Her Dad Founded the Emerald Cup and Now She Is Co-Producer of the Industry's Largest Festival
Taylor Blake grew up with cannabis and now the industry's beloved annual festival is a family affair.
Taylor Blake hails from what is considered to be the "First Family of the Emerald Triangle" and co-produces the most recognized cannabis festival in the industry: The Emerald Cup, founded by her father, Tim Blake, a famous cultivator and cannabis advocate. The Cup just celebrated its 15th year with the largest attendance ever, who gathered at least in part to honor Willie Nelson with the lifetime achievement award that will now be known as the "Willie Nelson Award."
After completing a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of California, Santa Cruz, she now hosts the "Academy Award" of cannabis by her father's side. Taylor has grown up surrounded by this industry in a way that many would never get the chance to experience. Here is here story.
What brought you into the cannabis industry?
I would like to think that I was born into the cannabis industry. My father, Tim Blake, has been involved with cannabis since the 1970’s so I was involved in the industry before I even knew what that really meant. When my parents divorced, my mom decided that she wanted to remove me and my sister from being around cannabis, so she moved us from California to Washington.
Interestingly enough, when I moved back to California in my early twenties I was immediately drawn back to my roots. That was the year that I grew my first sun-grown cannabis crop with my dad and attended my first Emerald Cup. After seeing first hand how much hard work goes into sun-grown cultivation and then the joy of celebration during The Emerald Cup, I was hooked. At that time, the event was just a small community of like-minded individuals getting together but it felt so impactful to everyone who attended. I went on to get my degree from UC Santa Cruz, all while still working part time with cannabis and The Emerald Cup. After graduating in 2012, I felt drawn into working full-time with the event as it was expanding exponentially year by year. One of the most special and unique elements of our event is its rich historical significance in the cannabis community of Northern California.
What obstacles and challenges have you experienced in operating within this industry?
I would say one of the largest obstacles has been the historically negative stigma surrounding cannabis. Specifically when it comes to The Emerald Cup’s long history (this will be our 15th annual event) taking place in California, we have worked through quite a bite of negative stigma over the years. It has been difficult at times to get people outside the industry to take us seriously.
It has also been challenging to stand firm over the years on some of the morals of the cup. The event has always been about sun-grown organic cannabis and celebrating small farmers in California. We have always tried to cultivate a unique experience for our attendees where they know they can find organic food vendors, clothing, nutrients and, most importantly, cannabis. That has meant that we have had to say no to companies participating in the cup that do not fall in line with that experience. At times it has been difficult.
Banking has been one of the unified struggles for mostly everyone in the cannabis industry and we are no different. Even though we technically are not selling any cannabis products, we have had banks turn us down, we have had issues with every online payment system we have used, and in the past we were forced to be a cash based business.
How have you overcome these obstacles?
By remaining determined and remembering to focus on the the good things instead of the little setbacks. Hiring a good business manager and accountant is the best thing we ever did. When it comes to banking, we had success with one small local community credit union, so even though that is in no way convenient for us, they have been consistent.
As a woman in cannabis, do you feel that you are at an advantage or a disadvantage (or both) and why?
I feel it has been a little of both, but mostly at an advantage. I think that because I have my father and so much family in the industry that I have always felt so supported and never disadvantaged by my gender. I feel that there are so many amazing female business owners, cultivators and entrepreneurs in the industry right now and there always has been. The only time it has felt like a disadvantage is when it comes to a small population of people who think because you are a women that you can only perform certain tasks in the industry. I totally understand that sex sells but the culture of using a scantily clad women to sell cannabis products whether at events or in advertisements perpetuated that stereotype. I am happy to see the maturity of our industry progressing past that.
What accomplishment are most proud of?
Every year when it comes to the award show at The Emerald Cup my dad and I are on stage and it always feels like the greatest accomplishment of my life. Putting on an event of this size, this past year for 2018 we had almost 30,000 attendees, takes an enormous amount of work from a large group of people for an entire year, so it is always at that moment on stage that it feels like the greatest success. I feel the most proud when each of the contestants accepts their award on stage and they thank us for all of our hard work.
What trait do you rely on most when making business decisions and why is this useful for you?
I feel like the trait that I rely on the most is my ability to stay extremely level headed at all times. I find it’s useful because it allows me to make decisions out of a logical place instead of an emotional place. I like to think about all of the different possible outcomes of business decision before making a choice.
What was your greatest lesson learned?
That perfection is the enemy of progress. Not everything is going to go as planned and that is ok. Maybe what you did wasn’t perfect but if it was better than it has been in the past and you tried your hardest, that is the best you can ask for. You don’t have to be so hard on yourself for your mistakes.