May 5, 2014

Planting Seeds of Change

Tara Miko Grayless is the founder of Happy Hemp, a business that advocates for the multifaceted health benefits of hemp seeds. In our conversation, Tara explains how her journey back to basics led her to a start a company called Happy Hemp that promotes the benefits of hemp, along with building a community of Happy Hempers that share her values of living a happy and healthy lifestyle.

Elizabeth Horwitz: Tell me a bit about your journey to starting Happy Hemp.

Tara Miko: The very short version of the story is I got sick, the economy crashed and I lost my job and my health insurance. I was in the fashion industry and when the recession hit, fashion was not a necessity so it really took a nose dive. During that time, I also started to have a lot of digestion issues. This was about five years ago, when conversations about health and food that are currently very loud and very alive were very quiet and hard to find. So, basically it was a journey for me of going back to basics. And I ended up starting a company. At Happy Hemp, we are 100 percent about promoting hemp seeds and encouraging people to cook with it – make pesto, hemp milk or a beautiful crust on a piece of salmon. We also want to inspire and educate people to eat healthy, without sacrificing flavor.

EH: Sounds delicious! But, what’s so special about hemp?

TM: Well, hemp has more protein than meat, fish, tofu or chicken. It has all of your omegas, essential fatty acids, amino acids, and it’s also full of vitamins and minerals. A human life can basically sustain itself off a pound of hemp for two weeks. There are so many things that hemp can do: it has over 25,000 different uses. I mean paper, fabric, medicine, food, fuel, rope, it is such a versatile and amazing plant that, unfortunately, most people only know of as marijuana. People don’t know what it is, and if they’ve had hemp, they’ve had stale hemp or haven’t had good experiences with it. I’m re-training or reintroducing a food source that pretty much nobody knows about.

EH: What was that transition like, from being in the fashion industry to starting your own company?

TM: Fashion can be very uplifting to women, but it can also be very degrading to women. I grew up very differently and didn’t come from all that kind of stuff. It was very easy to get swept up in. I just got lost in feeling like I needed things and I got away from creating memories, like walking through the park. But, instead of looking at my career in the fashion industry from a negative place, I’m so grateful I went through everything I went through because it gave me the tools to be able to start the company that I have now.

EH: Definitely. What are some of the tools that you learned from your previous job in the fashion industry?

TM: The experience I had in fashion brought something completely new and different to hemp. I had such a different thought process that I could have only received from my fashion experience. It allowed me to understand what it means to make a brand, how to market it, find my audience, and the importance of being crystal clear and defined in my vision.

EH:  What part of your work at Happy Hemp is most fulfilling for you?

TM: I love when someone comes up to me, who doesn’t know anything about Hemp, and by the end of the conversation they are drinking the hemp Kool-Aid. I can’t afford advertising, I can’t afford sponsorships, I can’t afford any of that. But what I can afford to do is to spend five minutes with a customer and pour my heart out on why I love this product and inspire them too. Those people become our marketers. We are so inspired by the people that reach out to us and who talk about our product.

EH: It seems like it has been quite a challenging journey. What are some obstacles that you have come across along the way?

TM: Running your own company is hard work. You have to believe in it when nobody else does, and you have to fund it. When I first started the company, I was still living in Los Angeles but I would drive two hours one way to San Diego because it was the only Farmers Market I could get into every single weekend. I even slept in my car. And when I eventually got funding, that was a whole new sort of challenge. There’s always a barrier but those challenges really make me think outside the box. I feel like I was born to do this. I’m so lucky I actually listened to that little inner voice and just kept going forward. It was uncomfortable and scary, as many of those journeys are. But boy, how worth it?

EH: It sounds like it has been extremely rewarding. Now that your company is up and running, are you able to balance a healthy lifestyle with running your own company?

TM: I’m constantly trying to push myself and to learn because there’s always something that you have to do that isn’t your strength. However, if you’re working all the time, where do you find time for you? It may be the most effective for the company but is it the most cost effective for your life? So getting to that point where you’re like, “Okay. I’m going to hire somebody.” There is a point where you can’t do everything. I take the ‘happy’ in my name- Happy Hemp, very seriously in redefining and figuring that out for myself.

EH: So, what is your dream for Happy Hemp? In five years, what would you like to see for yourself and for your company?

TM: I would love to do a cookbook geared towards children and getting them excited to learn about cooking at a young age. I want to plant the seed of change in someone else. We have big fundraisers all the time because I believe that part of my mission is charity. For Happy Hemp, I don’t know what the path is going to look like. A lot of what we do is less about the product, and more about the way that we go about continuing to inspire people to be better and maybe, or maybe not, buy hemp. We hope they do.

After our conversation, Tara took Imperative’s diagnostic. I discovered we shared the same purpose pattern, and that we both find purpose in serving our society with a community-driven approach. I truly felt that connection in the way Tara chooses to engage her community, not just to sell her product, but also to change the ways people think about eating and living a healthier lifestyle. One of the many things I learned from Tara is that finding your own inner happiness is a very necessary step to finding your purpose. Only then can you truly craft ideas and provide services that can impact the structure of the society you live in.