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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

No winter hibernation for outdoor growers

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By Linda Ball EVERCANNABIS Correspondent

The weather outside might be frightful, but that doesn’t mean that outdoor growers – or “sun growers” – are sitting inside and eating bonbons all winter.

In fact, like most other farmers, cannabis growers are good at finding plenty of ways to keep busy until it’s time to plant in the spring.

Dave Varshock is the general manager of Aloha Botanics/Dreamin Green Farms in Okanogan. The company is owned by a long time Pacific Northwest family, employing 20 to 25 people under normal operations, but is down to 10 employees plus three managers in winter.

Varshock said if everything goes as planned they hope to keep everyone employed through next winter when they are built out some more.

The farm consists of 98 acres, with 50 acres on pause; the company plans to eventually use the space to offer cannabis weddings and tours. There are 22 acres of cannabis in production at various times.

Varshock said the farm also includes acreage used to grow vegetables, which are donated to the community. A shop and processing buildings consume 22 acres.

Aloha Botanics processes a variety of cannabis products, from flower to pre-rolls (no edibles, though, as there is no commercial kitchen). During the winter, there is still plenty do, including post-processing, packaging, marketing, sales, executive planning, research and development.

This year Varshock said he will be making his own seeds. When the company does build out the facility, production staff will be able to work indoors year-round.

Varshock said he is also very involved in keeping up with Liquor and Cannabis Board rules – the agency also doesn’t take a break for winter.

“It really is important to me that everyone plays by the rules, and that those rules protect consumers while not squashing the producer,” he said.

Another grower in the Okanogan area, just outside of Tonasket, is Crescent Valley Farms. The partners are husband and wife Stephen and Katy Grimes, Stephen’s brother Andrew Grimes and their father, Rod Grimes.

Katy said Rod was the visionary, who asked his sons if they wanted to join him in creating a farm that’s as organic as possible. The family started Crescent Valley in 2015 on leased land, but purchased the 22 acres on the Okanogan River in 2017.

Katy Grimes said it had been an organic tomato farm. The former tomato farmer took them all under his wing giving them tips on organic farming. The business now has two cannabis pens of three acres each and about two and a half acres of cherry trees, with the remainder of the land currently fallow.

She said harvest takes about two months as they hang dry most of the plants. Then they begin the processing, breaking down the different size buds. In the off-season they sell wholesale, build their brand, grow mother plants inside, and plan for the next season.

In the spring, they offer clones for sale to other I-502 producers. Right now, their focus is on flower, but they hope to offer pre-rolls and tinctures next year.

At Jade Stefano’s Puffin Farm in Ellensburg, consisting of 20 acres on the Yakima River, just shy of an acre is devoted to cannabis, with the remainder containing vegetables and hay.

Like Grimes, Stefano’s harvest is hung to dry, which takes a few weeks as they dry in a cool, low-moisture environment. From there, her harvest is put into curing bins, which are carefully monitored for moisture to not only protect the plants from microbial growth but for taste as well.

Puffin Farm has a CO2 extraction facility in Seattle where employees produce vape cartridges and hashish. They also sell flower, pre-rolls and infused pre-rolls. All of their packing is done at the Seattle facility, so they keep busy because there is no middleman before the harvest reaches the retailers.

Puffin Farm is Clean Green certified and recently received a regenerative farming certificate. This means, Stefano explained, is that they are most concerned about the environment and value protecting it with sustainable farming, taking it to the next level by regenerating the soil and the eco-system.

Stefano is on the board of directors of the Washington Sungrowers Industry Association. The group’s mission is to “support sustainably farmed sun grown cannabis by encouraging positive environmental and economic policy through advocacy, education and research.”

The organization currently represents 54 businesses, which hold more than 90 WSLCB licenses combined. Executive director Crystal Oliver recently sold her farm and moved to Olympia to focus on policy work and advocate for farmers. She said it’s still a “lean” organization with only herself on staff, along with a contracted lobbyist.

Linda Ball is a freelance journalist based in Washington State. In her 18 years as a journalist she has covered a wide variety of topics including environmental issues, city hall, arts and entertainment, education, human interest stories and now the rapidly-changing cannabis industry.