The Patton Family, Green Meadows Farm, and a Commitment to Giving Back
Historic Massachusetts farm cultivates medical cannabis with a social conscience
By Michael Harlow, CPA, Partner
Beginning decades ago, George and Joanne Patton, son and daughter-in-law of the famed World War Two general, initiated traditions of community partnership and support that remain active today. Throughout their thirty-year operation of Green Meadows Farm, they sought to share the property’s beauty and historical significance through outreach programs, educational excursions, philanthropic events, and its organic produce stand.
Today the Patton family stands with all Americans in proudly supporting U.S. military veterans. In adding medical cannabis to their farm’s continuing cultivation of traditional crops, they promote veteran and diversity employment and continued scientific study of the potential benefits of cannabis in treating PTSD and other ailments. Green Meadows and all its staff strive to be good neighbors, engaged citizens, ardent patriots, and positive participants in matters of social consciousness and equality – especially those matters relating to veterans’ affairs, a longstanding pillar of the Patton legacy.
CohnReznick Partner Michael Harlow recently sat down with Green Meadows Farm’s Bob Patton to discuss his family’s rich philanthropic tradition, and the road that led to medical cannabis production.
Michael Harlow (MH): Would you give us an in-depth background on your family and Green Meadows farm?
Bob Patton (BP): In 1928, Major George Patton and his wife Beatrice purchased 250 acres of land in Essex County, Massachusetts to support their love of horses and hunting. The property has remained in the family ever since - through World War II, and through my grandfather’s death in 1945. My father, George Patton IV, retired to Green Meadows as an Army major-general in 1980 with my mother Joanne. My father was a go-getter. He turned the pleasant countryside into a farm. At the beginning of 1980, he created a pick-your-own blueberry business that in time evolved into an organic produce farm. After my father’s death in 2004, my mother took on the business and established a Community Supported Agriculture collective where patrons can buy shares and over the course of the season receive produce in return. This was the model from 2004 until 2017. My mother then passed the baton to the next generation to run the farm. That’s when the change came about. My siblings and I wondered what we could do to make the farm productive in a new way, and that’s when we decided to grow and develop medical cannabis.
MH: Who’s idea was it to turn explore cannabis cultivation?
BP: My mother is very philanthropic and was fairly relaxed about maximizing the farm’s profitability. It was more important to her that the farm and the business represent my father’s devotion to agriculture and community service. The question confronting her children was whether to continue the business on those terms or maybe just close it down and enjoy the sunset. My siblings brought it to my attention to potentially add cannabis cultivation to the farm’s traditional array of organic crops. My mother and I were skeptical but soon became impressed with the potential therapeutic properties of cannabis. We felt it was in keeping with my father’s desire to make the land commercially productive, socially beneficial, and a useful means to give back as a family and to help veterans.
MH: You mentioned a few times your family’s desire to help veterans. Medical cannabis has the potential to treat symptoms related to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). How did you start off that research? What organizations are you involved with?
BP: My younger brother and sister are very involved with veterans ranging from World War II to those of recent and ongoing service in Iraq and Afghanistan. My brother Benjamin founded the Patton Veterans Project, an organization that uses film workshops to help veterans returning from deployment with symptoms of PTSD. The workshops teach veterans to make short, personal films to help express their feelings and experiences to therapists, families, and fellow veterans. Those veteran connections brought our family to an awareness of anecdotal accounts of the potential benefits of cannabis in treating PTSD. Much more research is needed, but many veterans have said it helps with anxiety, depression, and pain management. So, for our family, it’s exciting to enter a cannabis industry that can employ veterans, contribute financially to veteran causes, and perhaps help remedy symptoms of PTSD.
MH: Clearly your operations are medically focused, that’s how you first approached the industry. Now that Massachusetts has passed a law allowing adult-use of cannabis, will your approach change to sell to dispensaries for adult-use?
BP: A medical approach was the most natural fit for us and where we felt most comfortable - providing to registered medical dispensaries. It gave my family a real sense of confident purpose when discussing our plans with business associates and friends. Our current cultivation project is very much in the medical space. Our community agreements specify medical-use only. Unless the towns where our farm is located permit adult-use, we are locked in to being a medical provider only, and happily so.
MH: You were already well-known in the community. What did you do to educate the townspeople about what you were doing to get their support and approval?
BP: Both of our municipalities voted against the legalization referendum. These are fairly-small towns -- 6,000-8,000 people, family-oriented and generally conservative. They had no marijuana facilities of any kind and weren’t seeking to establish any – yet, nor were they dismissive of our project when we introduced it. We conferred closely with both towns to figure out a responsible path forward as community partners. My father owned the farm as a commercial entity, but always had any eye toward being a community asset. And both my parents were philanthropic. In 2012, my mother donated the original Patton homestead to the town of Hamilton – both the mansion and 27 acres of surrounding land – to be used for civic purposes or whatever the town wanted. Other large tracts of property have been placed under permanent conservation restriction or acquired by Essex County Greenbelt Association, a Massachusetts conservation society.
MH: Within the family, were there any family members not on board?
BP: My mother, who’s 86, was initially surprised by our proposal but has since become a total supporter and active advocate. She recognizes the benefits that cultivating medical cannabis may bring, over and above tax contributions to the state and the municipalities, the additional local financial commitments stipulated in Host Community Agreements, and finally the philanthropic possibilities if we’re successful.
MH: You were one of the few groups we talked to that put together a team of consultants, attorneys and accountants early in the process. How did you go about building that team?
BP: We attended the Marijuana Business Conference & Expo in Las Vegas last fall. We were extremely impressed with the sophisticated business approaches that the cannabis industry is rapidly adopting. We heard many speakers in such areas as accounting, regulatory compliance, growing, real estate, and corporate structure. Introductions made at that conference gave us inroads to the kinds of people we needed. First, we found an attorney with proven experience in the industry. We also wanted a national accounting and advisory firm with a presence in Massachusetts. The importance of having a local touch is how we came to CohnReznick, a firm with an immense national reputation and a topflight team in its Boston office. We subsequently retained a Massachusetts lobbying firm, and, similarly to our CohnReznick partners, a nationally known engineering and design firm with a Massachusetts presence. We integrated the teams from the start, encouraging cross communication and collaboration. But in conference calls we also welcome disagreement, innovation, and “outside the box” initiative. My grandfather, General Patton, had great quote about this sort of approach: “If everyone is thinking alike, no one is thinking.” And so we encourage our team members to weigh in candidly at all times.
MH: What are your thoughts on trends relating to hemp and CBD only products?
BP: We’ve been approached to do hemp and may consider that in the future. CBD has a lot of capabilities with its anti-inflammatory properties. It’s an exciting area of medical research and therefore of production, and we intend to include CBD strains in our greenhouse cultivation.
The indoor grows we’ve seen are incredibly impressive. They can put out a great product, no doubt. But we’re doing something a little different. Rather than cultivate in a warehouse environment, we’re employing glass-topped, four-season greenhouses to use natural sunlight as much as possible. It’s a nice extension of our farm’s longstanding organic traditions. We want to use as much of nature as we can.
MH: When you are fully operational, what is you projected employee count?
BP: I would say at least 20 jobs. While we must meet certain skill sets, we will emphasize veteran and diversity hiring at every staff level. Our first introductory calls to local officials included the Veteran Service Offices (VSOs) to put us in touch with forums and employment bureaus to help hire veterans. They are working to get the word out that Green Meadows is hiring. They were grateful to be solicited and to help get those folks good positions, and we feel privileged to have them.MH: What is one takeaway you have from this whole experience? What is one lesson learned?
BP: There are two aspects to what we’ve learned or gone through, and will go through. First, one must welcome regulatory oversight -- this is both necessary and proper. Our motto is to be “Beyond Compliance.” Meet and indeed exceed whatever standard is required. It’s a steep learning curve. You need consultants and advisors like 3C, Vicente Sederberg, and CohnReznick to deal with the financial requirements of cannabis regulation, whether in the medical space, like us, or in the burgeoning realm of adult-use marijuana. Second, it’s all about local introductions, local commitment, and local trust. Our entire process is driven by creating real partnerships with our state and local communities. Establishing those partnerships has been the most satisfying aspect of the Patton family’s entrance into this exciting new industry.