Meet Miles: Communications and Special Projects Manager @ Northern Emeralds
by Sam Zartoshty
Posted on Oct/06/2017
1. What did you do before the industry?
The short answer is that I wasn’t working, not in the traditional sense anyway. I grew up in Humboldt County and left home after high school to attend the Clark Honors College at the University of Oregon. After earning a BA in Philosophy from UO in 2010 and a teaching credential in English from Humboldt State University in 2011, I spent a year teaching English in Japan before returning home in the summer of 2013. By that time, I’d decided that I didn’t want to go into teaching as a career, and also that I didn’t feel comfortable shouldering a huge amount of debt in order to attend graduate school.
I wanted to take a closer look at what the idea of a “career” really meant to me. So, from 2013 until early 2016, I conducted a personal experiment that I came to refer to as “useful unemployment.” I lived at home with my mother and girlfriend (now wife). They generously paid the bills, and I tried to be as useful as possible without earning money. I doubled the size of my mother’s vegetable garden, installed a rain catchment and drip irrigation system, and spent six months helping two contractors build an addition to my childhood home so my girlfriend and I could have our own living space. I also began volunteering weekly at a local meat farm that practices intensive rotational grazing––a laborious but environmentally-friendly form of agriculture.
The best part of being usefully unemployed was that I had a lot of time to study. I read nonfiction books on a range of topics that interested me: philosophy, science, psychology, history, ethics, technology, and futurism. I also read as much fiction as I could manage. On my blog, words&dirt, I wrote book reviews for every book I read (which I also posted to my Goodreads profile), and kept a journal to document my experiences working on my family’s property. In 2015, I founded the Humboldt Learners’ Society––a collection of friends and family that meets monthly so that one member of the Society can teach something to the rest of the group. So even though I wasn’t embedded in a formal academic environment, I was very invested in continuing my self-education.
2. What sparked your interest in the cannabis industry? How did you first get involved in the industry?
Being a Humboldt native, it was hard to avoid at least a passing interest in the cannabis industry. Even though I was never involved in the industry growing up and abstained from cannabis use until college, I always hoped that Humboldt would one day be able to safely embrace its identity as an epicenter of cannabis cultivation and innovation. Those of us who grew up in Humboldt and want to continue living here know that a regulated, thriving cannabis economy is our region’s ticket to sustained prosperity. It’s also the best way to ensure that the environmental abuses resulting from irresponsible cultivation practices in Humboldt and other nearby counties get reined in. So it’s fair to say that my personal values and interests aligned with the legal cannabis economy before I became directly involved with it.
My initial involvement with Northern Emeralds was largely due to favorable timing. Several of my friends helped put the company together in 2015, and as regulations and compliance deadlines started coming down the pike, they began looking around for help with projects such as permit applications, HR policy formation, community outreach, and building out the company’s internal infrastructure. So I jumped in and lent a hand with whatever needed doing, and eventually settled into a role maintaining company communications and managing special projects.
3. Walk us through a normal work day? (Or things you do on a regular basis if you don’t have a normal work day)
The content of my work varies a lot day-to-day, but I do try to follow a basic structure. I always get up early and work at home for 2-4 hours on email and projects that can be moved forward without input from other team members. Next, I try to read, write, or work in my garden for about an hour, if I have time. I follow this up with about 75 minutes of exercise––rowing machine for fifteen minutes plus an hour of running. Then I take lunch before attending meetings in the afternoons. Depending on the day, I may have just one meeting, or several. They may happen online, or in various physical locations in Humboldt. On the rare days when I don’t have any meetings, I usually try to get at least another hour or two of work done at home in the afternoons.
I follow this basic schedule pretty strictly on weekdays. I am a part-time employee, so I usually shoot for 4-6 hours per day, but I often put in more hours when my workload is particularly heavy. I try not to work much on the weekends, but sometimes I do work a bit on Sundays to get a jumpstart on my week.
4. Have you ever felt any stigma against yourself from others for working in the industry?
Fortunately, no. Humboldt is a community that is very accepting of cannabis and supportive of individuals and companies who want to participate in a safe, regulated cannabis industry. My friends and family are very supportive of and curious about my work.
5. What have been some of your favorite things about working in the industry?
My favorite part about being in this industry at this time is that I get to help form a synthesis of two very different worlds. The first world is the old cannabis economy. This economy generated a lot of wealth, but was also unstable for workers and the environment because it was largely unregulated and untaxed. This should never have been the case since cannabis prohibition has always been morally and legally idiotic, but nevertheless, cultivators were forced for decades to operate in the shadows with no real chance of participating in the normal business world. Now, finally, we can begin to enter that other world.
This is a complex and difficult process, but extremely rewarding. Working with Northern Emeralds has opened up opportunities to educate myself about the chasm that exists between these two worlds, and has taught me to repeatedly seek ways to close the gap, slowly but surely. I love connecting the cannabis world with regulators, contractors, and other members of the “normal” business community. The more I do this, the more I realize just how much the values and interests of cultivators overlap with those of the communities in which they are embedded. There are tensions, disagreements, and misunderstandings, to be sure, but by and large it has been a collaborative process. There are so many positive-sum games that can be fruitfully cultivated, and I am passionate about identifying those and helping them grow.
That first part of my answer is largely outward-facing (i.e. about how my company interacts with other organizations), but there is an equally important inward-facing dynamic here. The compliant cannabis industry has a critical duty to confront and ameliorate the labor abuses that have sometimes run amok in the unregulated industry. I take great pride in helping to provide consistent, year-round work for our more than 50 employees, and have played a key role in understanding and working toward compliance with state and federal labor laws.
In my view, any good cannabis company will produce a good product and turn a profit, but a truly great company will also ensure that its employees are safe and well-paid, that they care about their work and have opportunities for advancement, and that they believe in the mission of delivering a truly superior product to consumers. I am excited about the progress that Northern Emeralds has made thus far.
6. Do you have any advice to job seekers looking into the industry?
Given that I fell into the industry by way of serendipity more than anything else, I can’t really give advice about how to break into the cannabis world. However, I will say that I think cultivating one’s personal passions is absolutely critical. People in the cannabis industry love their work, and believe in it deeply. They want to work with people who are excited and driven, and the best way to project those qualities is to actually embody them as best you can, even if your background doesn’t have anything to do with cannabis.
If someone had suggested to me 18 months ago that the years I spent being “usefully unemployed” would help me be an effective member of the cannabis community, I would have laughed. But I now realize that the time and energy I spent on personal projects, both on my property and in my intellectual life, helped me hone skills that are somewhat unique in this line of work. It turns out that scrutinizing the details of a cultivation permit application isn’t so bad if you spend your spare time trying to grok what the hell David Hume was saying in A Treatise of Human Nature. That’s perhaps a bit of an esoteric example, but the point is that pursuing my passions helped me grow in ways that I couldn’t predict until I suddenly found myself taking on new challenges in a new environment. I can’t wait to see what’s next.
7. Why have you chosen to remain part time?
The main reason I am only part-time is that I am basically unwilling to work full-time. I have worked full-time in the past, and I always struggle psychologically when I force myself to commit the lion’s share of my energy to just one type of labor. I have so many avocational interests that I feel stifled if I have to narrow my focus too tightly. I also think having time and energy to pursue my personal passions makes me a happier, healthier, and more dependable contributor at work.
I am grateful that Northern Emeralds has accepted and embraced this aspect of my personality. I think the fact that the company has allowed me to carve out a space for myself on its management team under these circumstances is a testament to the organization’s diversity, flexibility, and authentic concern for the well-being of its employees.