Legal cannabis is in a weird place. As the federal government threatens to crack down on growers and dispensaries, people (mostly young men of color) are still being incarcerated at astronomical rates for weed possession in areas where the plant is still illegal, and yet, legal cannabis has become one of the most profitable and fascinating industries in America.
So how are growers dealing with the state of the cannabis industry? Indigo Gardens, a cannabis farm in Applegate Valley, Oregon, is focusing on sustainability, community, and a love of the plant to create a product that is both enjoyable and socially responsible.
Ben Simon, Carl Venezia, and Evan Metz started Indigo Gardens just last year and were fully operational earlier this year. The trio met in college, Simon and Venezia are from Boston and Metz from Miami, and soon had dreams of moving out West to start their own grow operation.
I spoke to Ben Simon about the vision behind Indigo Gardens, the importance of sustainability in the cannabis industry, and his devotion to the plant.
Ben told me Indigo Gardens all started with a passion for weed,
“Indigo Gardens, initially was born from our love for cannabis. We began consuming cannabis socially and as a way to relax. As more different types of cannabis were becoming available, we started noticing the differences and really began to take note of the things we liked.”
Clearly the Indigo Gardens crew are not your average stoners. Their love of cannabis drove them to find a deeper knowledge and understanding of the plant. So, after dedicating themselves to research on the science of weed and the necessary steps to start a grow operation, they started their journey:
“At one point, we decided to try to grow it. From the beginning, our only goal was to grow the best cannabis we could. After years of trying different growing styles and techniques, we were introduced to cannabis grown in living soil and all the benefits of doing so. Once we learned about the unparalleled cannabis it can produce plus the benefits to the environment and how important biological systems are to saving the Earth from the path we’re heading down, we haven’t turned back.”
This dedication to sustainability and running a completely Green operation separates Indigo Gardens from many of their competitors. With the massive profit margins seen in legal cannabis, many growers and suppliers are simply looking to make a quick buck.
The dudes at Indigo Gardens have a very different perspective. Ben spoke about how most people in the industry are focused on making the most powerful strains, while Indigo Gardens is driven by careful consideration for the entire process:
“Right now, everyone in the cannabis scene is focused on growing elite genetics and producing the best flower, edibles, concentrates, etc. and we definitely love it but there’s another dimension to it and we want to share our passion for the plant and soil and hopefully encourage others to do the same.”
Ben Simon and co. are obviously passionate about the plant itself, but they’re also dedicated to quality soil and the agricultural minutiae, details that many cannabis consumers don’t really think about. But Ben thinks that’s changing,
“We think people are just starting to learn and talk about how important the soil is to our food, and it’s no different for cannabis. Soil has the power to enhance the medicinal affect, taste, flavor, etc. practically every consideration from the last question.”
Ben went on to explain that, like Big Agriculture, cannabis growers can decide to use pesticides and certain chemicals that might streamline their operation, but ultimately are destructive to the environment. Ben think sustainable cannabis is paramount:
“People should know that it really matters how their cannabis is grown. There are a lot of people out there getting into the business or have been in it for a long time that have fallen victim to the deceptive practices of the cannabis-targeted nutrients business and we think a big change is coming. We’ve been taught that using things like chelated salts, dangerous pesticides and additives like performance growth regulators (PGRs) are okay for cannabis, but there is definitely a better way that’s better for our future and for us.”
And for those who aren’t aware, Indigo Gardens wants to put you on game,
“[We’re] looking to educate our consumer and let them know that the cannabis they consume matters and to grow the best cannabis we can. We know that if we become stewards of the soil we can make a positive impact on our community and anyone who comes across our product.”
This “stewards of the soil” idea is clearly a mission statement for Indigo Gardens. These dudes are passionate about cannabis, of course, but they’re also dedicated to their process and finding ways to produce the highest quality plant, as well as a better future for their environment and community.
Ben spoke about an emphasis on “bringing superior flower to the market,” but furthermore, they want their product to change people’s lives for the better,
“Our main focus is to make sure that any of our products enhance the lives of whoever is consuming it we we will take great care and discretion regarding the types of extraction and the types of product that will be derived from our farm.”
As for the farm itself, Indigo Gardens has both indoor and outdoor grow operations. Different ways of growing yield different plants with different characteristics. Ben told me about what separates the two:
“We have a mixed license which allows us to operate an outdoor plot and an indoor plot, which in our case is a light-assisted greenhouse. The outdoor plot can be harvested once or twice a year and the greenhouse will be harvested four times a year.”
And what exactly they’re looking for when they do come to harvest:
“When we harvest, we’re just looking to consistently produce quality cannabis that has a range of unique characteristics. From bag appeal (look and smell), affect, flavor, test results (cannabinoids and terpenes), how well it works for extraction and other considerations like yield and how long a particular cultivar (strain) takes to finish, we just want to grow something special for those looking for a superior product in Oregon.”
Right now, Indigo Gardens is thriving as a sustainable, Clean Green Certified cannabis operation offering a wide variety of products. As the cannabis industry expands, hopefully more growers make a similar effort to emphasize the environment and their community at large.
As for a message to pass along to anyone looking to get into the cannabis industry, Ben advised to follow your passions, do your research, and work your ass off:
“Follow your dreams, find a passion, find something that you can do different or better than someone else and make sure it’s something that serves a market. There are so many different sub-categories and specializations in the industry now, there are so many other ways to be successful than growing, selling or processing the plant. Obviously that stuff is all great but not the only way to get involved in the industry. Whatever you decide to do, do your research, educate yourself and talk to as many people as you can.”
Indigo Gardens is the model for keeping the cannabis industry local, inclusive, and sustainable. It’s a damn cool thing to see.