At Eleven Acres, producing high-end CBD products is a family affair
For Marijuana Venture’s fifth annual issue highlighting women in the industry, we look at 10 leaders who will help shape the industry’s North American landscape over the next 12 months.
From marketing professionals and CBD producers to government regulators and community leaders, we are honored to be able to tell their stories.
Life on the Salt Creek Ranch has always been a family affair. Years before it began growing the hemp for the Eleven Acres brand — and others — Fran MacKenzie and her sister Lesta worked the land as ranchers, raising grass-fed miniature Hereford cattle.
But after her sister died in 2012, Fran moved off the Western Slope and into a city and the family began the process of trying to sell the ranch. Luckily for them, there were no buyers. While the unused ranch became a drain on the family’s resources, it made them begin to brainstorm new ways to cover the land’s expenses.
“We had to figure out, well, what are we going to do with this?” says Margaret MacKenzie, Fran’s daughter. At that time marijuana had just been legalized in Colorado and many farmers were turning to cannabis as a cash crop, but there were too many regulations and their county didn’t allow outdoor grows anyway.
“That led us to hemp,” she says.
The family planted its first crop in 2014 on a single acre as an experiment. Today, the mother-daughter team are two of the founders of Salt Creek Hemp and the Eleven Acres CBD brand, and the ranch is once again a working, profitable family farm with between 10 and 15 acres dedicated to hemp, all of which is extracted into oils and incorporated into a range of products for consumers.
“We produce some really high-quality hemp,” says Fran with more than a hint of pride.
Margaret says she “grew up riding horses,” but after fracturing her back in 1998 she gave up show jumping and took various jobs before getting married, moving to California, having a few kids, getting divorced and moving back to Colorado, where she got a helicopter license and managed a flight school before rejoining her mother at Salt Creek.
Last year, Liz McEvily, a childhood friend of Margaret’s, joined the team as CEO of Eleven Acres, though she describes her job a little differently.
“I herd cats,” she says as Fran and Margaret laugh.
Prior to returning to Colorado, Liz, who has a degree from Boston University, worked in the finance world in New York City but “didn’t love it enough to be the best at it” and went back to school for furniture design.
Last year, she was leaving the East Coast for the West Coast and stopped in at the ranch during the annual “Hemp on the Slope” event designed to teach small farmers what Fran and Margaret had to figure out for themselves and encourage their fellow ranchers to learn about and plant hemp at their own farms. The event draws more than 500 people to the ranch.
“I was forever changed,” Liz says. “There was no going back.”
Bringing her on board adds to the familial atmosphere at the ranch and to Eleven Acres, which markets itself primarily to a female demographic as a health and beauty product. The company sells salves, tinctures, bath teas and soft-gel capsules.
“It’s been really nice,” says Fran about having her kids and grandkids back on the ranch with her.
“It’s like having that village,” says Margaret, referencing the old adage that “it takes a village.”
Liz adds that being so close brings a level of trust and honesty that helps ensure everyone is pulling in the same direction.
“I think we’re all very similar people,” she says. “And it’s worked.”
Beyond the business and the Hemp on the Slope event, the women of Eleven Acres are also involved in the industry in many ways. Margaret serves on the boards of both the Hemp Industries Association and the Colorado Hemp Advancement and Management Plan, the group developing that state’s hemp policy to be submitted to the federal government as called for in the 2018 Farm Bill.
In addition, Margaret is also serving as the adviser to the prime minister of Antigua on the small Caribbean country’s burgeoning hemp program, a gig she got in part because of Fran’s pre-ranch days running a charter boat in that part of the world.
But the primary focus, of course, is on working the ranch, promoting the company’s brands and working to get into stores across the country.
“The idea is to get our products out to as many people as we can because we know they’re helping,” Margaret says. “Our work starts at the soil and doesn’t stop until the consumer has it in their hands.”