Michael Funk inspires Alliance and Business Community Members with his Message at monthly Social Mixer

By Maria Herrera and Maggie Philipsborn

Having Michael Funk be the guest speaker at a joint Social Mixer with the Greater Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce was historic for the cannabis community on many levels.

More than one hundred people attended the event at the Foothills Event Center March 27th that effectively marked the “coming out” of the cannabis industry and our much deserved inclusion into the larger business community.

If you don’t know Michael Funk, you should. He is an iconic business leader in the area, actually the world. Funk became known for selling organic produce out of his Volkswagen van here in the foothills in the 1970s. With an unstoppable passion for making organic food available to the masses, Funk formed Mountain People’s Warehouse in 1976. He wanted “to boldly go where no distributor has gone before.” This he did, leading the company to become the largest natural foods distributor in the Western United States: UNFI.

United Natural Foods (Nasdaq: UNFI) is now worth close to $10 billion dollars. So why should we care?

Change is constant, especially in the cannabis industry, so being adaptable becomes vital. Businesses such as UNFI were built on passion and perseverance. Regulations, certifications, and compliance issues continue to change in the organic food industry all the time. That’s something the cannabis industry needs to learn to contend with. While the roots of the organic food movement were slow to set in and thrive, look at how far it has come!

One of the biggest takeaways from the Social Mixer and from Funk’s message is to run lean, believe in what you do and go where no one else would go. When cannabis farmers complain about having to compete with the acres and acres of cannabis greenhouses in places such as Salinas and Monterey, we here at the Alliance we say “you don’t have to do that.”

Our county, as outlined by Funk’s inspiring story, has a deep history of being involved in the writing of the organic food movement history. We can write a similar chapter for the cannabis industry. We have an opportunity to create branding for our local cannabis industry that is in alignment with these historic values of environmentalism, and organic food production and distribution.

Who is to say the UNFI of the cannabis industry won’t be born right here, where more than 40 years ago Funk and his buddies distributed organic food out of his Volkswagen van? Who is to say that as a result of our humble beginnings we can’t brand our county as the mecca where high quality, small batch, craft organic cannabis is cultivated with sustainable and regenerative techniques that makes us stand out among the rest of the state’s cultivators?

We have a huge opportunity to create a niche market where we can share all of our unique stories and create value added for our cannabis products that is beyond what competitors in other regions may offer.

While we still have a long road ahead towards licensing and permitting in Nevada County, having the support and recognition of the chambers about the economic impact of our industry, and having iconic entrepreneurs like Funk deliver a keynote speech at one of our events, is a big win.

Thanks to all who attended, to all of the farmers who continue to believe in the work we do and to the larger business community, for recognizing the value we bring to our local rural economy.

The Alliance Team