Home Arts & Culture Rooted in Vermont’s Hip-Hop Culture: Inside Tao Labs | GreenMountain Vermont Cannabis News

Rooted in Vermont’s Hip-Hop Culture: Inside Tao Labs | GreenMountain Vermont Cannabis News

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Brattleboro and Saxtons River might not immediately strike one as cannabis hubs, but nestled within the lush landscapes of Vermont, a thriving cannabis business has taken root. Founded by Jamie Tao and Sam Neill, Tao Labs is more than a cultivation facility; it’s a testament to entrepreneurship, perseverance, and the evolving cannabis landscape in the Green Mountain State.

Jamie Tao, a Brattleboro local with roots in Taiwan, and Sam Neill, a Nigerian Vermonter who can trace back generations in Saxtons River, joined forces to establish Tao Labs with a shared goal: to create a cannabis brand deeply rooted in Vermont’s hip hop culture. Their journey into the cannabis industry wasn’t solely driven by profit but by a profound connection to their community and a desire to bring a superior product to the emerging legal market.

Tao emphasized a commitment to the highest quality of flower possible, sharing that he can easily tell apart strains during blind flower testing. Although he remained modest about his abilities, he said he only produces top-tier products that he would consume personally. He attributes to a Vermont ethos of quality over all else in everything it produces, whether it be cheese, beer, or cannabis, all of which Vermont is known to produce high-quality versions of. 

“We’re here for the long haul,” Tao reflects. “Every aspect of our business, from strategy sessions to celebrating milestones, revolves around building genuine connections with our community.”

Their story isn’t just about business ambition; it’s about honoring Vermont’s hip-hop scene and its integral role in shaping their identities.

Neill recalls their beginnings, reminiscing about the early days when the idea of cannabis legalization was still a distant dream. “We were pioneers in this game,” he recalls. “We were doing this in our neighborhoods long before anyone saw the potential for dispensaries in places like Brattleboro.”

For Tao, the journey to cannabis entrepreneurship is a testament to resilience and determination. As the youngest son in his Taiwanese immigrant family, cultural expectations weighed heavily on him. Yet, he rose to the challenge, caring for his parents with unwavering devotion. His upbringing, steeped in the traditions of his Taiwanese heritage, instilled a deep respect for family and community.

One of their signature plants is, in fact, an homage to Tao’s mother, with guava characteristics that remind him of her. This is just another way that Tao Labs is able to fold family and community into its business. 

Their commitment to authenticity extends beyond personal narratives to their brand identity.

Tao Labs isn’t just about selling cannabis products; it’s about representing Vermont’s hip-hop culture—a culture that has shaped their stories and fueled their dreams. “Our brand is a reflection of who we are and the communities we come from,” says Neill. From the imagery on our website to the graffiti-inspired murals in our facility, it’s all about capturing the essence of Vermont’s hip-hop scene.”

Jamie and Sam at circa 2010 in old Brattleboro

Jamie and Sam at circa 2010 in old Brattleboro. Photo provided by Tao Labs. 

Their authenticity resonates with consumers, forging connections that transcend demographics and musical preferences. Neill recounts encounters with customers who share profound connections to Tao Labs’ products—a connection transcending age, background, and musical taste. “Our brand speaks to everyone—from outdoor enthusiasts to hip-hop heads,” Neill emphasizes.

“We’re not about following the crowd,” Neill emphasizes. “It’s about listening to our customers, understanding their desires, and delivering experiences that resonate with them.”

One significant hurdle they faced was obtaining social equity status for their business.

Despite Jamie’s ownership stake and her compelling narrative of overcoming adversity, including encountering racism and systemic barriers, they struggled to be recognized as a minority-owned enterprise.

Their perseverance paid off as they eventually gained recognition as an Asian American social equity applicant. The struggle highlighted the way that Asian Americans are often overlooked as a minority community in Vermont despite many Asian communities having a presence in Vermont for decades. They hope their struggle to gain recognition sheds light on the importance of advocating for equitable opportunities for all community members.

They’re grateful for the support they’ve received from local growers and enthusiasts and are committed to giving back wherever they can. “We’ve been fortunate to receive help and guidance from others in the industry,” says Tao. Now, we’re paying it forward by sharing our knowledge and expertise with others.”

Their commitment to quality and sustainability is evident in every aspect of their operation, from cultivation to final product. They handle everything in-house, ensuring meticulous attention to detail and reducing environmental impact. Their dedication to local production guarantees freshness and quality and supports the local hip-hop community.

“Representation matters,” Neill asserts. “And if there’s going to be a brand that represents Vermont, it’s us.”

For Jamie and Sam, cannabis is more than just a business venture; it’s a labor of love rooted in their shared experiences and Vermont’s underground hip-hop culture. Their journey from humble beginnings to industry pioneers is a testament to the enduring spirit of Vermont’s hip-hop community and the power of authenticity in business.

“Onward,” Tao declares with a smile. “The journey may be challenging, but with every interaction, every partnership, we’re one step closer to realizing our vision of a more connected and enlightened cannabis community.”

As Tao Labs continues to grow and evolve, they hope to continue their passion with integrity, innovation, and community in Vermont’s cannabis landscape.

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