends to the larger cannabis community; the brand is well known for its social justice measures in addition to its environmental ones. “Our community are our consumers, and it’s our community that legalized cannabis,” said Jacobson. Aster Farms makes monthly financial contributions to small organizations and is a big supporter of Success Centers, a Bay Area-based nonprofit that empowers people from marginalized communities by providing career opportunities and education. Some of Aster Farms’ employees teach workshops at Success Centers and mentor the unemployed or underemployed to increase employment rates. Jacobson also spoke on a panel at this year’s SXSW conference regarding the challenges of bias and equity within the cannabis industry.
As we know, peace and stability begin in one’s home. On top of her efforts to maintain the environment and her community, Jacobson also works on keeping her own domestic life sustainable. “Work is everything [for us], we even talk about it on vacation. We actually had to make rules about not talking about work!” says Jacobson. When she does manage to detach herself from business, Jacobson enjoys smoking with Van Morrison or Charley Crockett tunes playing in the background and exploring California’s little towns with her husband Campodonico-Ludwig.