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The transition from trucker to CBD sales was a healing journey

Two men shaking hands over a vendor table
Ismara Corea
Barbara Stalbaum (center) and Tyler Griffin, right, talk to a vendor at Gainesville Grove Street Farmers Market, Oct. 10, 2022.

Tyler Griffin was motivated to start the business as his father's rheumatoid arthritis caused debilitating pain: "When your dad is sick, you’ll go to all the lengths.”

Local hemp farmer Tyler Griffin said his path to helping people heal from pain and other discomforts has been full of interesting turns.

Griffin is the owner and founder of Southern Sun, a company that specializes in quality, all-natural and affordable CBD products. The hemp used to produce Southern Sun’s products is homegrown at his family’s farm in Archer, Florida.

But Griffin’s journey to becoming a community healer in Gainesville was challenging. His father was a driving force behind Griffin’s desire to delve deeper into the healing properties of CBD.

“When your dad is sick, you’ll go to all the lengths,” Griffin said.

Griffins’ father was suffering from rheumatoid arthritis which caused him debilitating joint pain and inflammation in his ligaments. This prompted Griffin to investigate different forums and pages to figure out what else could help his father besides prescribed medications.

Griffin said he had found through personal experience that CBD helped him rest during the day after long night shifts as a truck driver. He then realized his father could benefit from CBD products as well.

Griffin eventually started ordering CBD oils for his father. A once non-believer, his father experienced joint relief and his perspective on CBD changed.

“Traditional values and ideas were holding him back,” Griffin said. “Change in perspective made him a believer.”

However, his father’s pain relief came with a big bill. Griffin was ordering two bottles of CBD oil a month for $85 from out of state, and it was getting expensive.

Around the same time, Griffin was in North Dakota working at an oil field. He kept researching and began to toy around with the idea of dipping his toe into the CBD business.

Griffin had been in contact with an expert at FAMU about a research permit, and he was listening to business podcasts and trying to understand what his future could turn into.

“Everybody said, ‘Hey, it’s going to be a grind, it’s going to stink at first, but you just have to keep going, dig deep within and figure out your reason to keep going,’” Griffin said.

And then it all clicked. A couple of nights after his deepest dive into the future, his truck died in the middle of the oil field. It was -38 degrees outside, and all Griffin had for warmth were the clothes on his back.

“I thought I was going to freeze to death,” Griffin said.

Luckily, Griffin was rescued by another truck driver. But the cold jolted his aspirations.

“I thought ‘OK I’m not doing this anymore. This is God’s way of telling me, you have to go in a different direction,’” Griffin said.

Griffin had wanted to start his own business and own a farm. Luckily, he already had his business pitch ready, and his family owned a farm in Archer.

Tyler Griffin has his arm around Barbara Stalbaum (left)
Ismara Corea
Barbara Stalbaum (left) and Tyler Griffin, next to Southern Sun’s popular CBD products of cool rubs, pre-rolls, oil drops and dog treats in their vendor’s tent at Gainesville Grove Street Farmers Market, Oct. 10, 2022.

The perfect opportunity had presented itself. Griffin’s family farm was 40 acres of pine trees. The farm had recently lost about eight acres of pine trees to pest pine bark beetles.

Whenever Griffin could come home from the oil field, he would spend days with his father cutting down and burning acres of infested pine trees to get ahead and eventually stump the pests.

“My dad, being old school, wanted to replant pine trees,” Griffin said. “I said, ‘Look, those were 35-year-old pine trees and they’re gone in just a couple years,’”

Griffin broke down the financials to his father. “Let’s try this hemp thing,” Griffin remembers saying.

According to Harvard Health, hemp is related to marijuana but contains very low levels of THC, the chemical responsible for the “high” associated with cannabis. CBD can be derived from hemp with 0.3 percent or less of THC. Hemp and CBD derived from hemp are legal in all 50 states, as of the congressional 2018 farm bill.

Jars of CBD gummies
Ismara Corea
A few of Southern Sun’s CBD gummies at the Gainesville Grove Street Farmers Market.

Griffin did a lot of research. He gathered his belongings and traveled to Colorado and California where he immersed himself in the world of hemp.

He camped in his car, slept in a hammock on a hemp farmer’s property and worked for free for over a month at a hemp farm.

“I’m guessing they did it for the free labor, but I was learning a lot under their wing,” Griffin said.

One of his last endeavors was learning about hemp greenhouse growing in California with the purpose of better understanding the environment in Florida. He soon after drove to Florida where he applied for a research permit and met with directors from FAMU. Griffin later secured a spot in FAMU’s Hemp Research Pilot Program.

Griffin started with a research operation before transitioning into a commercial company. The state had wide-open access to the farm where most of its research involved Florida’s humidity and uncertain pressures from pests and molds.

“We killed a lot of plants just like we were able to successfully grow a lot of plants,” Griffin said. “I think being able to jump, make some mistakes and learn from them was a huge driver.”

Griffin said he has since transitioned to a commercial business where he has faced challenges due to misconstrued views on hemp. The company has spent thousands of dollars every year in payment process fees and has seen nearly a handful of different banks and a variety of payment processors.

“We just want to be treated like a normal business, even though we are more heavily regulated than a normal business,” Griffin said.

Bags of CBD products
Ismara Corea
A few of Southern Sun’s CBD dog treats at the Gainesville Grove Street Farmers Market.

However, helping people is Griffin’s top priority. He said he will receive handfuls of texts and calls if his booth at the farmers market isn’t filled.

Griffin said he didn’t take a paycheck for almost a year and a half from the business. He now can cash out on a modest paycheck.

“It’s something that really keeps me going,” Griffin said. “I remember struggling and eating the PB&J sandwiches just to save money because I was eating money out of my savings.”

Now, Southern Sun helps individuals with Crohn’s disease, cancer patients, caretakers and, in general, anyone battling an overwhelming disease. Griffin pledges to try his best in helping alleviate anyone’s pain and be part of their healing, whether they can afford his products or not.

Griffin doesn’t manage Southern Sun alone. Barbara Stalbaum, a Gainesville native and a second mother to Griffin, has helped him hold down the fort. Stalbaum retired from Haven Hospice and was quickly recruited by Griffin to sell Southern Sun’s products at farmers markets.

Stalbaum is known as ‘Mamma Barb’ by farmers market visitors and Griffin. Stalbaum said she has known Griffin since he was 14 years old. She regards him as a son and he regards her as his second mother.

“She’s the family I got to choose,” Griffin said.

Griffin was best friends with Stalbaum’s son and he spent time around her home as the boys grew up. However, Griffin was able to help Stalbaum heal a persistent ailment.

Stalbaum was having difficulties with anxiety and felt pharmaceuticals weren’t for her. Later, her doctor sent her downtown to buy some CBD. She had tried four different bottles of CBD oil to no avail.

“I used to say, ‘CBD doesn’t work for me,’” Stalbaum said. “Until Tyler’s.”

Barbara Stalbaum and Tyler Griffin, helping customers at Gainesville Grove Street Farmers Market
Ismara Corea
Barbara Stalbaum and Tyler Griffin, helping customers at Gainesville Grove Street Farmers Market, Oct. 10, 2022.

One day, Griffin gifted Stalbaum his CBD products, and she started sleeping through the night and her anxiety diminished.

“I wish I had found it young; I’ve always had an anxiety problem and even though I’m not neurotic or anything, it was eating me up inside,” Stalbaum said.

Additionally, Griffin’s products have healed other members of Stalbaum’s family. Stalbaum’s younger sister suffers from rheumatoid arthritis. Her sister was making the drive from Jacksonville to Daytona to see a doctor while also taking chemo medications.

Stalbaum gifted her sister Southern Sun’s cooling rub and CBD oil, even though her sister was a non-believer and would often refuse to try the products.

“It was very difficult for her to even hold a glass,” Stalbaum said. “She tried this and has used it faithfully ever since. It didn’t cure her problems, but it makes it easier to live with them.”

Similarly, Griffin’s wife Ashley Wiggs has another example of the impact of the company. Her sister, Brittany Carney has been able to feel Southern Sun’s relief from Jacksonville Beach.

Carney was very skeptical about CBD, even if it was being produced by her family members. She didn’t think CBD would ever be of use to her and its heavy saturation in today’s market was worrisome.

However, Southern Sun’s dog treats were an easy entry point into the world of CBD for her two schnauzer poodles.

At the time, her eldest dog was 16 years old and needed help with joint pains and overall sickness. Upon giving her dog a treat at the farmers market, she noticed a visible difference.

“I could tell she was more relaxed, she wasn’t in pain anymore,” Carney said. “She just felt better.”

Her eldest dog’s improvement convinced her, and Carney said she finally felt ready to delve into the CBD world for herself. Carney was a faithful user of Icy Hot and other over-the-counter muscle rubs. As a runner and golfer, she often needed to relieve lower back pain.

She decided to try Southern Sun’s cooling rub and has become an enthusiast.

“I actually bring the cooling rub with me on the course and rub it on my back,” Carney said. “Immediately, I feel instant relief and am able to continue my golfing round.”

 Barbara Stalbaum (left) and Tyler Griffin embrace in front of their vendor’s tent
Ismara Corea
Barbara Stalbaum (left) and Tyler Griffin, owner of Southern Sun, embrace in front of their vendor’s tent at Gainesville Grove Street Farmers Market, Oct. 10, 2022.

Carney is an advocate for the quality of Southern Sun’s products. She will be running a half marathon in December 2022 and will bring the cooling rub along the run for easy application.

“I think people believe it’s going to make them silly, but it’s really to help reduce inflammation and relax the body,” Carney said. “It makes your body not be in fight-or-flight mode.”

According to Harvard Health, CBD does not get you high.

The acceptance of Southern Sun’s products extends further. Carney’s hairdresser uses CBD gummies to unwind at the end of the day. She is currently also training for a marathon and instead of having her usual glass of wine she takes a CBD gummy to reset for the next day without a hangover.

On the other side of the coin is Solae Grace, who was gifted a bottle of Southern Sun’s massage oil by Griffin at a farmers market. Grace tried the oil with the hope of improving her lower back and sciatic pain flare-ups during her menstrual period.

“I’d compare it to drinking a nice cup of hot tea when you have a sore throat,” Grace said.

Grace’s pain has surfaced within the past year from driving and posture issues. It’s usually a dull ache for Grace, but her menstrual period will make the pain become debilitating. The pain will spread up her back and down her leg and intensify her menstrual cramps.

“I’ve tried it for the past two months, and it’s an immediate relief,” Grace said. “It doesn’t make all the pain go away, but it makes it so I can go about my day.”

The CBD oil lessens Grace’s pain enough for her to stand and make food for at least an hour or even do house chores and go out, something unheard of to her before discovering Southern Sun.

Farmers markets have proven to be good locations for Southern Sun product sales.

Kyle Roberts, a graduate of the University of Florida’s Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, discovered Southern Sun at a farmers market where the company was offering its CBD oil products.

Roberts was curious about CBD products. In the past, he did not sense a difference from other products on the market. But upon trying Southern Sun’s products, his perspective on CBD changed for the better.

“I took theirs and that was the first time I had a notable difference in my emotional state,” Roberts said. “I’m not necessarily an anxious person, but it was definitely very calming and soothing.”

The CBD oil provided a sense of calm, relaxed his muscles, and released tension yet also made him feel more alert and focused, he said. He also noticed an improvement in his sleep preparation when using CBD oil.

Roberts returned three to four times to buy the product afterward. Roberts advocates for keeping an open mind to herbal medicines on par with pharmaceuticals.

One of Griffin’s main missions is to be as transparent as possible about his company. He strictly tests his products for no hard metals and pays extra care to the farming and packaging process. Southern Sun’s transparency is what convinced Cali Maren to give their product a go.

A once skeptical mother of four, Maren was pleasantly surprised by Southern Sun’s cooling rub.

“Everyone there is so helpful, nice and answer any questions you have about any product and how they work,” Maren said.

Maren had recently broken a bone in one of her feet and had a bad sprain.

“I was shocked. I didn’t think it would work that well with my pain,” Maren said. “I took no pain pills.”

Maren has since continued to use the CBD cooling rub for other aches that come from her on-the-go lifestyle as a mother of four and business owner of Egg and Bagel.

Southern Sun’s mission is to help heal communities, said Griffin. He and his wife Ashley Wiggs, and second mother Stalbaum, all place helping individuals as a top priority.

“I truly believe that if you see a need and you fulfill it without focusing on the money, the money will come,” Griffin said.