Dave Falkowski is fostering the growth of a new kind of East End community.
The mushroom and hemp grower and owner of Open Minded Organics, which opened a shop in Sag Harbor this year, is looking to bring people together through products, knowledge, and connections.
“If we’re stewards of information or skill, we want to be able to share that with other people, whether it’s to increase their skill or just pique their general interest,” the Bridgehampton native said. “We want to help people make connections and further the work that we’re involved in.”
At his shop, he sells hemp and CBD oils, medicine wheels, pendulums, crystals, soaps, bath bombs, paintings, cards, and other products from not only his line but close to 15 other entrepreneurs. It’s where he moved many items he’d occasionally sell from his Butter Lane farm stand in Bridgehampton. Falkowski said he’d always wanted a storefront, and thought it was a more appropriate place to sell some of his things.
“It kind of sounded cheesy at first, but more than wanting a shop in town, we wanted the town in our shop,” the Sag Harbor resident said.
Falkowski grew up on a farm, where his stand has opened each spring for the last three years. His grandfather purchased the property after World War II, moving on from being a farmhand in Sagaponack to nurturing his own crops.
The entrepreneur said while he didn’t necessarily grow up a farmer, under his father John, a home builder, he did tend to large gardens and orchards, and a tree nursery.
Falkowski did a walkabout, and ended up with a degree in early childhood education, while his father and uncle Tom tended the family farm. He said although the farming he does today is very different, from how the product is grown to how it’s sold, he never envisioned taking this path.
It all started for Falkowski when he read a book “The Mushroom Cultivator: A practical guide to growing mushrooms at home,” by Paul Stamets and J.S. Chilton. He attended a permaculture conference in 2004.
“The book brought mushroom cultivation out of the dark,” Falkowski said. “He got me very inspired to grow gourmet and medicinal mushrooms. There are many varieties of mushrooms that have the ability to heal people.”
He built a spore lab in his home and started experimenting with growing mushrooms — on wood chips, logs, and straw bags. He was dubbed the “mushroom man” or “mushroom Dave” by local chefs he sold to. Falkowski started bringing his product to farmers markets, including those in Westhampton Beach, Sag Harbor, and Montauk.
Now 15 years later, he’s married with a daughter, and grows organic and medicinal mushrooms, up to 200 varieties of naturally-grown vegetables, and flowers, and just last year, he began growing hemp and cultivating cannabidiol, commonly referred to as CBD.
“I think we really knocked that out of the park with quality and support,” Falkowski said. “That’s what led us to this opportunity here to buy this retail space. This is another extension of our work. A lot of it started with medicinal properties of a product like mushrooms, how they can heal the planet and the people, and hemp is poised and marketed as this thing. But we’re barely peeking through the window of opportunity. Nobody’s
really unlocked its full potential for sure.”
Open Minded Organics offers a variety of merchandise, from kombucha from Jamesport to hemp-infused soap and bath bombs through collaborations with Deb O’Shaughnessy of the Southampton Soap Company and Kim Gatti of Montauk Soap Company to paintings from local artists with unique stories behind each.
He’s also looking to use space in a back room to meet with customers who want to know more about the product. “Not to circumvent anything anyone else is doing around here, it’s not that we want to be a clinic or anything, but we want to continue to help people,” Falkowski said. He said that if he can’t fully explain something, he may refer the customer to someone who has training in a particular subject. “We can give starting points to research, and even if you need medical advice, we can help you make that connection,” he said.
Falkowski prides himself on the personal connection he has established with his customers, which goes beyond just reading the label on CBD-infused peach-flavored gummies and instructing them on taking the correct serving size.
“We can get down to the nitty gritty of how organic works in the country, the esoteric science of biodynamics, and talking about our food system. We try to be an educational outlet,” Falkowski said. He shares with the consumer the knowledge he has learned through
extensive traveling, studying, networking, and attending seminars, he said.
Clinical herbalist Nicole Calderone started working for Falkowski last spring. The Eastport native said after obtaining a bachelor’s degree in biology and chemistry in Virginia, and going through a three-year herbalism program in Vermont, she moved home and began to do some cold-calling looking for work. She said she was immediately drawn to her boss, especially through his work with tincturing, or the process of making concentrated herbal extracts, where plant material is dissolved in alcohol.
“His dedication to providing community wellness drew me in because that’s where I come from. It’s not about making a buck or getting a piece of this market, it’s about bringing this great product to this community,” said Calderone.
While the company does not like to make medicinal claims, and can’t due to strict regulations, many have found cannabis’s unique properties healing in more ways than one. Falkowski, for example, used CBD oil products when recovering from hip, knee, and back
“I feel it helps control my inflammation. I recover quicker,” he said, adding that CBD is worth trying as an alternative to traditional treatments.
While the business has benefited from the buzz around CBD, it is challenging because regulations are constantly changing, on a seemingly weekly basis.
Falkowski is also focused on selling a one dilution full-spectrum product. “Instead of selling 10 different products, we have one that you can use 10 different ways. We’ve tried to simplify that experience without gimmicks,” he said. “We can offer an authentic hemp or CBD product, we can show you what’s in it, we can speak to it personally on what it’s done for us.”
The state is currently running on 2014 farm bill provisions, and Falkowski is part of a pilot program to grow hemp, focusing not as much on its historic or known uses for fiber, but the novel properties science is beginning to study and understand, pointing to recent breakthroughs with aerosols, like a nasal spray, instead of the typical ingestion of CBD, which studies have shown to more quickly reduce inflammation, treat chronic pain, and manage stress.
Scientists have found more than 100 other cannabinoids in cannabis sativa, the family from which the chemotaxonomic types with high levels of THC and CBD derive from. Falkowski said there is currently a theory of the entourage effect being studied on each of the compounds by themselves, what they do, and how they work together.
While marijuana regulations for recreational use may be changing, Falkowski likened the idea to going to a new restaurant and knowing what you’re going to order before you even see the menu.
“I’m a little conflicted,” he said. “The level of compliance is through the roof. Do I want to be building multi-million-dollar greenhouses?”
He was also unhappy with the environmental implications, because the farms are usually mandated to be indoors. He said he would potentially consider a craft license if the state allowed him to grow say a half-acre or a certain number of plants with a micro license, but is more thinking about how it could help further the work he’s doing.
For now, he wants to continue to cultivate connections between people.
“We’re growers, we’re processors, but we’re really medicine workers,” Falkowski said. “We’re stewards, custodians, or hopefully, leaders. We want to increase the knowledge base through networks, and the goal is to push collaboration. I believe the more interconnected, the more resilient we are.”
See accompanying article, Getting To Know Cannabis.