Meet the CBD Brand Connecting New Yorkers with Nature

The messy, muddy farming adventure of doing hemp with an Empire State of Mind.

cbd weed new york tonic
Design by Chineme Elobuike for Thrillist
Design by Chineme Elobuike for Thrillist

In the emerging industry of cannabis, every origin story has its quirks. TONIC’s involves an Equinox Gym, ashwagandha, and a flooded field of hemp plants in upstate New York. Plus, founder Brittany Carbone’s lifelong love for cannabis.

“Throughout my youth, I had pretty much every adult in my life telling me that weed was bad, and that I should be taking Xanax instead,” says the Long Island native. “But weed never made me feel as bad as those pharmaceuticals did. Weed made me feel normal.”

In the back of her mind, Carbone always knew the adults had things backwards. Maybe, deep down, she also knew the world was going to catch up sooner than later. So when hemp and CBD trends began to emerge in 2017, Carbone was paying attention.

“I hadn’t yet learned anything about cannabinoids yet, so I was skeptical. I remember going to a local headshop for a $90 bottle of low quality CBD oil, and after a few days of using it, one of my co-workers goes, ‘What’s wrong with you? Why are you in such a good mood?’ I realized the only thing that was different was CBD.”

Her co-workers had noticed because Carbone was still searching for a work-friendly weed substitute while working as a trainer at Equinox. She’d been experimenting for months with every kind of herb and supplement to find an alternative to the calm she got through cannabis—obviously nothing had worked. Ashwagandha had come close, but it wasn’t doing everything she needed it to. This CBD thing, though...this was interesting.

She did a deep dive into any research she could find on CBD and the endocannabinoid system, noticing how the dots connect to adaptogens like ashwagandha; how both work to bring the body to a place of homeostasis; of normalcy. So she tried combining them, along with other ingredients like black seed oil that supported what CBD was doing, and it had a compounding, integrative effect. Then she started sharing it with her clients at the gym. When validating feedback and requests for targeted formulas rolled in, she realized that this could be a business.

Once she learned how difficult it was to source reliable, high quality oil at that point in time, she realized they already had a solution: a parcel of farmland in Berkshire her family had purchased in the early 2000s.

“There was only one way to truly know the quality of the hemp: grow it ourselves. New York launched a hemp licensing program for commercial growers in the summer of 2017, and we were licensed by that fall. We moved up here permanently in 2018.”

Carbone was among the only independent CBD brands growing their own that early in the hemp industry, but many have started owning more of their supply chains over the past five years. What has continued to distinguish TONIC from the rest is how they treat their hemp. Most commercial hemp farms are massive 50-acre operations that use a mechanical combine to quickly (but savagely) grind up whole plants into uniform mulch and commercial dryers that can strip natural cannabinoids and terpenes from the material. Carbone and her husband water, plot starts into the ground and harvest by hand, hang drying the plants before processing the oil themselves for TONIC tinctures, topicals, and pet treats.

That approach makes for very happy hemp plants, but it made things much more complicated during their first harvest, when an unnatural amount of rain dumped down on upstate New York.

“It flooded a nearby stream, leaving half the field flooded with two-to-three feet of water. The plants were luckily mostly full grown, so we were able to salvage the buds of most plants. Now we had another problem though, because we’d agreed to host an event that month, and we’d advertised how guests would be able to see a big, beautiful weed farm in full bloom.”

Carbone was worried the event attendees—gathering for the launch of cannabis education and advocacy platform Humble Bloom—would be disappointed by the view of muddy fields and half-harvested plants.

“I decided to just be honest with people and tell them exactly what happened; how we’d been wading through water to save the plants; me on my hands and knees with a hacksaw cutting them down,” details Carbone. “These were people coming up from the city, people who don’t have the opportunity to connect with nature like that. Nobody was disappointed that it wasn’t an aesthetically perfect farm. When you get to see what goes into it—the risk, the passion, the care and intention to not take shortcuts—it’s amazing to see people see value in that. It’s really fueled us.”

The experience stuck with her, and she wanted to get the community out to the farm again. They did a couple weekends of small group tours each summer, but they had long waitlists of people who would’ve attended if they could. This year, the farm tour included a planting workshop for people to learn how to start to grow their own hemp or cannabis plants. With New York legalizing home grows, Carbone wants to empower people to try growing their own.

Being able to share the healing of cannabinoids and plant medicine is a privilege to Carbone, and one she doesn’t take lightly, and in March of 2019, she launched TONIC’s Purpose Program, committing to donate a portion of revenue to different nonprofits each month. So far, they have donated approximately $60k.

“I was arrested for smoking weed in college, and it hit me that if I hadn’t had that $2,750 to enter into an expungement program, it would have stayed on my record and severely impacted my life,” says Carbone. “There’s a chance that I wouldn’t have even been offered to participate in that program if I wasn’t an upper-middle class white woman. I’m a firm believer that a high tide raises all ships, and that an equitable industry benefits us all.”

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Lauren Yoshiko is a freelance writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. She writesThe Broccoli Report, a bi-weekly newsletter for creative cannabis entrepreneurs.