Late 1990s. Asturias, the northern coast of Spain. Young Mariano was succumbing to family dilemmas, melting from anxiety and suffering from chronic pain caused by a colon condition.
He was still a kid when Chali, a friend 10 years older, invited him a few puffs of marijuana. After a few hits the young man burst out laughing. Suddenly, his nerves calmed, his dilemmas took the back seat and his pain magically disappeared.
“What is this?” Mariano asked Chali, and laughed again. He began smoking weed regularly and gained an interest in a know-how that, at the time, was quite unusual for young people: cannabis seeds and genetics.
His friend Chali shared with him strains from Afghanistan, India and Holland, countries that already had a strong cannabis culture.
One day, his friend Chali told him about Asturjaya, the first seed bank in Asturias. “They had pure strains, they brought seeds and stabilized them. They sold regular varieties,” recalls Mariano Duque, breeder and creator of BSF Seeds, proclaimed as “the best seed bank in the world.”
“We are crazy for this plant. The necessity of not having seeds made us make them. It used to be impossible to get seeds, so when we got a hold on them, we kept them like gold,” he says, standing in the present, stirring his past.
That fast-paced summer
Back then, there were no social networks and no forums. Information was really scarce and Chali, his friend, took him to discover his small farm in the mountains. There, he showed him crosses, told him about sativas, indicas and various genetics.
It was 2001 and Mariano, who at that time was working delivering pizzas on a motorcycle, quickly knew that this was his true passion.
“I would leave work and go to the mountains every day,” he says. And it was during that fast-paced summer, while visiting Asturjaya and learning from his friend that Mariano shaped his worldview . “It opened up the world to me,” he asserts.
With the first seeds and harvests came a new form of socialization: you could smoke better and now Mariano had the password on how to do it.
He stumbled with the store Mi María, in Oviedo, 100 kilometers from his home, another important piece for this green fable.
“That’s where it all started. I was crazy about seeds. ‘I have to make them,’ I thought. I gave them away. It was my form of activism. I told everyone: ‘Don’t smoke hashish, smoke marijuana,” he recalls.
He bought four bulbs, set up a room and grew some crosses.
The Dutch catalog
By 2003, fate put an opportunity in his hands: as the stores had seeds at ridiculous prices, Mariano decided to invest some 500 pesetas (less than USD 4) in a Dutch seed catalog that had some contact addresses.
“In Holland it was already legal. Spain had a legal vacuum. As long as it was for consumption and not for sale, it was not illegal.“
He continued growing (summers outdoors, winters indoors), continued giving away seeds and here and there, until one day, an enthusiastic Mariano showed up at Spannabis 2008 to meet in person with the leaders of all the Dutch seed banks. “It was my dream,” he recalls.
“My business was very small. I went around all the stands giving away seeds and asking for information. Almost begging.” Mariano recognizes that now all those brands are his competition. They bear no taboos about information that they release and consider that if people know more, they will have better cannabis and it will be legal all over the world.
Suddenly, Asturias became too small for him and he moved to Tenerife, the island of eternal spring. Within months, he opened his own grow shop, which he called THC Canarias.
“It went very well. I won some cannabis cups and banks started calling me.”
And, the business grew so much that he even organized his own cannabis cup.
The ‘young promise of the breeders’
By 2011, Mariano opened the Asociación Club Medical THC, his own cannabis association and the first of its kind in the Canary Islands. “They gave me legal permission to grow, it was a dream come true.”
In that raid, he began to recover seeds and reached the Super Sativa Seed Bank in California, one of the pioneering banks in the world. He recovered some seeds that were thought to be extinct and, from that point and on, a media rush started and never stopped spreading.
Suddenly, his name began to circulate among the great experts in the community and even Jorge Cervantes himself, author of Marijuana Horticulture: The Indoor/Outdoor Medical Grower’s Bible, wrote to congratulate him. “I thought it was a prank. I learned everything from his books,” he assures.
But it was true: Mariano Duque’s work had grown so much that Cervantes and even the Soft Secrets magazine were surprised by his story and highlighted his work. “They put my face on the cover, in a crop. They were saying that the Canary Islands were full of THC. That was a ‘boom’. They said that I was the young promise of breeders.”
Thus, his association went from grouping four scared friends to employing more than 1,500 people.
He networked with other banks, continued to develop professionally. And, suddenly, the dream was over: the police started to chase him, he was tapped and accused of being a little less than a drug dealer. They took everything from him, absolutely everything. His case ended up in court and is still open.
“They persecuted me in my country just for doing what I like, in a legal way and paying taxes.”
Uruguay: the connection
At that time, in South America, Uruguay was legalizing the production, commercialization, possession of all uses of marijuana. Emboldened by this context, Mariano traveled to Uruguay like a whirlwind.
After a few months living in Uruguay, he showed up at every cannabis-related event. And of course, he was there when the first Expocannabis took place.
“One night, during a party I met a Chilean. We became friends and I started telling him my story. That’s when we sparked the seed-bank project,” he says.
That Chilean was none other than Tarek Jury, a marketing expert who teamed up with him, became his partner and became the co-creator of BSF Seeds.
“They created the brand based on the information they needed. What characteristics were they looking for? They wanted them to be bigger, stronger, faster,” adds Felix Hadad Rivas, the CMO of BSF Seeds.
He continues: “They were creating everything with a small team of people. The business became increasingly profitable. They gave value to the seeds. The bank started to grow and became more professional. As an important observation, we always advocate responsible consumption. It is one of the brand values. And we always respect the user and are based on a human-centered perspective.”
On their neck, BSF holds some 89 distinctions from various cannabis cups around the world. “That speaks highly of the product,” Hadad Rivas adds.
One of the brand’s main aims is to train its users through its BSF School. In addition, they have a solidarity component, BSF Solidarity, a program through which they give away seeds for medical treatments for folks in need.
“We don’t stop at just selling a seed,” Duque confesses.
“We consider ourselves one of the most professional banks. We have alliances all over the world. And we even have the backing of Mike Angelotti, the organizer of The Emerald Cup. Our facilities are as professional as they can be. We take the plant to its maximum splendor,” says Mariano.
Felix dixit: “Every employee considers himself a ‘Bsfinian’. Part of a culture that grew organically. It was not a marketing plan. It was constructed naturally and it has a tremendous value.”
These days, there are Bsfinians on every continent and the messages of support, affection and closeness assure: “The plant is going to be free.”
Inspiration in the basketball world
Duque explained that “BSF is the league of seeds. It ‘s like the NBA.”
In their catalog, they have “mixes” (they call them “teams”) with different themes. They also feature “star players”, which are consecrated varieties of the bank. And, as in the NBA, they go through “drafts” in which a handful of varieties compete to stay in the catalog.
-How did you design this referential universe linked to basketball?
-We spent a year and a half working on it. Until we came up with the idea of making the league, of making it a game. With BSF Seeds we deliver something extra: we have collectible packs and a “hall of fame” reserved for influential people. We have rappers like Original Juan and Akapellah. Soon Nitro is going to enter that league, too.
-And where does your connection to rap come from?
-I’m a rapper. I’ve been rapping and listening to freestyle since I was 13. Rap and weed. All rappers like to smoke. And all the rappers wanted to smoke with Mariano. Friendships were created with many artists. The first one was Supernafamacho from El Club de Los Poetas Violentos. He was into cannabis associations and I helped him with his club. He introduced me to everyone and we had an idea: to take a seed to Jota Mayúscula, which was the first seed of a rapper in Spain. That’s where the alliance with rap comes from.
Smokers, growers, breeders and freestylers.
“My brother Mariano gets a really good hash,” spits Original Juan on “I Don’t Give a Fuck.”
“Shout-out BSF who sponsors me,” Duki tosses in “Volando Bajito,” a track from his new album Desde el fin del mundo.
With this push, came BSF Arena, a tournament in which international MCs competed via digital. An event that had jurors of the stature of Trueno, Duki and Original Juan and received the support of Urban Roosters, the brand behind the Freestyle Master Series, the most relevant freestyle leagues on Earth.
Undoubtedly, Mariano Duque is part of the international rapper imaginary. “We are the bank of rappers,” he says.
“In the middle of the pandemic, I got the crazy idea to do all this. I talked it over with Juan Ortelli, who is a Bsfinian, and we gave it a green light. This was done so that people in pandemic would have rap,” Duque confesses .
These days, BSF Seeds also plans to get into music production and will collaborate with artists Jaloner and Sudakillah.
-How much more innovation is possible in the world of genetics?
-The truth is that there is no end to it. Genetics in cannabis is a world to be built. With the current situation, with the legality advancing in the world, research is just beginning. We don’t sell seeds, we sell dreams. It was the first thing I received when I entered this world.
Photos courtesy of BSF Seeds
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