Updated: May 11
SEEDS OF CHANGE
By: Krysta Kearney
“I was never given a seat at the table. I always wanted a seat at the table, so I took my seat at the table. I did not wait for someone to give it to me. I knew I wanted to be there and I sat there.”
Karli Miller Hornick is co-owner, founder and CEO of Head and Heal, a certified organic CBD farm located in the heart and soul (quite literally, one mile from downtown) of Cortland, NY. Alongside with her business partner, Allan Gandelman, their seemingly fearless drives have pushed the farm beyond the acreage of their fields and are nourishing the homes of families nationwide. In 2017 the dynamic duo launched Head and Heal and have been growing beyond their own expectations ever since. With their extremely reputable, ethically priced and ethically sourced products, they have seeded their way to over 350 grocers nationwide!
Having grown up in New York’s capital region, in the suburban town of Niskayuna, Miller-Hornick was a stranger to sustainable living and the culture that surrounds it. She recalls a neighborhood that had perfectly manicured lawns, rows of trees and rather than friendly hello’s from neighbors, people would stray the other way. It was the only environment she knew and although she feels thankful for the academics she received there, she doesn't identify with the area. In 2007, she moved to Ithaca, NY to attend college at Cornell University and while quickly finding her home there, she immersed herself in all its culture! Ithaca presented a world full of wonderment. She thought, “What are these communities where people support each other, and people wave hello on the streets...what are these gatherings that happen every weekend, where people sell their fresh homegrown local produce...called farmers markets?!” She had never heard of such a thing, the term, ‘farmers market’ wasn’t in her vocabulary.
What started as her being wide eyed and bushy tailed soon transformed into an everyday normalcy, and she thrived. Alongside her fellow colleagues, she reaped the benefits of all that Ithaca had to offer and excelled in the Ivy League education of Cornell University. In 2011, she graduated with a degree in Hospitality and felt a bit lost, as she didn’t know the outset of her future. One by one, she witnessed her fellow peers obtain jobs. Many were looking for careers in areas such as hotel management but she had a very specific window, a one track mind. Miller-Hornick wanted to work at a tech startup that helps small farms develop and market their products. Unclear as to whether this job even existed or not, she kept looking. She recalls on the last day of classes, still not knowing what her future might hold and feeling discouraged. Oddly, as she was flipping through job postings she came across an opening that was the exact job description she was looking for. The company was called Farmigo and they were just then launching a new program.
Miller-Hornick interviewed and found herself at her dream job, developing and implementing CSA programs for farmers. She accredits one of her professors to many of her entrepreneurial lessons (she actually quoted him in her interview for Farmigo) and says he gave her important advice to begin your career by working for a company, don’t start one on your own at first. Learn from their successes and failures. Being one of the first ten employees at Farmigo, she witnessed the rise and fall, going from a small CSA software company to the CEO raising over 30 million attempting to build a company for farms delivering groceries directly from their farms to cities.
“I think if he had started that a year ago during covid, we would all be in a good place right now but at the time, people weren't really adopting ordering stuff online, it just wasn't a profitable business model."
Miller-Hornick actually left the company just prior to all the layoffs and it’s complete plummet. When the CEO transitioned the company to its new format he moved all the employees from the software developing side over to it’s new program, so Miller-Hornick asked to stay and continue, as she felt it was important. She couldn't leave the farmers behind, they had developed this whole system for them that they relied heavily on, she really believed in the model. She had spent so much time and effort helping them. She went from a team of 6 to a team of 1 and she was in charge of all departments; sales, marketing and customer support, the demands were high and the stress was too.
“It was pretty life shattering, I actually dove into a pretty deep depression afterwards, because it was like, my whole life, unfortunately my job should not be my whole life, but it was very big part of my persona and I really cared about all my customers."
It was a very tough transition for her and she felt lost for a number of years. After, she found herself in a number of jobs that were unsatisfying and she wanted nothing more than to still be involved in the farming industry. Her passion was strong. In her free time was always trying to conjure up ideas on how to help farmers. When she was at Cornell she had participated in their Groundswell program, which is a six month certification program in sustainable agriculture. At that time, she met Allan Gandelman and Bobcat, they were just starting Mainstreet Farms. Mainstreet Farms is the farm that Head and Heel is now located in. She decided to reach out to Allan one day, as she had a lot of ideas.
“I have ideas on how to help you sell vegetables. I want to come help you! You don’t have to pay me, I just want to test out these theories that I have and see if any of them are true.”
Miller-Hornick’s college senior thesis was on how to get local farmers selling directly to restaurants. She was still hooked on this idea and wanted to make it work. Quickly she learned that it isn’t necessarily the most ideal business model, at least in upstate NY where restaurants are spread out and it’s hard to maintain your menu within growing season parameters. As her and Gandelman started working together they realized how much their ethics and professional approach aligned. She realized she could learn a lot from him as he is an incredible entrepreneur and mentor to her. He was willing to show her the ropes of the business and hired her to become the CSA manager. In the first year of her jumping on board they went from 100 CSA shares to 350! Now they have 400 members, it's one of the biggest, if not the biggest CSA operation in New York State.
“Our business relationship is built on a very strong friendship and I think that’s what makes us such good business partners.”
Then, in 2018 Gandelman started experiencing symptoms of sleep loss, joint pain, memory loss...he was undiagnosed and didn’t know what it was. Eventually, realizing it was lyme disease, he wanted to do everything he could to steer away from antibiotics. With his girlfriend being an herbalist he would experiment with natural and holistic remedies. They were helping but not to the extent of which he needed. One day a past employee of Mainstreet Farms who had since moved to Colorado spoke with them and said he had to try CBD.
“At the time I had no idea what CBD was, I hadn’t heard of it, it wasn’t on my radar.”
After about a month Gandelman was seeing signs of relief. He started to become himself again. It was a scary time; they were starting to think of ways to scale back the farm. He wasn’t able to work anymore like he once did and feared the direction of the disease would only turn worse. Considering the amount that he used it, he wanted to find a way to source it more sustainably, with less of a footprint and lower costs. At the time, the brand Charlotte's Web was the only reputable product on the market and was incredibly expensive. Everything else wasn’t lab tested so it was hard to trust. They had heard some real horror stories about pesticides and heavy metals being in products. One of their good friends owns a farm in Binghamton, NY and had obtained the first license in NYS to grow hemp. Their operations were pretty small, with just a plant nursery and insufficient equipment, so Gandelman loaded up his truck and brought everything from Mainstreet to help them put in their first crop. After he learned what went into it, he and Miller-Hornick realized they could grow this medicine, on their own. What is more sustainable than that?
So they started growing cannabis, for his own personal recovery and figured why not bottle it and sell it alongside their produce at markets. They created a safe and effective product that was affordable as well. Surprisingly there was an overwhelming reaction from the public! It was doing so well that within a few months CBD sales started to surpass the revenue of their vegetables. Between the magnitude of customer questions and the positive response to the product they ended up needing a whole other booth just for the CBD, for Head and Heal, so they could put care and attention to the customer service aspect of it. Miller-Hornick started going to the markets herself to educate consumers on the product. Soon after, Head and Heal landed a wholesale account at Wegmans. Hornick says this is crazy because usually that is the last place a business gets in to and it was they're first. It took about a year to hit the shelves, but once it did, within months they became Wegmans number one CBD selling brand and still are to this day.
“Now we are in 350 stores and selling online, yeah, it has been quite the journey.”
The business has grown tremendously in the past three years. It hasn’t been an easy ride, as with any company start up. She says it's been a huge lesson, just to even trust her own intuition.
“Learning about leadership is really learning how to trust your instincts and trust your gut and know when you're right and know when to speak up, and also knowing when to admit when you’re wrong!”
Gandelman isn’t the only one who had initially benefited from their CBD. Miller-Hornick has too, she recalls when Head and Heal first started she had dove into a deep depression. She has struggled with anxiety and depression at various times in her life. There was a seven month time period where she didn’t ever leave her house, she was scared and couldn’t find ways out of the dark mental hole that had developed. She tried everything to get herself out of it. She was in therapy, psychiatry, used different medications, everything that she could do to get better. Miller-Hornick experienced a lot of self doubt and didn't feel like she belonged in the role that she was in, she was constantly shaming herself. There were so many various pressures that she just totally shut down and couldn't deal with any of them.
“I was ready to give up the company, give back my equity, just be done with it and walk away.”
Her therapist encouraged her to just go in to work one day and talk to Allan. She recalls that being one of the hardest days of her life. Everyone including her employees greeted her with open arms. They were just so happy to see her back. Which was the opposite of what she had told herself, she had convinced herself that everyone didn’t like her and didn’t want her there, she thought she couldn’t hold up to her worth. From there she slowly got back into the business, on her own terms. Gandelman made it very clear how much he valued her, the partnership and how much her skills were needed in the business.
“It was a very slow process to get back to work and really take ownership over my leadership role and feel comfortable in it.”
She recalls feeling so alone, but remembers the support of others and how much that helped her and still does. Now that she is on the other side of it she realizes certain aspects of her depression that she was unable to grab hold of in the thick of it. She is still working on building her confidence and knows it’s ok, as she recognizes that she is a young entrepreneur. There is a lot to learn and she needs to trust others and be able to find support in others too. Their products definitely played an important role in her recovery. She now takes CBD every day. It isn’t the only thing that helped, it has taken her a lot of work and self care to get to where she is now. CBD calms her and helps with her anxiety while also reducing panic attacks.
“It just brings me back to earth and helps me feel more grounded. It helps me be a better leader, a better partner and just in general just helps me get through days.”
"From the beginning I thought that to be a strong leader meant that you have to have all the answers, that you have to be the best at what you're doing. But I think in reality being a strong leader is that ONE: You know how to problem solve and that you’ll do anything to solve your problem and figure it out. TWO: To know that you’re vulnerable, you make mistakes and you admit when you’re wrong and that you surround yourself with people who know more than you.”
Miller-Hornick is a strong woman who is incredibly passionate about helping others. Even in hospitality school, she knew that she wanted to benefit her community. After seeing what the people of Ithaca can do she was really inspired to be part of that. She consciously decided to plant herself and grow her roots in Ithaca.
“I feel like Cornell is always talking about how they want their graduates to stay around and start businesses, so I feel like I've done that. I want to build this community rather than take the education that I was given and bring it elsewhere. I feel like Ithaca just has so much to offer.”
She has done just this. Not only is Head and Heel producing jobs for the Cortland Community they are helping to restore the downtown. Already, they have revitalized a couple different buildings for both the labs and offices and are constantly finding new ways to integrate with the community. They are also working hard to give their employees above wage earnings, not just the minimum. She wants her farmers to feel like they are in a stable work environment, where they can provide for their families. She wants to build a farm that is not only sustainable in their growing practices but also their business practices. Farm workers don’t get the same benefits such as health and paid time off that many other industries do. Currently they are making progress in offering paid time off and giving them good raises.
“The fire in me is that we are going to prove that farming can support families, send children to college...have health insurance and stability because they deserve it, they work their asses off out there in the field.”
She and Gandelman are always finding new ways to grow and diversify their offerings. They are constantly challenging and manipulating their business model to only continue to grow and reform. It is very hard to maintain enough work for farmers year round in upstate NY so they need to think of creative ways to achieve this, to keep their strong workers. As Miller-Hornick says, “The people that are feeding me are the most important people around me.” The employees see this, as they are aware that they are all working together to make these goals a reality.
Miller-Hornick sees value in being honest and transparent with her employees. Recently she has been shifting her viewpoint on what it means to be a strong leader and how to go about being one. She is learning more from a position of vulnerability. She accredits that to the words of Brenne Brown, whose podcast she says is a must listen! It is helping to shift her viewpoints on being a strong leader and how to execute those principles. She has really high ambitions and ideas for the future of the company. It is her goal to use the practices of conscious capitalism, a socially responsible business model. Many of her mentors in business use these methods. Some to note are companies such as Dr. Bronners, Patagonia and Chobani. She hopes to get Head and Heel to have their business practices focus primarily in this direction. It supports the idea to have a much shorter distance between the highest executive positions and lowest in terms of salary, to operate more ethically. With salary margins In multiples of seven or eight rather than one and two hundred.
Miller-Hornick is only just getting started. She has so many visions and inspiring ideas for the future of Head and Heal. The CBD industry is in a very interesting place right now, as just recently NYS legalized adult use cannibus. She and Gandelman are having many meetings as to what they want to do, do they want to start a cannabis company or stay CBD only? How will it impact their lives and is it the direction they want to go in, for their future?
"The revenue potential from cannabis presents a massive opportunity for the Cortland community, we could create hundreds of jobs and bring wealth to our community. So to be sitting in a position of where it is so much bigger than just affecting our lives, it could impact our whole community.”
When they first started growing hemp, they were so nervous about what the community would say; what their reaction would be. At the time, they were doing farm tours and bbq’s for CSA members. They had purposely stayed out of the community and decided to quietly introduce it to their CSA members first. Turns out, it was the largest gathering they had ever had. Such a positive reaction. Overall the community has been very supportive.
“Hopefully that continues on the cannabis side. I know there is a lot more stigma when it comes to THC, that’s something we’ll have to fight through but overall the Cortland community does see this as an opportunity for economic improvement and empowerment in our community.”
Miller-Hornick is a very strong woman who we can all learn from. As she says, it helps to recognize that other people are going through some of the same things you are. It is so easy to let ourselves down and get buried in a world full of doubt. Often we do not realize that power we have, within ourselves to uplift from within and project that on to others. Each of us may be fighting our own demons daily but we need to stand strong. It’s uplifting, recognizing how much she continues to give back to her community and the initiatives that she creates for them and her employees. She is in the business of helping others and our environment. To heal through honest practices for the benefit of everyone. Some huge words of wisdom that we here at Moxxi took from her is when she said, “You can always ask for help. If you can just be brave enough to ask for help and admit you don't know how to do something, someone does and someone knows how to help.” This is so true. We all are the make up of what makes this world a beautiful place. Without the help of each other, we can’t successfully grow and create new sustainable and ethical methods of how we interact. As Ringo Starr sings, 'We get by with a little help from our friends!' Miller-Hornick is definitely paving the way for women in business. Her strategic and educated approach is what makes Head and Heal successful. She is a solid representation of what a strong, brave and successful woman is.
“Times are changing, more women are taking on leadership roles, I am so proud to be able to call myself a CEO, having that title and wearing that hat, it’s something I've always wanted. Especially in the cannabis space. I am still often the only woman at the table in most situations but I'm just glad to be there and I'm excited, especially in a new industry where more and more women are taking on leadership roles. I think we just bring an interesting and unique perspective. Not just to branding and marketing and sales but also to leadership...and I think we are seeing a transformation in leadership from where we were with domineering men to actually more vulnerable and courageous women.”
Q + A
Q: Any advice for entrepreneurs?
“You can always ask for help whether you know what you are doing or not. You don’t have to go to college to learn it, there’s somebody out there that does know what they’re doing and if you can just be brave enough to admit, ‘I know nothing about this.’ Somebody does and somebody’s willing to share it with you."
Q: What are some words of advice you have for women?
“I would encourage women to be more vulnerable and more courageous in their leadership. Trust your gut, be vulnerable, be willing to make mistakes and ask for help, which is a message Brene Brown speaks a lot about.” Listen to her new podcast , ‘Dare to Lead,’ which is based off her #1 New York Times and Wall Street Journal best sellers list.
Q: What does CBD mean to you?
“Day after day seeing these stories of changing people’s lives and helping people with anxiety like I’m experiencing, or so many other….I mean, extreme cases of people seeing tumors shrink, or it’s helped them recover from breast cancer or helped their children get off of opioids…I mean, we’ve had people crying to us on the phone about how this product has helped them. Its changed peoples lives in ways I could have never expected and that’s been really rewarding and powerful.”
Q: What are some current things you are working on and where do you hope to see Head and Heel grow?
Throughout Covid-19 they have been doing food pantry days at their warehouse to help feed the community with fresh and free vegetables.
“We are trying to figure out how the two companies can merge together to get more behind that mission of making sure nobody in our community is going hungry and that they can have fresh and local food.” This year Head and Heal and Main Street Farms have started an initiative where they deliver fresh vegetables weekly to the local Salvation Army for distribution. She hopes this can really work and this location and expand it to others in the future.
Also, they are working on their online rewards program where people can use their points to donate to that particular cause. “To me it's really important that we are actually delivering, adding to our community and giving back and doing that in a meaningful way and I don’t necessarily think that's always by providing money or funding, what we do have as a bootstrap start up, we have extra vegetables, there are always extra vegetables! Get it into the hands of the people that are in our community in need.”
Q: How do you drink your coffee?
She does drink coffee but limits her intake with her anxiety. Her new daily routine is coffee on her right and CBG on her left! CBG is a newly recognized cannabinoid, “This was the first year that they bred plants that would predominantly produce CBG cannabinoids. It’s a ‘focus’ cannabinoid, I call it liquid Adderall, or liquid motivation.”
“We are working on a water soluble version that will mix well with coffee. For me I think the most effective way to take CBD is under the tongue, however I do think that our future and a big part of the future of the CBD industry is beverage.”
They are working on developing CBD and CBG beverages right now. CBD beverages just recently became legal in NYS. They are hoping to launch something in the next few months.
“I think that CBD and coffee compliment really well with each other because CBD really takes the edge from the coffee jitters and shakes, I like to have CBD in the morning either before or after I drink coffee to kind of keep me awake but reduce the heart palpitations (haha). I love coffee!”