I am of the opinion that New Yorkers are born, and not necessarily in New York. You’re born a New Yorker and eventually, if you’re lucky, you get there. I was born in Philadelphia, grew up in Michigan and North Carolina, but moved to New York City to go to college.

I have a lot of country in me. I always enjoyed the outdoors. I went to Montessori school and was a tomboy. When I lived in New York, I always took weekends to be in the country and embrace open air and grass, livestock and running around in muddy boots. These things were in stark contrast to my time in the city, where I was militant about being in very, very high heeled shoes. You always wear the good shoes, and you wear them all day.

I had a very unlikely education for any of the things that I'm doing. I had a fascination and an aptitude for art, much to the disappointment of my father. I ran off to the big city and put myself through art school because I thought I could do it. So I did.

The farm was purchased as a weekend home... It wasn't supposed to be anything more than that. But as they say, if you want to make god laugh, make plans.

MS SaraRotman 170

MS SaraRotman 72

I went to Parsons. Then I went to School of Visual Arts, which has a big old spot in my heart. I ended up teaching there for 10 years after I graduated. I did a big traditional stint in large creative jobs in advertising for quite some time. I worked at Sony Music, MTV, and Saatchi & Saatchi.

I founded MODCo in 1998, which stood for My Own Damn Company. In my hubris and youth, I was like, I can do better than these amazingly talented, amazingly successful, multi-billion dollar companies. I wanted to be able to control all of the strategic and creative consumer-facing points of a brand under one house so that we could speak in a consistent voice. We did really great work, and were responsible for creating work for some of the most lasting brands still in existence today, like Tory Burch, Vera Wang, COTY, Carolina Herrera, and Lane Bryant. I loved every minute of it.

I bought the farm before we got married, but my husband and I moved here fulltime in 2014. The farm was purchased as a weekend home, a place to get away from the city and be with our horses and our dogs. It wasn't supposed to be anything more than that. But as they say, if you want to make god laugh, make plans.

I had often been diagnosed as an ambitious woman, and told by many talented doctors, “Don't worry about it, honey, just go take a vacation.” I knew that wasn't the problem.

Within about three weeks of moving to the farm, I was in the hospital in full-blown renal failure from severe Crohn's disease that had gone misdiagnosed for 10 years. I had often been diagnosed as an ambitious woman, and told by many talented doctors, “Don't worry about it, honey, just go take a vacation.” I knew that wasn't the problem. I certainly was working hard, but I loved working hard. I loved the job, I loved flying around the world. I loved the people that worked for me. I loved pitches, I loved winning, and I loved the lessons that losing taught me. I did not have an ounce of, “I don't want to be doing this” in me, so I couldn't understand why doctors kept telling me I was just too stressed out.

After a week and a half in the hospital on a lot of morphine and a lot of tests, the conclusion was, “Okay, you have severe Crohn's disease, you have eight 22-inch ulcers in your lower intestine, and you haven't really properly digested food in two years, which is why your body's going into renal failure.” That was the start of a very long odyssey of healing.

The thing is, they don't have a cure for Crohn's disease. Everything that they gave me made me sicker. Treatment was expensive, it caused my hair to fall out, my skin to get brittle, and put me in a crippling depression. In the end, it put me in liver failure.

MS SaraRotman 47

MS SaraRotman 37

I was always in debilitating pain. I didn't want to take the morphine because it made me comatose. So the options are debilitating pain or debilitating coma. How is this life? After I tried everything my doctor said “Sara, we have nothing more to help you. You have an incurable debilitating disease that will drastically reduce the quality of your life. We have nothing more to do for you.”

That was a Tuesday. I remember it so clearly. I was in Beverly Hills, and it was a gorgeous day, 72 and sunny. I walked out into the street and sat on the pavement like a child and cried in front of god and creation and everybody. I felt suicidal for the first time in my life. I did not care. I was in so much pain. I had just been told, “This is now your new life. You cannot work. You cannot eat. You cannot even drink water without being doubled over in pain. There's nothing we can do.”

Not everybody has that pinpoint moment in time you can look at and say that's the day. But that was the day.

I like to say we healed the farm and the farm healed me. It was very symbiotic.

Our farm had been poorly treated by the previous owners. There was so much herbicide in the soil, we couldn't get a blade of grass to grow. I like to say we healed the farm and the farm healed me. It was very symbiotic. Thank god my husband came from a farming family and background. He was also local and knew quite a lot.

Growing our own food was helping to some degree, but certainly wasn't taking away my pain or my inflammation. I had reduced it, but I was still too sick to work. On the day that I sat on my ass like a child in the middle of Beverly Hills, I called my husband and just said, “Look, I think I need to die. I can't do this.” He said that was unacceptable, and that he really wanted me to try cannabis, that we needed to add that to our repertoire.

I'm very embarrassed to say I was never a cannabis person. I was a highly caffeinated, highly functioning New Yorker. I had no interest in anything that might slow me down. Get me more espresso. Don't give me anything that makes me sleepy. I just had never looked into it. I didn't even know that anything other than smoking existed. I was very ignorant.

Cannabis medicines, when correctly labeled and thoughtfully produced, did work.

MS SaraRotman 111

MS SaraRotman 203

But after that day, I was willing to try anything. We immediately got our cards. California was still only a medical market at that point. We went to this doctor in Venice who was literally wearing clown shoes and striped velour pants and got our prescriptions. My husband, God bless him, tested everything we could find at these dispensaries and tried it all first before I did.

We found some extremely potent concentrate, which basically looks like a syringe of ear wax and tastes similar. It's disgusting, but I will say that cannabis medicines, when correctly labeled and thoughtfully produced, did work. I remember feeling relief from a high CBD, low THC concentrate. It's not a light switch. A lot of people I speak to now are like, “When am I going to feel better?” It's going to take weeks. You have to keep doing it.

The problem back then was that you'd just get a handwritten label for whatever the farmer says is in that vial. There was no testing. There was no proof. Sometimes it was exactly what it was supposed to be. Most of the time it wasn't. I got arsenic poisoning from one batch. Another time I had taken my whole vial of that concentrate to fly back for a big meeting in NYC while I was still trying to work. The oil was supposed to be high CBD, no THC. My Crohn's disease is very exacerbated by flying. I’d forced myself to get to this meeting, and I’m in the cab with my shitty deli coffee. All of a sudden, the shitty deli coffee is like the best fucking coffee I ever my life. And I was like, hold the phone, that's not right. This isn't good coffee. I know it's not. Oh my God, I’m high. I couldn’t even read my driver's license to tell the fucking cab driver where I lived. I didn’t make it into the meeting. I was high for like three days.

It was so awful. I mean the arsenic poisoning was bad, but this was worse. So my husband and I decided, “Hey, we're already growing all of our own food, and we know that this medicine works. Why don't we just grow our own medicine? We live in California where we can start a collective and do it legally. And you know, how hard could it be?”

MS SaraRotman 172

Illness strips you of all the tools you thought you had and forces you to learn your weaknesses and your strengths.

It's really, really hard. In 2015, we founded our collective. And that was the beginning of the farm that we have now, which is a 22-acre cultivation. We are considered the gold standard, not only in Santa Barbara, but around the state, for outdoor cultivation. I'm very proud of that. We work so hard on our compliance, community activism, our local and state-wide legislation, and advocacy. That's become such a major part of my everyday life now that it's hard to imagine a time when that wasn't the case.

Illness strips you of all the tools you thought you had and forces you to learn your weaknesses and your strengths. There were a lot of messy versions of myself that I was very displeased to meet. I was not always elegant, I was not always composed, and I was not always generous. I was grateful to have the sincere love of a few people who stood by me, and I was fortunate to learn that there were a great many that wouldn't, and would be worth dismissing. Your Rolodex gets very small when you get that sick, disappointingly so. But the people that remain are fucking fantastic.

MS SaraRotman 147

I'm very grateful to say I'm finally well enough to get back to riding horses. Riding saves my life. I'm not at the level I used to be, but I finally got my ass back in the saddle. One of my favorite expressions that's translated from Arabic is “Horses lend us their freedom.” I will borrow a little bit of freedom from those lovely creatures every day I can. That's something that we could all use a bit more of.

Life on the farm is busy, and I love it. I'm in my element. First of all, being outside in the California sun is about the most healing thing you could possibly have. We start around 5:30 am. Usually my husband and I have a coffee together and we sit out back and look at our fields. We're always in observation mode. Even if I'm having my morning coffee or glass of wine at the end of the evening, we're always looking at our plants. Tiffany Garcia of Glasshouse Farms, a very talented grower, taught us early on in our cannabis careers that being a good cannabis grower or farmer is 90% observation. And I think that was something that translated really well for me from my career as a branding expert, which is all about observation and then applying it.

MS SaraRotman 95

MS SaraRotman 101

What we've learned in farming is that by the time you see a problem, you're kind of fucked. It's already run away from you. Learning how the plants are behaving and how happy or unhappy they are has been an important adaptation of my skill in observation.

Wellfounded grew out of the therapies that we couldn't find. It’s about what things helped me get well and remain healthy with an aesthetic that is refined and pleasurable. To be able to create a brand that is as good as anything I've ever created for anyone else, but that meets all of my requirements for putting out products that really help people be well, feel good, feel recovery, feel pampered, feel loved—that’s the culmination of my passion points across my whole career.

We want people to feel the love that exists on this farm and have a little piece of that for themselves. Our fragrance is such an amazing sensory experience. It was born out of standing in the middle of our fields. We have beautiful sea salt air, eucalyptus, coastal sage, and white oak, and all of the herb from our 22 acres, and rosemary, and basil. If you close your eyes, you should be able to feel like you're here. We’re making a THC version, too.

The family farm is not just a dying breed in cannabis, but in the United States writ large.

A thing that's top of mind for all of us in the cannabis industry is just how goddamn hard it is to be an independent farmer in this state. It is not simple, and I want to give other people both the reality and the hope that it is possible to do it. When my husband and I started this farm, I was unemployed. We were able to cobble this together without big investment or big backing. And I would love for more farmers to be able to do that. I think if I didn't have my relentless optimism, we would've curled up and died along with my body a long time ago.

That fight is something that shouldn't be so hard for people. I wish we could spend more time figuring out a way to make it possible for people to have a family farm that sustains and heals their community, because I think we're turning into a damned near extinct beast. The family farm is not just a dying breed in cannabis, but in the United States writ large. And that makes me sad. We're working very hard on our advocacy to try to prevent that from happening. That is a tragedy that I'd like to see solved.

MS SaraRotman 93

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Sara Rotman of Wellfounded Botanicals photographed by Maggie Shannon in Santa Barbara. If you like this Conversation, please feel free to share it with friends or enemies. Subscribe to our newsletter here.