On Jennifer Dawson’s first day at Crystal Forest Farms, it was 4 degrees outside and the snow came up to her knees.
This would be an extra chilly winter day for anyone. But at the Airway Heights cannabis farm, she and other employees were scrambling to keep the cold and snow away from a batch of plants that were ready to be harvested. Even getting people from the office to the greenhouse, and then moving the hand-trimmed plants to the processing area in a blizzard became a logistical challenge.
“This was one of those things that we never thought of, that no one else in the industry had dealt with, and there weren’t YouTube videos you could watch about how to do it right,” said Dawson, a sales associate for the Tier 2 producer that released its first batch of products last month for 4/20.
Crystal Forest Farms produces a variety of cannabis flower and extracts under the Aura Cannabis brand. The company tries to distinguish itself from other growers by putting extra attention to detail and quality at every step of the production process.
“We focus on natural ingredients, cleanliness, and integrity,” said grow consultant Ezra Kille. “We’d like to be more known as an artisanal brand, more like a Tillamook or Dagoba, vs. something more Budweiser-like.”
This focus starts with the plants themselves. Rather than harvesting everything that grows, and pushing everything out the door, Kille and staff only hang onto the best-growing and most promising specimens.
“We’re the kind of place that starts with 200 plants and actually only grows 100,” Kille said. “We plant a lot that we know we’re not going to need. Or, if we decide something may not work for flower, it may still be A-grade for pre-rolls or oils. We have a stream for everything.”
The company has been experimenting with natural essential oils around the perimeter of the greenhouses to keep bugs away, rather than chemical pesticides. Organic soils contain special salts, guano and oyster shells to better break down the dirt.
For future snowstorms, or at least to provide consistent temperatures, radiant heating coils have been installed in the floor of each greenhouse. Greenhouse roofs can be opened to provide sunlight on warmer days.
“I came from a medical marijuana background so it’s important that we take this seriously and not have anything foreign or harmful,” Kille said. “Some people are going to be using our products to help their health problems, not add more. We don’t grow anything we wouldn’t use ourselves.”
Crystal Forest Farms has been relying on the advice of Second Sun Grow, a multi-state cannabis consulting company that focuses on cultivation, production and management. Consultant Chris Kelly, an industry veteran with advanced training in plant genetics, has provided recommendations on sustainable growing methods along with machinery and automation processes.
The company has invested in a machine that quickly fills pre-roll joints, and another that seals product in cans with nitrogen. Besides preserving the flavor and providing a satisfying “puff” when opened, the cans are easy for stores to stack, display and keep longer.
“Some of the stores have told us that their customers prefer to see their product in clear jars, which we do offer,” Dawson said. “But we also hope people will enjoy the cans because they know we have a high reputation for quality in everything we produce.”
Both Kelly and Kille like how Crystal Forest Farms blends current automation with a philosophy in line with permaculture, a long-term agriculture strategy.
“I like the permaculture mentality of one hour of work, but 100 hours of planning,” Kelly said. “We’re already thinking how things are going to be in 10 years. Our goal is always to go in a slow, slow, and sustainable manner.”