Spotlight on Marlena Tucker-Fishman

Marlena Tucker-Fishman

Pronouns: She/Her

Current Town: Waterbury Center

Years in VT: 14

Industry: Cannabis Retail 

Business Name: Zenbarn Farms

Business email and/or website:

Tell us a bit about your background.

Marlena Tucker-Fishman: Marlena was born in Queens, and grew up in Piscataway NJ.  She spent her early career as an educator and youth mentor working with some of the hardest to reach young people facing hardships such as poverty and homelessness as well as working with young people with learning differences and autism.  She also founded a wellness and healing studio Zenbarn Studio, founded and ran her own nature-based childcare center before joining forces with her husband Noah to launch Zenbarn Farms, a cannabis brand and retail store.  She is co-owner at Zenbarn Farms and  Director of Environmental and Social Justice where she is positioned to advance the work of The Cannabis Generation, a cannabis equity initiative, to raise funds for programming, collaborate with other companies and nonprofits and ensure her own company is aligned and cohesive in its mission and values.  

What do you enjoy about being a business owner/professional of color in VT? 

The little things… the comfort and liberty to show up 100% me! From my style of dress, expressive communication, and developing a business culture that mimics our family’s life values. It is also rather gratifying to be the fly on the wall (aka the unexpected black -woman business owner in the room) and hear positive feedback about your business. Not to mention the look on both BIPOC and white people’s faces when they discover.. Zenbarn Farms is a black-owned business. Representation matters!

What are some challenges that you’ve faced as a business owner/professional of color?

Honestly, the same challenges any black person would face as a non- business owner or professional.  The only difference is how I may respond to those challenges at the moment. At times it is more important to remain neutral, create the space and build upon a relationship of trust then educate!

What opportunities do you see for your industry in the future? 

We don’t take lightly our role and what we represent for this industry.  communities have been destroyed by the war on drugs, particularly black communities. As This industry grows its’ been dominated by white people who are making sales while black people are in cells.  As a black and woman-owned business, we are here to bridge the gap between cultures and communities to create a sustainable company driven by its values.   

Being a black woman in this very white state of Vermont I’ve found myself in a unique space where I can help bring together the legacy “black market” with the new emerging legal market. I am stepping up to represent my community and inspire the next generation of black cannabis entrepreneurs.  I believe this industry represents a generational opportunity to achieve what my ancestors fought for from the civil rights movement through this day.  This is an evolution of the revolution… where we have a moment and an industry capable of bringing people together across political, racial and ethnic divides… to create wealth and opportunity and… elevate together.

In what ways could the community or state of VT support BIPOC in your line of work?

Two things come to mind: fund BIPOC lead initiatives around equity and seek them out!   

What advice would you have wanted to receive about being a VT professional of color/business owner before arriving?

Do it sooner! VT is such a great place to be as an entrepreneur. Plenty of opportunities to carve your niche around your own passions, strengths, and the needs of the community.

Are there other things (events/opportunities/etc) you’d like to share with the VT BIPOC  community?

Yes! A One-of-Kind Cannabis Education Center:

In the heart of Waterbury’s agri-tourism corridor, within a mile of Ben & Jerry’s, Cabot Cheese Annex & Cold Hollow Cider Mill we will add another iconic destination focused on cannabis.  The Center will feature an outdoor walking exhibit and indoor immersive cannabis exhibit and education center.  The Center will be run by interns and trainees who will study all aspects of cannabis and be given the support they need to pursue their goals whether it be to gain employment in the industry, start their own business or pursue further study.  Faculty and speakers will be drawn from the robust Vermont cannabis industry, academia and nonprofit groups.  Interns and trainees will be recruited through partner organizations with a focus on BiPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) participants and victims of the war on drugs (previously incarcerated individuals and those from targeted communities).  Beyond the physical location, programming will also take place off-site at partner organizations and venues.  The Center will be run as a 501c3 nonprofit, currently operating under a partnership with the Pennywise Foundation, a Vermont-based philanthropic foundation.    

Training Program:

We will provide hands-on training in a working dispensary and education center, with opportunities for field trips, workshops and internships at partner companies in the industry.  The core curriculum will utilize existing training programs developed in partnership with: 

  • University of Vermont’s Cannabis Studies Program
  • Existing nonprofit workforce development programs (Community Action, Adult Learning etc)
  • Sales training through Zenbarn Farms utilizing an existing online training program with hands-on mentorship and professional development
  • Phase 1 to focus on retail sales skills
  • Phase 2 we will develop manufacturing and cultivation focused tracks for participants
  • Additional programming will include retreats, business startup support and more

Get Involved Visit: 

Dispensaries:  Participate in our Roll-Up 4 Equity program by asking customers to donate to this program at your point of sale.  Contributions can be made directly to the Pennywise Foundation from your dispensary.

Corporate Sponsorships:  Individual philanthropists or brands can sponsor a museum exhibit at our education center, expected to be seen by over a hundred thousand visitors per year.  We also have opportunities to sponsor an intern cohort group, providing competitively awarded scholarships to give participants an opportunity to complete our intensive hands-on cannabis internship and set them up for a long-term career.  

Provide Financial Support:  Do you see cannabis as a generational opportunity to address social equity and build health and wealth in our communities like we do?  Consider a tax-deductible donation to support this important work. 

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