A Mother’s Love: A Story About Hemp and Healing
By Natalie Kra
It’s true what they say about a mother’s love; Janel Ralph’s commitment to her daughter’s quality of life through the creation of Palmetto Harmony – one of the country’s leading independently owned CBD brands now known as just Harmony, is a true testament to just how deep a mother’s love runs.
Today, Janel is the CEO of not one, but two leading organically produced CBD and wellness brands – Harmony and RE: Botanicals. But it didn’t start that way. In 2009, Janel’s daughter, Harmony, was born with an incredibly rare genetic disease called lissencephaly (otherwise known as “smooth brain”) and a prognosis of a 4-5 year life span. The first 9 months of Harmony’s life were strife with aggressive seizures, sometimes lasting for hours each day. This led the Ralph family down many trials of pharmaceutical treatments, often to no avail.
When Harmony was approved to try the steroid based medication, ACTH, at the cost of $100,000 per treatment – Ralph didn’t hesitate to move forward with the treatment if it meant a better quality of life for her daughter. Fortunately, the treatment proved to be successful. For about 9 months following the treatment Harmony re-gained control over her body and was able to practice sign language and eat food normally. However, just around the 9 month mark the seizures returned, so the Ralph family decided to embark on yet another round of treatment. This time, the results only lasted about 8 months and then the seizures returned with a vengeance and no end in sight.
Familiar with the power of Eastern medicine and desperate for an alternative solution to her daughter’s condition, Ralph set off to explore more natural healing options. Her research led her to discover the healing properties of cannabis and hemp. And then just two days after Harmony’s release from the hospital after a particularly bad bout of seizures, a bill was signed into law that would allow patients with epilepsy to be treated with CBD.
Entering the World of CBD
While approval from the doctors to treat Harmony with CBD came easily, the actual procurement of CBD products proved to be difficult. The new law allowed for the usage of CBD, but didn’t lay out specific regulations for the growing, processing, and distributing of CBD products. The then deregulated state of the industry allowed for the creation and distribution of low quality, bunk products, with the Ralph’s and other hopeful families experiencing scam after scam.
Janel became fed up and motivated to take the future of the industry into her own hands so that she could ensure the availability of high-quality, healing CBD products for those who needed them most – including Harmony. With a brother in the cannabis industry, a fellow parent from a Parents of Epileptic Children group and her own entrepreneurial spirit, Ralph set out to establish Palmetto Harmony. Harmony is an American, vertically integrated hemp CBD company that grows, extracts, bottles, and distributes their products from the company’s facility in Conway, South Carolina.
Initially, Ralph and the Harmony team procured and processed high CBD crops in Kentucky and then co-packed and manufactured products back in South Carolina. However, the company’s persistent lobbying and advocacy for CBD legalization and policy in South Carolina resulted in the passage of legislation that allowed the company to eventually bring all aspects of production back home.
With a strong focus on safety, efficacy, and transparency – Ralph began to set high standards for the industry through the development of and advocacy for third-party tested CBD products. The company also became one of the first organic certified CBD brands since Janel was knowledgeable about the health implications of the many chemicals used in our food system. She is a strong believer in the power of clean ingredients after witnessing first-hand the positive results she saw from changing Harmony’s diet to mostly organic.
Harmony was also one of the first hemp companies to place a strong focus on regenerative hemp cultivation. Ralph asserts that a lot of companies can be “sustainable” but when it comes down to it, companies must be focused on regenerating our planet rather than just sustaining it.
Janel explains; “The goals and corporate responsibilities that we have set for ourselves are really high standards.” From regenerative cultivation processes to the selection of sustainable packaging materials (roughly ~95%) and the donation of 1% of revenues to environmental organizations – the company has centered the planet in both its business strategy and brand identity.
Harmony’s strong commitment to both people and the planet did not go unnoticed. In 2019, right after the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, Ralph connected with the founder of Nutiva, John Roulac, who was also working within the organic CBD space at his company RE:Botanicals. Both Ralph and Roulac were aligned on their values around quality, efficacy, and sustainability which led way to a powerful partnership. Just months after meeting, the two companies RE:Botanicals and Harmony Palmetto merged together to form a leading, mission-driven CBD entity focused on the production of high-quality products, the implementation of sustainable operations, and creating community impact.
Positioning for Future Growth
Today, as CEO for both brands, Ralph is responsible for leading both brands through strategic growth and innovation. Ralph continues to incorporate feedback from consumers regarding their health needs into the company’s innovation processes and is currently in the process of developing and launching four new products that have structure function claims. These products utilize CBD in conjunction with other cannabinoids such as CBN and CBG as well as herbal ingredients to offer structure function benefits such as sleep, focus, or immunity support.
Ralph says that she will continue to lead the way with a strong focus on “efficacy, transparency and safety” and remain one of the “most transparent companies” to date. In fact, anyone who’s interested in checking out Harmony’s operations is welcome to tour their facilities. The company even created a virtual tour to continue engaging with consumers throughout the pandemic.
With a supportive board and breadth of investors from the naturals industry, Harmony is positioned well to continue to grow organically and strategically while staying true to its founding mission and values. “I didn’t go into this to just sell, sell, sell,” says Ralph.
As hemp derived CBD moves from its early stages into a more mature market, Ralph wonders if the initial motives that pushed for the usage hemp will remain at the core of the industry. She hopes that as larger corporations enter the space that they do so with integrity, using moral and values to guide their growth strategies. If new entrants into the industry embrace the “why” of the industry’s existence, then the CBD industry can truly exist as a force for good, Janel advocates. “At the end of the day, the more people we can get CBD into the hands of, the better the quality of life will be for so many people.”
Ralph also believes in the broader powers of the hemp plant; she sees the future of the hemp industry in more than just CBD production. She sees great potential for the use of hemp in various other products such as textiles, grains and fibers, however these uses will require greater investment and attention from the public.
Ralph hopes to see a future where the expanded use of the hemp plant coupled with better regulation from the FDA allows for greater stability and prosperity for the hemp industry as a whole. More specifically, Ralph believes CBD should be treated like other ingredients found in supplements (i.e. Vitamin C) or food products and regulated as such. If hemp’s legal status can be un-linked from cannabis, such regulation can expand the natural channels in which CBD can be sold, maximizing its healing potential, she says.
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Natalie Kra is a 3rd year graduate student at the University of Colorado, pursuing both an MBA and a Masters of the Environment. Natalie is focusing her studies around sustainable food systems and hopes to leverage her education and passions to drive impact in the CPG industry.