Julia Jacobson of Aster Farms on Sustainability and Creativity in Cannabis

Experimenting beyond traditional marketing, and leading on the environmental front

As CEO of Aster Farms, a sustainable cannabis company from Northern California, Julia brings an expertise in entrepreneurship, supply chain management and business development to the Aster team. Her personal interest in cannabis is rooted in her battle with chronic migraines, incorporating the plant with her prescribed routine to mitigate symptoms, balance equilibrium and chart a healthy course.

Prior to Aster Farms, Julia was co-founder and CEO of NMRKT, an affiliate marketing platform for content providers. She led the company through Techstars and its acquisition by XO Group in 2016, where she went on to be the director of national revenue products.

Julia's career began as a buyer for Bloomingdale's, giving her a solid foundation in retail and supply chain economics. Today, Julia continues to be a mentor to Techstars and to young entrepreneurs in many fields.

We spoke with Julia for our Higher Calling series, where we chat with leaders in the cannabis space.


Julia, tell us...

Your current role in the cannabis industry, and where you're based.

I am the CEO and co-founder of Aster Farms. We're HQ'd in Oakland, but our farm is in Lake County. It's directly next to Mendocino County, but a little higher up in altitude.

Your earliest cannabis memory.

I remember being quite young and having the knowledge that when my dad was sneaking out to the dog run, he wasn't actually running the dog. I knew he was doing something sneaky, but only in hindsight do I realize what that was!

A story about the positive impact cannabis has had on your life.

I live with chronic migraines. In my mid-twenties, they got so bad that I was in and out of the hospital every few months, on a cocktail of prescription medications and unable to live my normal life. During an eight-month-long migraine—literally every minute of every day for eight months—the ER doctor recommended I try cannabis since pharmaceuticals were not working. That was the first day I began regaining my life. Since using cannabis for my migraines—prophylactically and during onset—I have gone off all prescription medications and stayed out of the hospital for over four years. Cannabis has made it possible for me to live my normal life. I would say that's a pretty positive impact. 

A favorite flower, edible, product or brand.

It would be bananas if I didn't say Aster Farms! My favorite flower is Rainbow Chip and Sour Maui, which are two of our legacy strains. I also love Rose Los Angeles and Potli for edibles, two brands we collaborated with in the past year. 

We partnered with Potli on an infused olive oil using our cannabis and olives from our family's organic farm, Campodonico Olive Farm, where they've been cultivating and pressing olives for over 10 years. It's an ode to Lake County's unique terroir, and each serving is harvested with intention from Tuscan olives and balanced with a single strain of sun grown cannabis, Watermelon OG. 

Rose Delights makes these Turkish Delight-style infused edibles using rosin extracted from whole flower. We're fans, so we teamed up with them to launch a new seasonal recipe infused with rosin from our farm—chef Virgilio Martinez's Autumn Bright Nectarine With Juniper Berry, Infused with Aster Farms OG Flower Rosin and Aster Farms Blood Orange Flower Rosin. Virgilio Martínez Véliz of Central Restaurant in Lima, Peru, created a gorgeous flavor combining Autumn Bright Nectarine with cold-infused muddled juniper berry from Starwest Botanicals.

The biggest challenge cannabis marketers face today.

We're not actually allowed to advertise. We cannot participate in paid advertising, SEO, or social media advertising. We live in fear that our Instagram will be shut down, and our swag shop PayPal processing was even shut down because our canvas totes and hats were associated with a cannabis brand. So the biggest challenge that cannabis marketers face today is not being allowed to do traditional marketing. But it forces us to get really creative, which is where some of our best ideas have come from, so there's a silver lining here!

One thing you're excited about right now in cannabis branding, partnerships or marketing.

We are working on several non-cannabis products and merch items that we are really stoked on at the moment, from diffuser oils and candles to genuine leather cannabis travel cases. Like I said before, our limitations with the legality of traditional marketing in cannabis forces us to get creative, and these ideas are inspired as a result.

Also, we created our Day to Night Guide, a local's guide to the best shops, heavenly munchies and secret smoke spots told by an expert. Journalist Lindsay Maharry kicked off the series with the lowdown on the unique history of Beachwood Canyon, it's place in Old Hollywood, and her favorite go-to's. 

A cannabis trade/social justice organization that you support.

Success Centers in S.F. empowers marginalized community members through education, employment and art programs; and their Equity for Industry program, led by Angela White, was developed to ensure marginalized community members have opportunities to enter the emerging cannabis industry. They teach workshops, inviting industry leaders to help educate their constituents (Aster teaches a few, too). And they hold job fairs, helping people gain the skills and tools they need to succeed. They are helping people right in our own backyard. We love them.

A recent project you're proud of.

Our Sustainability Report! We are proud to be the first cannabis brand to bare it all. We have a unique opportunity with cannabis—since we are creating a legal industry from scratch—to do it right, and it's our responsibility to do so. Most casual and even very experienced cannabis users are unaware of the environmental impact that cannabis farming has on our earth, and we want to change that! How we farm matters.

Someone else's project you admired recently.

OUR Academy is a cannabis incubator for equity applicants based right here in California. We're so impressed with the resources, network and programming that the team behind the organization has pulled together. One of the key barriers to entry in this industry is access to capital, and we see OUR Academy as a step toward breaking those barriers.

Someone you admire in cannabis who's doing great things.

My husband and Aster's president, Sam. He is a third-generation cannabis cultivator and the man behind our brand. I'm constantly impressed with how he manages the roller coaster that is this industry and still finds time to smile—and go for a run!

A movie, TV show, music or food you most enjoy pairing with cannabis.

I have so many answers to this question and none of them are cool, so I will go with honesty here. I love a good Bravo TV night with a bowl of lukewarm pasta and arrabiata sauce on top. I also feel top-tier bliss when I'm blasting Taj Mahal with a joint in my hand!

What you would be doing if you weren't in the cannabis industry.

It's a close tie between business development at an agriculture tech company or launching a lingerie line. Maybe I'll find a way to combine the two. ;)

Higher Calling is a weekly series, publishing on Thursdays, where we chat with folks in the cannabis industry about their personal history and taste in cannabis and the future of cannabis marketing. For more about Higher Calling, and our Clio Cannabis program, please get in touch.

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Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd is editor in chief of the Clio Awards, editor of Muse by Clio, and host of the podcast Tagline. Previously, he was creative editor at Adweek.

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