If I told you that in one year – ONE SEASON – I witnessed a multi-million-dollar industrial hemp farm get kamikazed from this:
You wouldn’t believe me. But due to greed, lies, drugs, sex, betrayal, disease, and ineptitude, that’s exactly what happened.
Trato Diablo Farms – worth over fifteen million dollars – went bankrupt eighteen months after it peaked in 2018. I was there to watch it crash and burn.
The only things I’m changing here are the names.
The rest is a true story.
PART ONE - FIELD OF DREAMS
My insane year as a hemp farmer began with the following Facebook post on March 23, 2019:
It was posted by one of my best friends for nearly twenty-five years. Cornelius and I hadn’t been in close contact for several years prior to this, however. Besides living thousands of miles away – Cornelius was in Oregon, I was in Arkansas – we’d grown distant over the past few years. The occasional text message is about where we were at this point. But back in the olden times in Fresno, California, back in our twenties when we were deep in the struggle, there wasn’t a day that went by where I wasn’t found on Cornelius’ couch.
Prior to that post on Facebook, I hadn’t heard from Cornelius since January. He sent me a text message with . . . no text, just an image. It was something like this:
Except for one major difference. The key fob had the Porsche logo on it.
Last I knew he was driving a Hyundai.
The hemp game must be going well for him, I thought.
I thumbed the following response: New wheels?
To wit he responded something about being a Buddhist. Which, ironically – and more truthfully – was Cornelius’ own Catholic guilt. It went something like this:
Yep. Paid cash. Just had it delivered. Hempin’ ain’t easy, but somebody’s got to do it. LFG!!!
I said: No shit?!
After a few minutes watching the flashing ellipses on Cornelius’ end letting me know he was thumbing another response, here’s what came through:
But it’s whatever, know what I’m saying? I’m a Buddhist. What do I care about money? You know me. Besides, I’m so busy working, I haven’t had time to actually look for a new car. I just picked this one out of the catalogue and ordered it over the phone. But, y’know, whatever…
I guess that’s what they call an “humble brag.”
And I may have believed him except he then posted the same photo on his Facebook page, captioning it something like, “Hempin’ ain’t easy…”
Anyhow, I had no qualm with a little bragging here and there. What else is Facebook for? It’s all narcissistic supply anyway.
But no lie, I was impressed. Good for Cornelius, I thought. Looks like he finally found a game where he could win.
I knew he was growing hemp on a small farm somewhere in Oregon for the past two years, but that’s all I knew. In fact, at the time of that Facebook post I thought he was growing marijuana. He was growing federally legal hemp, but with a twist. He was growing smokable hemp flower—CBD flower—much like you would grow marijuana for smoking. It was a developing niche market and Cornelius was in on the ground floor.
It was easy to get the two confused but at the end of the day, it didn’t matter. Whatever Cornelius was doing, it was legal and he and his business partners were killing it – or at least it appeared so. Trato Diablo Farms had a huge social media following due to the CEO who thought he was going to be the next Dan Bilzerian. This Tampa Bay Douchebag would even go so low as to post stock imagery on the farm’s Instagram account in an effort to make their fourteen-acre farm look more legit. I certainly took the bait. The picture of the Porsche keys from Cornelius didn’t hurt none either.
I was living in northwest Arkansas at the time, in a 3,600 square-foot log cabin on fifteen-acres of pristine Ozarks wilderness just a stone’s throw from the Buffalo National River. I’d been in Arkansas for seven years and my wife and three kids and I were looking for a change. That Facebook post came at the perfect time.
I tagged my wife in the reply: Chelsea, we’re moving to Oregon.
Three weeks later I was on a flight to check out Trato Diablo Farms.