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The Grow Must Go On

The main thing I miss about being in gardens every day is the atmosphere. I mean that completely literally. I miss the temperature and humidity of cannabis cultivation. I miss the positive pressure whistle from the weather stripping around the door, and the way a door will swing wide if you don’t catch it. The warm, bright, wind of transpiration and the reek of terps that hit your face when you crack a room for the first time that day…it’s as intoxicating as a dab for me. At this point, I even miss the mundane tasks in those rooms, like breathing the air during first defoliation, being under the canopy, rolling along on your stool, checking drip lines and steadily filling five-gallon buckets with stems and nodes you know are too far away from light to not just be larf and will slow down your harvest flow…it’s zen. 

I’ve had this same conversation with other growers over the years — that being in a room and feeling the right atmospherics is very calming. I think it’s because you know that if the plants have that dialed in atmosphere — if they have CO2, H2O, light and NPK — they are going to do their thing. They don’t care about the news, or whatever craziness is happening in your life. All that is happening for them is growth.

Now, Cannabis people also know that the downside of that growth can be that it’s unrelenting. The plants don’t care about whose birthday it is. They don’t care if it’s your anniversary or if it’s Christmas, or if you just really need to take today off to do some laundry. The plants will do their thing no matter what, whether you’re there or not. We’ve all missed parties and dates because we were watering. We’ve been late to appointments and missed meetings because the cloners needed attention. The plants’ needs can very often get placed over human ones because they don’t care about anything but growth.

This indifference of the plants to human priorities is on my mind a lot these past few weeks. It’s usually right up front while talking to our customers. The Industry is grappling with COVID-19 along with every other industry and enterprise. The cannabis industry has been deemed “Essential Business” in most states with MMJ or adult-use programs, and rightly so. I hear some “Tongue In Cheek” pride from budtender friends that in some places, the only acceptable answer to give to an LEO when they ask why you are out of your house during lockdown is, “I’m on my way to buy marijuana officer.” 

We lean on stories like this to cheer us up, but the numbers about COVID-19 aren’t encouraging. Like every other aspect of the economy, cannabis markets in Washington, Oregon, Colorado and California are all reporting wild fluctuations in revenue and purchasing patterns. The loss of tourism is killing the demand in Nevada, with the Las Vegas markets seeing unbelievable declines. 

Everything is different, and we’re all improvising. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the industry and culture of cannabis as we know it. Already, many Processors have furloughed workers. With concern about smoking and respiratory health on everyone’s minds, we’re seeing some changes to buying habits. People aren’t passing or sharing cannabis the same way, and won’t be for some time. Will that affect what Processors offer dispensaries? Are we really seeing an uptick in edibles, or is that chatter? Retailers are offering hazard pay to in-person budtenders, while other shops are operating with fewer staff and shortened hours while doing online ordering and curbside pick-up. It’s the day-to-day battle that we are all engaged in together as a country as we try to keep our economy moving.

Producers are in a slightly different spot. By their very nature, gardens must make decisions and act in the present, knowing that they won’t see results from those decisions for up to three months. The flower they took down last week was flipped into bloom before most Americans had coronavirus on their radar at all. This means that if a Producer wants to have flower to sell in June or August when Social Distancing could relax, they need to be flipping a round to bloom today. Strain selection was completed on Master Calendars for the nations’ cannabis supply a month ago, and I’d anticipate some gardens adjusting to more heavy production strains that are bound for extraction.

Production businesses are also acutely aware that they need to keep their cycle going without interruption. A perpetual harvest cycle for a medium or large Producer can take up to a year to get going, and dial in the calendar of propagation to veg to bloom. The plants simply don’t care that coronavirus is making the current economy difficult to navigate. Some gardens have furloughed newer team members, while core team members quarantine together and step up to take more responsibility for day-to-day operations. The Do-It-Yourself DNA of the Industry is paying dividends as well. Some consultants and repair technicians are not able to make the calls they had planned, so Gardeners must once again take the lead and solve the mechanical and construction issues they face.

As I talk to the amazing people that we get to work with and help every day, I’m reminded of the automatic resilience and determination that is inherently built into cannabis people, and it’s on full display in the Industry today. The cannabis pros I know and talk to are finding what they need and moving forward with their growth, and it’s badass to watch. Producers of cannabis, like every other farmer, know that they must put one foot in front of the other every day and make the calls that will put them where they need to be, no matter what. 

All this time, Producers are moving ahead with their build-outs on the license they worked so hard to secure and doing a little more work on the rooms themselves. One of Delta9 Systems’ customers was back in the garden after not being able to make his usual sales calls and has fixed some workflow and gear issues that were hanging up his team. I’m seeing organizations shed extra hands and coming back to their core teams, making those relationships and teams stronger. Best are the teams that are using this time to focus on Mise en Place, refining their space and tools to get more efficient with the resources they have. This has definitely meant returning to the Do-It-Yourself mentality of keeping gear in working order, as some repair services are out of bounds.

Keep going. Keep growing. 

Finding ways to overcome what seem to be insurmountable obstacles of any sort, at any time, is a required skill of every cannabis entrepreneur. If you are in this space, at this point you have dealt with some adversity, if not some downright soul-crushing defeats. You have also gotten back up, pulled yourself together and looked for what you needed to keep growing. I think what it comes down to is a simple truth about the mission of all our businesses in the Industry…to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow. 

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Chris Guthrie
Chris is the General Manager of Delta9 Systems, a division of General Data Co. He is an expert in the cannabis industry, having participated in the birth of the cannabis industry in Washington, and has operated one of the first and oldest medical dispensaries in Seattle. For a decade, Chris has participated in the design and managed the construction of dozens of indoor gardens, and has been involved in cultivation, processing, retail operations, as well as industry activism.
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