Bill Conkling grew up in a culture that viewed cannabis as an alternative to alcohol and other drugs, so getting into the legal cannabis industry seemed like a natural thing to do.
A third-generation farmer who worked ranches and farms on Colorado’s Western Slope, Conkling transferred the organic practices he was raised with to the cannabis industry.
“I worked on farms and ranches with huge gardens that were organic before the term organic was a household word,” Conkling said. “My mom taught me the value of soil amendments. Coming from Minnesota, she was always disappointed in the soil we have here.”
In addition to ranching and farming, Conkling is an entrepreneur who founded several businesses in Colorado and the Southwest, including landscaping, real estate, and cannabis companies. He shifted to full-time cannabis cultivation in 2010, a decade after medical marijuana became legal in Colorado.
Like many Colorado cannabis pioneers, Conkling has faced down the usual challenges of producing a product that’s illegal at the federal level. He had to build Maggie’s Farm without the help financial institutions might normally provide to a startup business and has become adept at changing gears.
“We’ve had to be very nimble because of the frequent rule changes, and the fears of whether it’s going to be legal or not, and who the federal government would pick out to prosecute back in the early days,” he said.
Established in 2011, Maggie’s Farm is Clean Green Certified and they pride themselves on positive stewardship of the land, never using synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. The company grows cannabis on 30 acres of the 300 acres it farms in two locations in Colorado. Its popular strains include Brightberry Cookie, Bubble Gum, and Clementine Kush.
From seedling to harvest, the plants are grown in 100% organic, living soil and nourished by sunlight and mineral-rich spring water before being slow-cured for maximum flavor, quality, terpene content, and potency.
“If you don’t learn how to mitigate pests in a more natural way, you will lose the whole crop because you can’t just spray some nasty chemical on it,” Conkling said.
Because Maggie’s Farm cannabis is grown entirely outdoors, Conkling is focusing on the Southwest region of the country where sunshine is bountiful. While he intends to expand outside of Colorado, he will not attempt to establish outdoor cannabis farms in states where the climate would be more challenging.
With just one harvest a year, the farmers have just one opportunity to learn from their mistakes. For Conkling that translates to taking a measured approach to growth.
“Trying to scale up an organic production of flower has been a challenge,” he said. “You don’t try to go from 99 plants to 5,000 plants in one year. You’re better off with half as many plants done well than to try to bite off too much and have the whole thing fail.”
In addition to its cultivation operations, Maggie’s Farm has seven retail stores. Its stores convey a modern, rustic, and natural aesthetic that serves as a visual symbol of the company’s overall goal of being sustainable, natural, and clean.
“We want our stores to feel familiar and nostalgic like a country store from your youth,” Conkling said. “The biggest challenge for our retail team is ensuring an omni-channel customer experience that is flawless from beginning to end.”
Maggie’s Farm has an internal product on-boarding and off-boarding committee that includes staff members from its retail, marketing, and purchasing department. The team listens to what its retail shops’ customers want and monitors industry analytics so the company can bring in products to fill any voids.
In addition to the Maggie’s Farm flower sold in the company’s stores, Conkling will launch a line of pre-rolls under the Pure Blaze brand in May.
“Our decision-making aims to be proactive and is driven by facts and data,” Conkling said. “This way, we can be sure that we are bringing in products that will be successful from day one.”