I first came across The Hollingsworth Cannabis Company a month or two back when I heard co-founder Joy Hollingsworth detail the amazing journey her family has made through America’s history. Fans of the late Anthony Bourdain’s show No Reservations may have already come across the farm on the show’s stop in Seattle, Washington. Or maybe, you know them from their cannabis.
Regardless of how you became acquainted with them, you tend to come away with a lasting impression of the Hollingsworth family. Often, it tends to be an impression that combines determination, inspiration and a good deal of humor along the way.
When legalization came to the state in 2012, Raft Hollingsworth, Joy’s brother, was prepared to move into the legal space. The once small batch cultivator didn’t clearly see farming in his future, but he knew the family should get involved in the burgeoning business somehow. “I knew it was a huge opportunity for our family and I knew we could do it together.”
To get things off the ground, Raft had to convince Joy and their parents come on board; the family had the chance to make a serious bid at creating generational wealth for them and future generations. To do so, Raft said he used PowerPoint, infographics, and a full-fledged business plan presentation to win them over. In time, everyone was on board—including Dad and his retirement savings.
With the funding and family in place, they purchased a one-acre farm 90 miles north of Seattle in Mason County. Raft would oversee aspects like product, while Joy took on roles including sales. The tree-covered property was a stark contrast for the third-generation Seattle residents. “We didn’t really have experience with a rural setting like that. It was just like reverse Beverly Hillbillies,” Raft recalled.
Family support extended well beyond funding. It also included on the farm assistance. During the first year, the farm couldn’t afford to hire labor. So, family and friends stepped in. “It was like a family reunion of sorts. We had cookouts and stuff.” explained Raft.
Even with their support, Raft said the first year in operation, in hindsight, was wild. He noted how the jump from tiny medical grows to large-scale cultivation made him re-learn everything about cultivation, likening himself to an infant. They credit YouTube as a huge help in those early days, calling it their ‘university.’
The Washington weather proved to be particularly difficult as well. With limited funds, the company used PVC greenhouses for its first harvest. The plan was to do the first grow with the greenhouses then assess from there. That was until Mason County weather came through the grow operation. “It just wrecked shop,” Raft said, adding “those greenhouses turned into 200 foot kites.”
Thankfully, one harvest survived the storms. The resulting yield gave the operation enough cannabis to sell and turn a small profit, which led to more permanent structures.
Today, it is still a family affair with members still part of the team in a more established operation. In addition to friends, the company now hires 16 to 20 local residents for seasonal work.
Those neighbors may have some wondering how Hollingsworth Cannabis, a company Joy describes as “unapologetically Black,” work with people in some of the more white, conservative and red regions in the country. However, the Hollingsworth don’t have a problem co-existing with their community.
Raft calls his neighbors “super nice,” noting how everyone gets along rather well.
The county comprised of just over 63,000 people has a way of getting information around. That includes a local neighbors checking out the place. When starting out, one neighbor gave the brother-sister duo an “I know what you’re doing” talking before it being the good kind of “I know what you’re doing.” Another brought over a somewhat exotic pet to check out the farm. “She has a pet wolf. Dead-ass, a domesticated wolf,” Raft pointed out.
The only flare ups with neighbors came in the early days when the operation moved land, creating a wall on the land’s northern region. Raft said some of the rumors included, “That’s to stop all the bullets from flying. They were like, ‘it’s going to be this big illegal cartel thing going on.’” But after a year of laying low and doing their work on the farm, all settled down.
The story of an aspirational, Black-owned farm may be enough to tell a story. But that wouldn’t be the Hollingsworths. This is a family that knows how to pack in the inspiration at every angle. As if the sibling duo, selfless mother, father and extended family didn’t pull enough heart strings, there’s grandmother Dorothy Hollingsworth.
The senior Hollingsworth is a multi-faceted trailblazer in her own right. She marks the first generation of the family to live in Seattle, doing so after moving from the South Carolina farm her family was forced to serve as slaves. From there, she became the first Black woman to graduate from the school of social work and obtain her Master’s from the University of Washington. She would go on to become the first Black woman in Washington state to serve on the school board, helping desegregate the city’s schools.
The influential family figure was not on board with Raft’s decision back in 2012/2013, thinking he was on his way to becoming a drug dealer. But today, Grandma is not only in support, she might be the biggest consumer around. “My grandma smokes cannabis and she eats ribs all day,” Joy said at New York’s REVEL event in July, generating large cheers and laughs from the crowd.
Though, in all seriousness, Grandma has found relief in using the plant. Joy also mentioned how cannabis helped her uncle to drop three prescription medications from his routine.
The family was also quick to mention their grandfather as well. He also earned his Master’s after he began his life without a proper name, but just two letters as a birth name.
The impact of their parents, grandparents and previous generations remains in the minds of Joy and Raft today. When talking about his grandparents’ experiences, Raft said “It’s a responsibility you kind of feel because if they didn’t have any excuse, you shouldn’t have any excuses compared to those.”
The Hollingsworths now see their work as an opportunity to inspire others. That includes the industry at-large as well as minority owners. The family believes there should be more minority-owned cannabis ventures. Raft mentioned the the farm’s location being just a mile from the largest prison in the state.
Later in the conversation he added, “You’re not seeing that restorative justice and social equity in the cannabis industry right now and people should wake up to that.”
Raft also touched on financial barriers affecting people of color. “Generationally that’s something that has not been allowed to African Americans and minorities because of systemic racism and oppression and you know, wealth transfers.”
Despite limitations, Raft sees a chance for people to change their circumstances. “I think this is an opportunity economically for a lot of people to establish something and create something for their family generationally.”
For generations, the Hollingsworth family has continued to inspire themselves and others with their tales of their tenacity. While still in the early years of development, Joy and Raft seemed well poised to be the architects of the family’s next great, influential endeavor.