friends Dutch Heritage Gardens In Larkspur, a greenhouse complex that sells flowers and ornamental plants to major retailers, he found a lucrative side business – hemp, a close cousin to the cannabis plant.
Aaron and Rosalia Van Weingerden started Royal Botanicals In 2017 to grow cannabis plants to make cuttings that would be sold to farmers, but this month the company began selling its own CBD-containing products online. The products contain cannabidiol, which comes from the hemp plant and has become a popular natural remedy for ailments ranging from arthritis to insomnia.
Dutch Heritage Gardens and Royale Botanicals use the same greenhouses, staff and equipment to grow flowers and ornamental plants as well as to reproduce hemp, which are genetically identical plants made from cuttings.
While Dutch Heritage Gardens generates about 85% of revenue from the two companies, Aaron believes the cannabis side of the business will grow to eventually equal, and perhaps even surpass, the flower and plant business.
“Cannabis is only 15% of our business, but I would like to see the royal plants rise to the level of Dutch heritage gardens. I wouldn’t have any problem if I went over the other side of the business,” Aaron said. “Hemp still has a stigma in people’s minds, but I think there’s a breakthrough around the corner from the industry where you’ll see different CBD formulas created to treat different medical conditions.”
Aaron has been involved in greenhouse manufacturing since his father, Ari Van Weingerden, paid him $3 an hour in the early 1990s when he was 12 to sweep floors in the family’s greenhouse in Pennsylvania.
The family moved to Colorado in the mid-1990s after the sale of the Pennsylvania operation when Ari planned to retire. Instead, Ari bought land in Calhan for another greenhouse complex, where Aaron and his eleven brothers worked after school. At the age of fifteen, Aaron has already moved into management.
Most of Van Weingerden’s uncles, aunts and cousins also work in the greenhouse business, a legacy from Aaron’s grandfather, who grew vegetables and potted crops to sell at farmers’ markets in the Netherlands before immigrating to the United States in 1948.
Aaron eventually became the general manager of Rocky Mountain Growers, a group that Arie started with Denver.
After a falling out with his father over the direction of the business and a three-year move to Ohio, Aaron returns to take over the failed Colorado operation under a new owner.
He and Rosalia purchased the then-vacant 3-acre complex in Larkspur 15 years ago and converted it into Dutch Heritage Gardens.
Their business plan called for free-standing gardens to be sold in large rectangular pots. Their target customers were spouses who were too busy with careers and children to set up a garden and buy ready-made mature sets of the colorful plants the company grows.
“The business I used to do in Ohio was sold to big retailers like Walmart, Home Depot, and Lowes. They dictated what had to grow and how much had to be put into it because the stores were getting a share of the profits in the pot,” Aaron said.
“We didn’t want to sell to that part of the market, so we decided to sell to groceries instead,” he said. “Our container gardens were a natural fit for the storefront.”
Rosalia designed a vase that made container gardens look upscale, and the pair grew from 50 to 100 gardens that Aaron put in the back of his truck to show to grocery store managers.
After spending three days trying to sell to individual managers, Aaron received a call from a buyer for King Soopers who handled the purchase of flowers. After seeing container gardens, ask thousands of Dutch Heritage Gardens.
The company’s 3-acre complex has been expanded to 16 acres with more than 700,000 square feet of greenhouse space, but King Soopers remains the company’s largest customer.
Dutch Heritage Gardens sell 12 million to 15 million flowers and ornamentals during high season and 900,000 or so other seasonal displays that include tulips and other bulbs, chrysanthemums and poinsettias.
Colorado voters approved the state’s constitutional amendment that legalized recreational marijuana and cannabis production in 2012, prompting Aaron and Rosalia to move to cannabis production two years later, when recreational sales were allowed for the first time.
They formed a company called SunCanna, became licensed marijuana growers with a greenhouse in Pueblo, and sold their crop to Colorado dispensaries.
But three years later, Aaron wanted out of the recreational marijuana industry.
“I decided the business was not for me,” said Aaron. “The legalization brought in a lot of unwanted characters who wanted to make money from the green gold rush.”
He said the amendment “made a lot of cupboard growers turn into legitimate business overnight. They were growing it in their parents’ house, their bedroom or on a commercial property without telling the owner. I had a hard time finding a real professional (farmers), so I sold my company.” “.
He’s switched to growing the cannabis plant, which is made with different types of cannabis sativa that won’t get you high.
To be classified as hemp, it must contain no more than 0.3% of THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in the pot. This close relationship led to hemp production being curtailed by the introduction of a cannabis tax in 1937 and then banned in 1970 by the Federal Controlled Substances Act.
“We had the opportunity to sell hemp seeds (cuts of a genetically controlled plant in Aaron’s greenhouse) to a farmer who was having a hard time finding a source of hemp seeds,” Aaron said.
“He had a 100-acre field and that meant he was growing about 400,000 plants. Nobody else could produce that much, which meant he had to buy from 10 different suppliers and likely end up with 10 different varieties that were ready to harvest at times. different.”
Aaron saw an opportunity to bring his horticultural expertise to an industry that needed “science, data, legitimacy and transparency”, while at the same time bringing the scope and experience of Dutch heritage gardens to the new industry.
The couple started Royale Botanicals—a name Rozalia devised to sound like a high-end brand rather than a pot company—to sell scraps used to produce CBD and the flower of the hemp plant, which can be smoked.
Royale Botanicals produces many types of cannabis plant seedlings to be grown nationwide, as the plant must be adapted to the climate in which it is grown.
Each species requires a different amount of sunlight during the day to ripen and be ready for harvest at the right time. If they ripen too early, the plant will be too small and of little value; If ripening is delayed, it will be harvested in cold weather and be of no value.
The cannabis business remained relatively small until Congress passed hemp in the 2014 farm bill that allowed cannabis to be grown for research purposes and within state agricultural pilot programs.
But it was the passing of another farm law in late 2018, which moved cannabis from a Schedule I controlled substance to an agricultural commodity, which was seen as a game changer for the fledgling industry.
“Everyone got into the cannabis business thinking they were going to make a million dollars,” Aaron said. “We went from growing 50,000 plants in 2017 to 3 million in 2019 and could easily sell 10 million plants. Everyone and his mom wanted to grow cannabis. At harvest time, they didn’t understand that you had to harvest, dry and treat to make it ready for sale. If you don’t, The crop will spoil or decompose.”
About 85% of new cannabis growers failed when a huge amount of cannabis reached the market in 2019, dropping the price of cannabis biomass — the stems, seeds and leaves left after the flower was removed — to 50 cents a pound from $15. 10 weeks. As a result, the area under cannabis cultivation nationwide has fallen by 80% this year.
Aaron expects the industry to stabilize once the cannabis glut ends.
“We had good profits in 2019 and were able to ride the wave (the market) and have Dutch Heritage Gardens as a key part of our business” to provide stability, said Aaron.
“I expect to see a correction and (cannabis) prices will go back up,” he said. “The companies in it (the industry) will in the long run see a more stable market. This is a new, immature industry that is only 4 years old.”
Royale Botanicals is expanding its own CBD products because Aaron sees another opportunity – the products on the market right now aren’t strong enough to provide the benefit customers want.
He said most CBD products are like taking the price of an Advil pill — not very effective. He said that most CBD tinctures contain only 10mg of CBD and the most effective is 25mg; Royale Botanicals products start with 50 mg of CBD.
Aaron has high hopes for the company’s CBD products, believing that they will eventually sell as well as the pieces that now generate most of Royale Botanicals’ revenue—especially if King Soopers’ father, Kroger, starts selling them.
For that to happen, CBD products have to move into the mainstream and that won’t come until they have the FDA’s blessing, he said.
“Dutch heritage gardens are my passion and my heritage – I love growing flowers and I will never stop,” said Aaron. “I am (also) a fan of CBD – I know it helps. I take it to sleep and my mom takes it for aches and pains. We’re excited to bring our products to market under the Royale Botanicals name and hopefully people will give them a whirl.”