Oregon's Craft Cannabis Culture: Excellence Worth Emulating
Jeremy Plumb is building a glass house. Once complete, it will shelter a sophisticated cannabis breeding program overseen by PhD scientists at the cutting edge of research on plant chemodiversity. This innovative facility, the site of Plumb’s Newcleus Nurseries, represents perhaps the most progressive version of agriculture happening in any space and has the potential to reinvent the way we farm.
At the opposite end of the state, in Ashland, OR, Courtney Zehring advocates for small-scale cultivation and relies solely on human power through all phases of the process. An environmentalist to her core, Zehring maintains Tokie Farms as a vestige of what she calls the “slow ganja movement,” pushing back against a burgeoning wave of homogenization, expansion, and industrialization.
Carbon sequestration is the goal at sofresh farms, where Tyson Haworth practices the principles of regenerative agriculture. This means, among other things, that sofresh doesn’t till the ground, allowing for increased water, organic matter, nutrients and more resilient soil. No-till farming enhances soil’s ability to capture carbon from the atmosphere.
“Oregon is in a position to define just what quality cannabis really is, from best environmental and labor practices, to the importance not just of organic cultivation but of the refinement of a well grown strain handled on a higher level.”
Guided by an ethic of interdependence, the HiFi Farms team prioritizes relationships and connection. When Richard Vinal tends his cannabis, he considers the people whose minds and bodies will interact with the plant and the responsibility that it entails. For Lee Henderson, the major appeal of running a cannabis company is the opportunity it presents to promote progressive workplace values and drive social change.
These are just a few of the people working to sustain Oregon’s craft cannabis culture, which many believe is setting a standard of quality, cooperation, sustainability and community engagement for the rest of the country – and the rest of the world.
It makes sense that Pacific Northwest would nurture such a culture: Oregon is the birthplace of Cascade hops and the associated craft beer movement; a hub for artists, makers, and musicians; and a mecca for artisanal consumables of all sorts – meats and cheeses, coffee and tea, even ice cream and donuts. “It’s the pioneer spirit,” laughs Henderson about the state’s engrained DIY mindset.
This pride in the small batch extends to the deeply established community of cannabis growers. Vinal explains, “There is such a relatively “old” cannabis culture here. With this culture comes not only a large diversity of strains and styles of cannabis grown, but an equal diversity in opinions and choices in ways to prepare cannabis for use.
Diversity and experimentation are, for Plumb, two hallmarks of craft cannabis. “Cannabis is the most phytochemically diverse plant on the planet; its chemistry is incredibly responsive to all sorts of variables. The craft producer would take greater care with all the inputs and methodology in the production of this phytochemistry,” he contends, “experimenting with a variety of processes simultaneously.”
Vinal agrees that the craft cultivator is one who understands the unique development and individual needs of each plant. Size matters too; at a certain scale such intimate and customized care becomes impossible. Zehring stresses, “Craft cannabis and maximum yield don’t go in the same box. The long-term maximum yield will be far superior, though, as far as the condition of the plants and the land.”
“This is a 21st-century industry, so we should have 21st-century values,” Henderson insists. “Let’s not have to fight for paid family leave, paid family leave should be a given.”
Sustainability is a key concern for Oregon’s craft cultivators, and they are eager to mitigate their impact on the environment. “I’m not interested in a race to the bottom,” remarks Haworth. “We have a viable opportunity with this plant to do things a different way. We’re trying to bring the ethos of regenerative cannabis into all sections of the supply chain.” He hopes that ecofriendly practices like integrated pest management, rainwater harvesting and renewable power become the industry norm.
Likewise, craft cannabis companies tend to bring a greater thoughtfulness to their business practices and workplace policies. Stable careers, living wages, and a wide range of benefits are common. “This is a 21st-century industry, so we should have 21st-century values,” Henderson insists. “Let’s not have to fight for paid family leave, paid family leave should be a given.”
These progressive principles also inspire a commitment to the greater community, which can be a powerful tool for changing outdated misconceptions about cannabis. “It’s so important to keep expanding these circles,” says Henderson. “We’ve sought opportunities for community involvement, working on campaigns and initiatives, working with the state senate. That’s why I wanted to start the business: the politics, the issues – that drives me.”
Their holistic focus, balancing unmatched quality with a dedication to the earth, the people and the community, has poised Oregon’s craft cannabis companies to lead at this unprecedented time. According to Vinal, “Oregon is in a position to define just what quality cannabis really is, from best environmental and labor practices, to the importance not just of organic cultivation but of the refinement of a well grown strain handled on a higher level.”
And the innovations championed by the craft community – in agriculture, plant science, medicine and social and environmental justice – have the potential to transform more than the cannabis industry. In the future, the planet’s most pressing issues could be solved with strategies and approaches gleaned from the experiments of craft cannabis producers striving for perfection. “How do we influence the world?” Jeremy Plumb asks. “We raise our craft excellence to an unbelievable expression.”