Warren Bobrow=WB: Please tell me about where you are from?
Jim Higdon=JH: I grew up in Lebanon, Kentucky — about an hour south of Louisville.
WB: How would you describe it to someone who is not from Kentucky, or the closest they got was in a glass of whiskey!
JH: For a whiskey enthusiast, I can point to the red wax on a bottle of Maker’s Mark and say, “I’m from there.” My grandmother was born in the house on the Maker’s Mark distillery property that is now the welcome center for visitors on the Bourbon Trail. If you’ve been to the Maker’s Mark distillery, you’ve been to my grandmother’s childhood home.
WB: What brought you to the hemp business?
JH: My hometown, in addition to being at the heart of Kentucky bourbon culture, also happened to be the headquarters for an outlaw band of cannabis growers known as the Cornbread Mafia. Between 1985 and 1989, seventy men from central Kentucky were arrested on 30 farms in 10 states with what the police said was 200 tons of marijuana. I went away to school to become a writer, first to Brown and then to the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. I then returned home to write the definitive story on the Cornbread Mafia as a narrative nonfiction book. From the book’s success, I became a journalist covering cannabis policy for POLITICO, the Washington Post, and other outlets. That work led me to the opportunity to launch Cornbread Hemp.
WB: Why a Cannabis product?
JH: My career path led me directly to this moment. Because of my book-writing background and my reputation as a cannabis journalist, I was perfectly positioned to make the leap into the business side with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill.
WB: What was your path to the plant?
JH: I avoided the plant in high school. Then, while studying abroad, I turned 19 in Amsterdam. After that, things weren’t the same.
WB: Do you have a mentor? Who is it?
JH: In 2018, I profiled Trey Zoeller of Jefferson’s Bourbon for Entrepreneur Magazine. He’s the mad scientist behind Jefferson’s Ocean, which is bourbon aged at sea. In the course of interviewing him, I learned how he disrupted the bourbon industry with a new way of thinking that connected with the marketplace in surprising ways. He’s a role model who taught me how to engage in business by solving problems in creative ways.
WB: Why Cornbread Hemp? Cornbread Hemp brings the Kentucky cannabis traditions of the Cornbread Mafia into the light of day by dropping the “mafia” and adding Kentucky-grown hemp products made to the standards of the USDA certified organic program. Through the Cornbread story, we created a brand narrative that stretches back to the first Kentucky hemp crop in 1775. In this way, we have access to a brand story that more closely resembles a legacy bourbon brand than a fly-by-night CBD company.
WB: How do you make your cornbread? Do you use Anson Mills grains?
JH: If we’re talking cornbread, I always start with a corn-only, gluten-free batter. Maybe I mix a can of creamed corn in there, because why not? Then, I pour the batter into a preheated cast-iron skillet coated with bacon grease. Once the bottom crust is set, before putting the skillet back into the oven, I drop another stick of butter in there. For dessert cornbread, I dollop in spoonfuls of blackberry preserves. The key is getting the skillet smoking hot before pouring in the batter to set the bottom crust. Once you’ve mastered that part, you can improvise in a lot of interesting ways.
(Ohhhh, creamed corn…)
WB: What is your six and twelve-month plan?
JH: We are currently in a fundraising round on Wefunder, nearly halfway to our goal of raising $400K. In the next few months, we will deploy this capital through digital marketing channels to continue our national reach, as well as introducing new products into our lineup like USDA organic full spectrum vegan CBD gummies.
WB: What markets do you want to penetrate?
JH: Cornbread Hemp is perfectly positioned to be the market leader from Chicago to Atlanta. As we grow this year, our region is the lower Midwest and upper South that stretches from Chicago to Atlanta, including Indianapolis, Cincinnati, and Nashville. To our knowledge, we are the only brand to offer USDA certified organic CBD products within 300 miles of Chicago. So, the Second City is a high priority for us.
WB: What obstacles do you face?
JH: Like all CBD brands, our primary obstacle is the saturated environment we find ourselves in that is a result of a lack of FDA regulations, which keeps major retailers on the sidelines. This lack of regulations also creates a frustrating mosaic of compliance as individual states step up to fill the void, but not in any unified way.
WB: How do you anticipate removing those obstacles?
JH: The FDA will issue regulations when it does. In the meantime, our CBD products are certified organic by the USDA, which is the only federal agency that grants its seal of approval to hemp infused products. In terms of limiting risk of contamination and communicating trustworthiness to consumers, there’s no substitute for the USDA organic seal.
WB: Stigmas about weed?
JH: All the products at Cornbread Hemp are full spectrum, which means they contain a legal dose of not more than 0.3% THC. While that’s not very much, studies show that it plays an extremely important role in the entourage effect. We believe the added THC helps the CBD products act more effectively in the body. One obstacle we continue to face is that many of our potential customers are blocked from trying full spectrum hemp products because of workplace drug testing, even though full spectrum CBD products are perfectly legal. This is just one of the remaining stigmas about marijuana that we have to work through together.
WB: Do you have a favorite food memory from childhood?
JH: I must have still been in first grade when my mother baked a cake for our Catholic parish turkey social in November. I spent my money at the cake wheel to win back the cake that my mother had made: a lemon poppy seed bundt cake with a drizzle icing. Why would I let someone else win the cake that my mother made? It was delicious.
WB: Do you cook? If so, have you ever cooked your grandparents’ recipes?
JH: I grill steaks like my grandfather taught me: don’t flip a steak until the juice starts to poke out of the top. Then, flip it just long enough to warm up the other side and pull it. Perfect medium-rare every time.
WB: Do you have a favorite restaurant (pre-covid-19) where is it? Type of food?
JH: When visitors come to Louisville, I take them to Hammerheads. Located inside the basement of a house on a residential block of Germantown, it was a speakeasy during Prohibition and then a neighborhood bar for decades until it became Hammerheads about 10 years ago. Parking is a nightmare and the headroom in the dining area is dodgy for tall people. It’s the sort of place you know that every dollar you’re spending is on the food and not the decor. I recommend the smoked duck tacos and lamb ribs.
WB: What is your passion?
JH: I am a storyteller who is committed to reminding all Americans, but particularly women over 45, that hemp has always been a part of American culture, and that the 50 years of the Drug War was a distortion of our true relationship with the plant. Until the end of World War II, hemp had been a part of American dominant culture, but the politics surrounding the Vietnam War pushed hemp into the counter-culture. My passion is to help people understand that hemp has always been with us. With this knowledge, people can understand that using hemp-derived full spectrum CBD products isn’t risky or deviant or naughty, but rather as American as cornbread.