It takes a lot of energy to grow cannabis indoors, and as the legal industry has gained momentum, much attention has been paid to the energy footprints of producers who run indoor grow facilities. While arguments between indoor & outdoor growers have existed for some time, a regulated market brings a new level of public scrutiny to the issue. But what if growers could have the best of both worlds? What if you could bring sunlight indoors to combine natural lighting with the benefits of a controlled environment?
This is the question that Fleurish Farms, a cannabis cultivation firm based in Sonoma County, has set out to answer. In the latest episode of the Ganjapreneur.com podcast, our host TG Branfalt interviews Dr. Jonathan Cachat and Dr. Joshua Earlenbaugh about their unique DSS Supplemental Sunlight™ systems which employ Solatubes, a form of tubular skylight that has existed for decades, to harness sunlight and beam it into an indoor environment. This method of indoor growing is not a new kind of greenhouse: using Solatubes, Fleurish Farms is able to have much better control over humidity and temperature than a greenhouse typically affords.
In this interview, Cachat and Earlenbaugh discuss how they came from academic backgrounds to pursue opportunities in the cannabis industry, how they first contacted Solatube about using their skylights for growing cannabis indoors, and how they have worked to perfect their systems so they can achieve comparable results using only 20% of the energy typically used by grows that employ artificial lighting.
Listen to the podcast below or scroll down for the full transcript!
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TG Branfalt: Hi there. I’m TG Branfalt and you are listening to the Ganjapreneur podcast where we will bring you essential cannabis business news and insights by speaking with stakeholders, experts and entrepreneurs who are focused on normalizing and demystifying the cannabis industry.
I’m joined by Dr. Jonathan Cachat, the CEO and Dr. Joshua Earlenbaugh, the COO and Director of Production from Fleurish Farms, a Sonoma County California patient research firm specializing in cannabis products, including sungrown indoor flower, pure flower oil rosin and innovative and energy efficient growth solutions. How you guys doing today?
Josh Earlenbaugh: Great. Thanks for having us.
TG Branfalt: So today’s show is a little bit different than our usual format because we have two guests. I’m sure our audience is very curious to learn about the technology you use, but before we get into that, I’d like to ask each of you about your personal background and how you came to apply your experience to growing cannabis.
Josh Earlenbaugh: This is Dr. Josh Earlenbaugh. I was finishing my PhD in Analytic Philosophy at the University of California Davis, and I started hobby growing for my own medicinal purposes. I was getting some pretty cool results with LEDs at the time. They weren’t really big for commercial at the time, but I was getting interesting results so I kept playing with them. I ended up starting a delivery service my last year of my PhD, and started moving some of that stuff through there to get market feedback. I just fell in love with growing things for the market at that point. At GHC, that’s where I met JC.
Jonathan Cachat: Yeah, so this is Dr. Jonathan Cachat. I have a PhD in Behavioral Psychopharmacology, meaning that during my graduate school years, I was licensed by the DEA to handle and research Schedule I-IV drugs. Our goals were to build new models of zebrafish affective disorders, and it’s some pretty interesting stuff. If you go to PubMed, or Amazon and search for “zebrafish on LSD” you can see some of my papers.
Post PhD, I went into data science, so I started a post-doc at the University of California Davis, in the data science department looking to integrate neuroscience data. Then through the delivery service, GHC, ran into Josh. I think it’s safe to say that we hit it off. Josh shared some ideas that he’d been playing around with, with growing plants underneath sun tubes, and I sort of looked at him and said, “Let’s do it. Let’s try it.” That was about two years ago.
TG Branfalt: I know a lot of cannabis entrepreneurs find their way into the industry from an academic background, but to some people that might seem like a big leap. What would you say initially caused you to make that leap?
Josh Earlenbaugh: This is Josh again. Like I said, I was using it medicinally. I was kind of out of the closet on that, because I had to use a lot of it. It helped me with my ADHD, to actually get my PhD finished so I could focus on it. Anger issues, stuff like that. It would just help with the type of environment that I always put myself in, and high stress. I believed in it a lot. There was other people in the neighborhood that I felt like could use similar types of medicine. Like I said, I was getting good, cool results with my LEDs that were helping with my particular condition, so I wanted to let other people have a shot at it.
Jonathan Cachat: Yeah, I think we can certainly attribute some of the analytical approach to the philosophy, too, in designing light recipes for over all that time Josh was using LEDs like over the last seven years, the developments there have been significant and vary a lot. I think his analytical mind … it’s not necessarily that the … I think that the path, the degrees that we took, got us here on purpose, I guess I should say.
Josh Earlenbaugh: For me, it was an understanding that if I wanted the opportunity to learn about cannabis, and endocannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system, basically at this point we understand that it regulates homeostasis in almost every organ of your entire body. It’s like a thermometer of your entire room. Turns things up when it’s too cold and relaxes things if they get too excitatory, like epilepsy for example.
In order to further our understanding of seemingly one of the most important signalling systems within our biology, it just occurred to me that I could pursue such research faster in a consumer market, because really what we’re trying to do is understand how different cannabinoid profiles or terpene profiles relates to a patient’s symptoms and symptomology.
It was a desire to enter a space that was rapidly growing that could handle innovative ideas and would allow us to not only further the treatment of our loved ones and ourselves, in some way, but those who then join into the collective. And bigger than that, furthering endocannabinoid research and knowledge, as well as tackling one of the bigger and more interesting problems of the amount of energy consumed in an indoor grow.
TG Branfalt: Okay. So let’s get right into that, because I’m sure our audience is eager to learn more. I know our editor Graham and our COO Noel saw your display at the New West Summit in San Francisco a few weeks ago, and they were really blown away by the concept.
I have yet to see one in person, but as I understand it, you’re using Solatubes, or a unique kind of skylight that harnesses the sunlight into a tube and beams it into a room. Not a greenhouse, but actually an indoor structure. Can you walk us through how this all works, and what sets it apart from other indoor lighting methods?
Josh Earlenbaugh: The sun tubes are a pretty simple idea. My dad was putting one in his bathroom years ago, and I asked him what they were. He was like, “It’s a tubular skylight, and this light from outside travels down through it, it’s pretty reflective material. Then you have some light in your bathroom for free. I was like, “Well that’s interesting.” I had just started growing with LEDs, and I was like, I wonder if I could use that to supplement the photo energy, the power. Eventually I looked into it more and found Solatube. That was about the time when I met JC.
We basically reached out to Solatube. Said we wanted to perform some research, that we were both PhDs in Davis, and they had technology, and had developed patented protected technology to capture, transfer and deliver natural sunlight indoors. They have a patented material called Spectralight Infinity. This limits the amount of light lost due to diffuse reflection. Scientific story short, it allows us to send in 99.7% of the sunlight’s natural spectrum into a room without IR, which is what heat is. We dissipate the heat before we bring it in, and limiting UV to a pretty big … a large extent, for a good reason. I think we can explain later.
If you can imagine walking into a room that’s completely dark, and then these dimmers open up, and all of a sudden you’re in this completely dark space, but lit by natural sunlight. The color rendering indexed in that room, how it makes you feel when you have the natural light on your skin. When we say, “sungrown indoor,” we really do mean we’re utilizing the rays from the natural sun in order to support the plant growth inside of the environment.
TG Branfalt: You use soil for your indoor grows as well, right?
Josh Earlenbaugh: We use soil to an extent right now. The first grow we did was about 15 to 20% soil, mixed in with cocoa that was amended. Then I recycle all of that, so the next run is the same cocoa amended with more of the farm dirt. I’m trying to find out how much natural native soil I can get into before it gums up the system, because indoor is pretty difficult to keep irrigations if you’re going all probiotic and organic the way we’re doing it.
Jonathan Cachat: I think too, that the approach to growing with soil indoors, you’re right to point out, is not very popular at the moment. What we’re trying to do and where the fundamental belief comes from is that, the relationship between the soil and plants and the organisms within there, the diversity of growth and flora basically work together in concert through signalling molecules to try say okay, I need some more potassium, and this one just knows where the potassium is and come back and get it.
It’s more of a preventative or probiotic approach, rather than, I think, what you can get into without the plants in the room having their natural immunities as rapid infestations that then require very, sometimes harsh, quick reactive measures. Everybody knows that balance of trying to hold them steady. But by bringing in the indoor soil, using things like cover crop, we’re allowed to diversify the plants that the insects are attached to. We can help the soil retain moisture more than without, and the fauna and flora that live in there communicate with the plant to grow a really healthy plant.
TG Branfalt: I want to backtrack here for a second. As I understand it, the company that produces these skylights, Solatube, is a mainstream residential brand that does not have much to do with agriculture, and certainly not cannabis. How did that first meeting go when you reached out to them? Were they receptive to the idea of the product being used in this way? Were they shocked? Did they threaten to call the cops? How did that conversation play out?
Josh Earlenbaugh: I think that it is something that Solatube was not unaware of, or I guess they were very well aware that there’s people calling them pretty regularly wanting to use their products to grow plants. You gotta understand that Solatube, the work that they do and the amount of light measurements that they do are in lux, or foot candles. How much light can come down from a 35 foot tall warehouse ceiling so someone’s desk three feet off the ground is properly illuminated.
When the people that wanted to grow plants underneath that started asking them questions about well, how much power can I get, what are the power measurements? The people at Solatube really weren’t equipped, nor did they have the data to get some accurate information about that.
The first call between us and them was pretty interesting. I told them I was a researcher at UC Davis. We were interested in using them for indoor agriculture. I think the first guy I talked to said, “Okay. All right, all right. Well, if you’re going to grow with cannabis, just let me know because we get a lot of people that like to call and beat around the bush, but we definitely know what they’re calling about.” I sort of said, “Yeah, we’re going to try to grow cannabis under there and would like to see if it works, because if it does work, it could be a real paradigm shift and a real godsend to the energy impact that the newly onboarding regulated cannabis market can bring.
Since that interaction it’s just been nothing but growing better from there. They have some very strong expertise in light physics and the way that it interacts with different materials and wavelengths. I think that through our credentials, but then also our very serious approach to data collection and actually measuring and monitoring the … data and that light moves through the space, they really knew that we were doing it correctly and that we were getting good results.
Now we have in place with them an agreement where anybody who calls them about the use of the tube in an indoor space, they send them to us first, foremost so we can design systems that have worked. There’ve been plenty of systems that people have put together that just don’t achieve anything close to commercial results. The plants will grow, yeah, but are the buds going to be good enough for a jar? Probably not.
We’ve built a system, so now they come to us. We’re able to take in their needs like their growing style, where they’re located, how many rooms they’d like to do, and build them out a whole preliminary analysis of how our system would, of which the tubes are a component, work together for them.
TG Branfalt: Let’s talk about the Solatubes for a second. How durable are they? What is the expected life-time on them? What is the maintenance like? Overall, what are the associated costs with getting set up and running a grow?
Jonathan Cachat: In terms of their durability and quality in the product that’s built, Solatube, all of their products are ISO-quality, certified, all the manufacturing processes are. The best details I can get into are on the collector there’s a set of four straps, and those are called the hurricane straps. If you can take winds in a hurricane and not budge, then it’s pretty strong stuff.
In terms of the maintenance, that’s an interesting question because if we’re making a comparison against HPS, or any other light for that matter, you’re going to have to have an annualized budget for replacing the bulbs. With the Solatube, there are no mechanical parts, so there’s not very much to break or wear down … The one exception being the dimmer. But the maintenance for us is really every two weeks or so, we’ll send somebody up with a microfiber cloth, clean off the front of them and just make sure they’re shiny, and come back down.
TG Branfalt: What kind of yield do you get from this technology, and what is the time comparison to more traditional type grows?
Josh Earlenbaugh: We’re getting about the same time, as far as that goes. It also will depend on what type of artificials that you’re using. We’re using LEDs because that’s what I know how to use. I figured that I would be able to control the spectrum, and blend it in with the sun tube spectrum more.
What was the first question?
TG Branfalt: Yields.
Jonathan Cachat: Yields. I have been extremely happy so far. First run, we scaled up at 27, 26 grams?
Josh Earlenbaugh: Yeah, per square foot.
Jonathan Cachat: Per square foot. It looks like the next one will be 30 to 35. So it looks like it’s going to comfortably get up to what we want, which is like 50, 60, 70, in the normal amount of time you’d expect from a grow room.
Josh Earlenbaugh: Six months to a year.
Jonathan Cachat: We got about a pound to a pound and a half per light. If you were to compare that to an HPS, you know, that’s on par. We need to dial things in, so we’re hopeful that they’re going to continue to rise as well.
As Josh was noting with the LEDs, and in terms of the length, one of the other interesting things that we’re allowed to do, are able to do with the way that the grow room is set up, we fuel plant growth with the natural sunlight. We’ll get anywhere from 300 to 600 ambient par within the space, and then this hot dynamic spot that moves across the plant canopy that it can spike pars between 900 and 1300 par, so just a great amount of par in that space, natural sunlight par.
So as that nice dynamic base is moving along, and fueling plant growth, we can very specifically and tightly regulate, okay let’s throw far red on these flowering plants at this point and reduce the amount that they’re vegging and stretching and growing and get them to build out those buds more. Okay, let’s pull that back now. Let’s do a week later, we’ll shift away from far red. So understanding how those LEDs are related to plant development in very specific ways allows us to then make decisions on how fast we actually would like to run that flower period for.
TG Branfalt: You’ve mentioned research several times. Have you run any trials to compare this process to other growing methods and if so, what was the outcome? Did you find that the sunlight via Solatubes was as effective as outdoor sunlight?
Josh Earlenbaugh: Sure, yeah. We ran a great big clone from a local nursery this year. I ran it outdoor … like a big one. She was about three pounds I think, outdoors. It was like a three month plant. Then I ran it inside as well. The most notable thing other than that there’s a clear quality difference from indoor and outdoor in general, and that was there, visually. Where one of them looks, a lot of people say, kinder. It’s just less weathered is really what it comes down to. The flesh of the plant, it hasn’t been beat up as much so usually it’s lighter green.
Of course we had all that, but what I was most blown away by was the average bud size. I mean the three pound plant was very large, but when it broke down, it didn’t really break down as big of buds as the indoors because they didn’t have to be broke down as much. Their average bud size was quite a bit bigger. That was probably the most visually stunning thing, other than the fact that it just looks a lot nicer because it’s indoor, and if you like that type of look, lighter greens and more vibrant oranges and more frosting, then it definitely is going to hit all those quality benchmarks that indoor growers are looking for.
Jonathan Cachat: In addition, too, we were able to compare the analytics, so the cannabinoid profile and the terpene profile of the same genetics grown outdoor, and one grown in the sungrown indoor room. SC Labs was able to do a pretty extensive panel for us and basically what we got back is that the outdoor and the sungrown indoor in terms of cannabinoid content are equally complex, higher or lower than each other, but pretty much equal, in terms of the number of cannabinoids, the CBG, THCB, CBN, those things, and then also just as complex and rich as the terpene profile.
So why I say this is that most testing labs that I talked to say that outdoor plants for certain have a more complex and slightly elevated cannabinoid profile compared to the same strain or genes grown indoors, presumably under HPS light. Initially I would have thought that that was the opposite, but that seems to be the truth.
What the analytics tell us at this point is that any affordances, or any benefits of growing outdoor by having the natural sunlight increase the diversity and complexity of the cannabinoid and terpene profile, we are also afforded those same benefits with the sungrown indoor room, because we have brought in that light spectrum.
TG Branfalt: That’s really incredible, but we have to take a short break right now. When we come back, we’re going to talk about energy efficiency. I’m your host, TG Branfalt.
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TG Branfalt: Welcome back. I’m TG Branfalt. I’m with Dr. Jonathan Cachat and Dr. Josh Earlenbaugh of Fleurish Farms, and we’re talking about your sungrown indoor flower growing technique.
I wanted to ask about your energy usage that you typically see using your approach. Is the sunlight from your DSS tubes able to offset a significant amount of energy compared to your average indoor grow?
Jonathan Cachat: Yeah, yeah. So let’s try to just paint a picture as an example here. So we got a 2,500 square foot grow room. It’s got 4×4 trays, maxed out as much as we can, and if that room had to have 150 HPS lights, 1,000 watt HPS lights, the electrical demand over that year for just turning the lights on in that room is about 700,000 kilowatt hours a year. The 2,500 square foot flowering room, you turn on your lights, you got about 700 kilowatt hours per year. 700,000 kilowatt hours per year. Using data that we’ve collected, based on how we can step up and step down the LEDs, a room the exact same size, 2,500 square foot, would need about 90,000 kilowatts per year. This is about 600 kilowatt hours per year that’s saved, or about $125,000 saved in just the electrical cost compared to turning on the HPS lights. We haven’t even gotten into the HVAC and the other necessary controls.
Maybe if you would approach that from a different angle too, Josh.
Josh Earlenbaugh: Yeah, actually or just even a follow up, right? Because our numbers there are figured in, that’s not just light losses, right? The 291. So it’s like I’d say it’s about 10 times. I’d say at the end of the day if you’re talking 2,000 watts per square meter we’re at about 200. That’s for everything. That’s including the HVAC, the dehumidifier which reclaiming water, all of everything. Including the thing that’s capturing the data itself … the computer that’s actually doing that. We’re including all those things in our …
Jonathan Cachat: Yeah, a lot of people like to talk about grams per watt. There’s a number of different ways that you could do that. Grams per total watts, in one cycle, throughout the whole cycle. Grams per light watt, if you have 1,000 watt light, you just do 1,000 light watts … there’s a number of different ways to do it. You mentioned I think earlier, we hit about one gram per watt for the entire watts consumed in the entire ship, about two grams per watt in terms of light watts. To sum it all up, though, we’re basically able to sustain commercial production levels with an 80% reduction in the energy demand.
TG Branfalt: Which is huge. I mean not only is that good for energy efficiency and saving energy, but it also reduces the overhead costs for your business, correct?
Jonathan Cachat: Indeed, especially the farmers, as well. As we enter into a regulated market here in California, getting used to paying licensing fees and taxes and having other people take parts of your margin, we think really the best way … and what most people are doing at this point anyway, are trying to reduce their cost of goods as much as they can without affecting quality.
By bringing in natural sunlight, and fueling plant growth with that, we’re able to achieve reductions in the cost of goods sold unmatched by any other solution on the market.
TG Branfalt: In your guys’ opinions, do you think that the energy usage that’s associated with cannabis production could derail the industry? I mean there’s already provisions in California’s initiative that aim towards reducing the amount of water. Right?
Jonathan Cachat: Right. Water’s definitely an important thing. We didn’t touch on that very much in our … the DSS sungrown indoor technique, 82% of the water that went in was reused and reclaimed, so our net water use was about six gallons per plant over the whole eight week flowering cycle. But that’s … saving water in California is very important.
Do we think that electricity is going to be a concern? Well, I know that it already is in several places in California. For one, for example, Desert Hot Springs. Many of our listeners are probably familiar with the amount of cultivation licenses and that city’s very welcoming approach to the growth of this industry. They’ve offered so many permits now at this point, that the power cannot simply be delivered. Their demands cannot be met by the infrastructure at that place. In those cases, a solution like ours can really reduce that load demand, and perhaps allow those businesses to continue forward.
I also think that you’re seeing in places like Berkley and Lake County, limits on mixed lightings situations, so this could be like a light dep greenhouse, or a greenhouse which would have some supplemental lights. In the mixed light category, we’re probably going to get to a place, and the legislature may pick this up next year, that they’re going to start limiting the amount of artificial light lots that you can have in a space.
So yes, I think energy conversation is definitely coming and it’s starting now. The water discussion is always been around and I think will be, but also there’s other reasons why you’d want to do it in places like places that have high amount of sunlight, like Nevada or Arizona, for example. But it’s extremely hot.
Growing in a greenhouse there, the amount of HVAC you’d have to have in a greenhouse would really take a dent out of your electrical bill. But if you were able to bring that natural free sun into a fully insulated indoor environment that you’re able to keep it a stable temperature, and environmental range, then it becomes another interesting use case and application.
TG Branfalt: What are the implications for large scale indoor agriculture beyond cannabis using this technology?
Josh Earlenbaugh: One of the reasons that it fits with cannabis at this point is because there’s enough distinct … market distinctions. People can tell the difference between indoor and outdoor cannabis. It’s difficult for them to tell the difference between indoor and outdoor tomatoes to the extent that it’s ever worth doing your tomatoes indoor. So really market is why I would say one of the reasons that hasn’t happened much.
Where I could see it start happening is places that don’t have outdoor as an option. Because they could grow year ’round urban farming style with these types of things. As things get hotter in harsher climates then I think maybe we’ll want to grow indoors more and more because we won’t be able to predict what’s going to happen outside … hurricanes and whatnot, like we were saying earlier, these are hurricane proof. It makes it to where you can count on your crops a lot more than you traditionally can outside.
I think that while it doesn’t scale right now, there’s definitely room for it in the future.
Jonathan Cachat: When I think about how we approach that, and I would say that large scale agriculture is being done either outside or in greenhouses. You know, the central valley of California provides like 90% of our almonds, and 10 other nuts and agricultural products. Large scale agriculture in that way is done outside or it’s done in a greenhouse, and the fact that the planet’s surface temperature has been continuing to rise and rise and rise … Monsanto and these other seed companies, they see the writing on the wall, and I think that their biggest focus right now is how to develop heat tolerant and drought tolerant plants.
At one point, Josh and I will joke around this late at night when we’re just reminiscing on things, but at some point, it honestly might be too hot on the surface of the planet to be able to sustain growth of corn or plants. What will happen now, dig these fields underground and pipe the sun in with the tubes.
The cannabis is driving agriculture innovations, certainly. Everybody with the best minds, the best ideas, it’s all coming together at such an exciting and diverse time in the industry. But who knows what the implications are beyond this? We hope that our industry will be able to develop into socially conscious, public benefiting companies and really redefine the role of what a capital market can look like.
TG Branfalt: With all of these benefits and the potential benefits that are still being discovered, why aren’t more people getting on board with this method?
Jonathan Cachat: I think because it’s never been done successfully, there’s been a few hurdles, right? We had to get through those hurdles ourselves, first. Do the plants respond well to this light? Okay, check. That worked. The next series of projects and proof of concepts went to how can we push them to their limits? What can we get in terms of yield?
Josh Earlenbaugh: I was just going to say when you first think about, oh just pop the light in, the reason a lot of these don’t work is because the amount of par, the amount of photosynthetic energy you need to drive plant growth to the extent that it makes sense to use indoor real estate to do that, is staggering.
One of the things that’s interesting is that you have to be able to fill the gaps. So when the sun’s not as powerful during the day, how do you keep that photosynthetic energy powerful? Oh you’ve got to use LEDs. Well how do you get them smart enough to know when to be on and when to be off? Those are all the things that we’ve put the time into to figure out okay here’s a whole technique. It requires all off these different things, because the sun is dynamic. Growing with it in June is not the same as growing with it in March.
Johnathan Cachat: The first thing when people walk back there, the people in the cannabis industry, and check them out, they’re just blown away. They’re, “I’ve been to cannabis farms all up and down the coast, but I’ve never seen anything like this.” Then they go in the room and see the quality of the light in that space, and, “Oh my gosh, these plants are beautiful and I can’t believe this is working.” Then consultants started calling, we’re speaking to people in Washington, Hawaii … They wanted to see the buds. They wanted to see the bud formation. Came out beautifully, and the Skywalker gene we’re carrying right now looks fantastic.
Data, data, data has gotten us to where we are now. The one argument that’s classic in the lighting discussion is well which one’s better? LED, plasma, HPS, the new ceramic ones? But everyone agrees that the sunlight is superior in every way. Now we just need to demonstrate, number one, that we can help reduce the cost of the project because the utility companies offer grants and rebates for projects like these, and because we can achieve that 80% reduction in energy demand compared to the same room if you would have gone with 1000 watt HPSs. You can get up to 30 to 50% of that entire project cost covered up front.
That’s really the next thing that we’re moving towards as well. We have plans to get a few going on our farm. We’re already in conversations with utility companies so then the hurdles to buying in are rapidly shrinking. I think the writing’s on the wall with this one.
TG Branfalt: Why don’t you tell me about some of those hurdles that you’d mentioned when starting out with this technology.
Jonathan Cachat: I would say building the light space was the first difficult part. How many of these do we need over what size of an area? How high do we want the roof to be? Where do we want to end that roof?
We went from the design with just one on top of 120 square foot shed to now with four. That’s been great. Then really just balancing and compensating when the light begins to dip outside to write the scripts to programs to have a teeter back up with the LEDs.
Integration, was with the help of Grownetics and Heliospectra really, that we were able to all come together and get all these systems integrated so nicely.
Josh Earlenbaugh: That’s key for moving forward is continuing to work with a whole team to be able to do this because although you can grow with the tubes alone, it’s just a lot more difficult and would require a much larger scale, and you might be relegated to only one part of the year, something like that. The artificials are very helpful, and I would say especially at this point, very important to get out there with the technology so that it doesn’t fail the way that people were worried about it failed before.
Jonathan Cachat: Seeing really is believing. A lot of those hurdles go away as soon as you step into one of these rooms with natural sunlight, man it’s really an amazing feeling.
TG Branfalt: In addition to your own production, you also do consulting to help growers get set up with their systems, correct?
Jonathan Cachat: Indeed. We have a process to take care of that. If they went to Bit.ly.dssform, you could start the process of a preliminary analysis. Basically we’re going to ask questions about where you’re located, what type of budget range you have, what your grow goals are, what experience you have with growing, are you using cocoa or pots on trays, how they get the trays … things like that. And also about your location, like the closest largest city to you.
We get that information and we churn it through a number of data algorithms that look at 15 years of historic weather data to give us an accurate prediction of how much light will be in that space at what time. We’re able to look at data across the year and get back to you if you’re interested in the feasibility of the project. We think that the system that you need would cost about $500,000, and you would be able to rely on the natural daylight for 80% of the months between x and y. We basically lay it all out in the preliminary analysis.
That would be for a retrofit, if someone had a warehouse or had a building and they were just now planning it all out. It’s interesting to note we can set up nurseries and clone rooms with these as well with a smaller amount of tubes.
We’re also in the middle of developing a 1,000 square foot option, so 1,000 square foot canopy in a 2,600 square foot building that has a clone room, and a bedroom, and equipment and an office. That’s going to be around $500,000. We love to hear from people who would like to get in and try it, whether they have a smaller unit or a bigger unit, we’re really out here to share our results and our successes, and inviting those who’d like to try to reach out.
TG Branfalt: I want to hear about some of the feedback that you guys have already gotten from some of the growers, but before I get into that, we gotta take another short break. I’m TG Branfalt. I’m here with Dr. Jonathan Cachat and Dr. Josh Earlenbaugh of Fleurish Farms. We’ll be right back.
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TG Branfalt: Welcome back. This is TG Branfalt and you are listening to The Ganjapreneur.com podcast. I’m here with Fleurish Farms and before the break we were discussing the consulting work you have done setting up indoor sungrown systems, the DSS systems, with other commercial growers. What kind of feedback have you received from the growers that you have worked for, setting up these systems?
Josh Earlenbaugh: Sure, yeah. It’s really interesting because you’ll get two kinds of feedback. One is like, “Oh, I really need that,” because they’re in an area where they don’t have a choice where the regulations are thus and so. But more importantly they’re skeptical because they want to know if it’s going to work. Growers are creatures of habit. They’ve had to be entrepreneurs themselves, indoor growers for a long time, so they can count on certain yields, certain flowers. And they’ve already got all their money invested in that. It’s difficult to have just a normal 1,000 square foot or want to just switch over real quick unless someone’s pushing them to want to care, given that everything’s going well.
You might think at first, like big operations like Canada, they’re very interested in doing these huge grows, but when you’re talking about California, or something like that, then you’re talking to some extent a smaller grower than that, so you really have to appeal to the ROI to make sure that makes sense, it’s not going to mess the money flow up.
I think that’s really what it comes down to. It’s like, “Oh I’m going to have to invest in this and it might not work. I really need to see that it works on scale before I can put any of my money into it.” I think that’s the mindset for a lot of people.
Jonathan Cachat: Yeah, I would say it comes down to a yields question. Everybody I talk to gets three a light, three a tray. That’s the yield. I don’t really see …
Josh Earlenbaugh: Maybe two a tray.
Jonathan Cachat: Yeah. I don’t see the data, I don’t see the data log books. It’s anecdotal at that point, but they probably are doing pretty well. I think the argument that we make though, is even if we’ve got 40% less yield, we still reduce the cost of goods by 80%. At some point, the cost prohibitive of a regulated market is going to come up against where HPS is no longer manageable from a business perspective I would say.
We’re very happy with the yield numbers that we’ve hit. We’re approaching a pound, pound and a half per tray. I think it’s only up from here once we get the strains dialed in. That equation now just doesn’t really make sense favoring HPS in terms of the reduction in the cost of goods sold.
TG Branfalt: You talk about most growers being entrepreneurs, and you guys are obviously leading the way in terms of this method and the research, and how data-driven it is. What have your biggest mistakes been getting into the space, and what advice might you have for other entrepreneurs who might be interested in doing what you’re doing?
Jonathan Cachat: It’s a good question. I would say the biggest mistake one could make is not getting involved, just not getting out networking and talking to people. As this industry just blows up and expands, the best advice I have to anybody that wants to get into it is just start getting involved. Start talking to people.
I would say if we … in terms of our biggest mistakes, make sure that you have accurate load calculations and your power infrastructure is where you need it to be. Having a solar system and a grow at the same time was … led to some miscalculations on ourselves. So work with professionals, certainly, when it comes to electrical codes and building codes and all that. It’s going to be more and more important to do things correctly and log and document all of those things.
Josh Earlenbaugh: Yeah. I would say those are it.
Jonathan Cachat: What about for the grow? Was there anything with the grow, like learning to play with the LEDs, or how much LEDs? Like dialing in the sensor system, I guess it was a series of trial and error, we had to dial it in.
Josh Earlenbaugh: Yeah, we had to dial the spectrums in. Especially relative to the different plants and how they like to grow. That’s what the LEDs really helped with. You can also offset some of the sun’s stuff, if I had to and there was a lot of far red from the sunset, but for some reason they were in a period where I wanted them to go longer, I could turn on extra far … like 660 far red, which actually made them turn more vegetative state. We have a lot of control.
TG Branfalt: In terms of networking and getting involved, can you point to a specific moment where you made a particular connection or established a particular partnership that really kind of took things to the next level or opened up new opportunities?
Jonathan Cachat: I would say that an interesting development was when we started pressing rosin for pure flower oil in a rosin. So we specialize in the solventless concentrate, pressed only from flowers. I would say because we’re out there, and political and networking and talking to people, the ability to find partners up in the Emerald Triangle that trust you and that’s able to work together and able to share common goals and values … It’s much easier to partner with other small businesses than to think that you could build an entire brand on your farm alone or with your team alone.
Josh Earlenbaugh: Exactly.
Jonathan Cachat: All of those partnerships that we’ve had, even through the California Growers Alliance, or CCIA or the Sonoma County Growers Alliance, attending the events and finding people that are like-minded, everybody’s looking onward and upward, really. Finding people that are on your same wavelength is really important.Try to avoid people that start questioning the possibility of what you’re doing. If you know you’re right, you’ve just got to get rid of the dead weight and keep on going.
Try to avoid people that start questioning the possibility of what you’re doing. If you know you’re right, you’ve just got to get rid of the dead weight and keep on going.
Josh Earlenbaugh: Get the data.
Jonathan Cachat: Collect the data.
TG Branfalt: Would you guys credit kind of your post-graduate work and the desire to kind of keep learning as part of the reason that this is such a data-driven process for you guys?
Jonathan Cachat: I would say yes, innately, we want to see the data, but going back to when we were discussing the hurdles, it’d be a really tough sale at this point if we couldn’t give you certified data of what we’re getting per square foot and the amount of electricity we consume to do that.
It was really a necessity to know that if we’re going to make an argument at some point that you need to not go from HPS, but you need to get LEDs and sun, that we need to have data to support that. And continually improving the process by monitoring our own iterations.
I’m a bit of a data nerd, sure, and Josh likes to crunch a whole bunch of numbers.
Josh Earlenbaugh: I like to crunch numbers.
Jonathan Cachat: Yeah.
Josh Earlenbaugh: Yeah. And I like to know if there’s an answer that you can get from the data. There isn’t always, but know why something’s happening the way that it is, because as an indoor grower, I want a certain amount of control so that I’m not constantly surprised by what’s going on. That gives you consistency and that makes you meet dates and deadlines and benchmarks and these kinds of things.
Jonathan Cachat: You can have a live dashboard to know when something’s … like the temperature’s going up two degrees, it lets you know, and you can fix it right away.
TG Branfalt: Yeah, you guys employ like an app or a smartphone technology to this thing, right?
Josh Earlenbaugh: That’s right.
Jonathan Cachat: Yes. Grownetics system. They’re out of Boulder, Colorado.
TG Branfalt: How early on or at what stage did you begin to employ that into your scheme?
Jonathan Cachat: That came in the second research build. Once we started putting four of the tubes into one space, we outfitted the entire thing with 25 different sensors, 8 of them focused just on light in the space. That was when we were trying to test the performance analytics. How much can we grow, and for how little electricity can we do it? The Grownetics system really allowed us to monitor that in real time, and then not only now we’re churning back through data to see where if there’s any abnormalities like a spike in the a/c that wasn’t controlled or saw that we could hone those down.
TG Branfalt: I wanted to go, just backtrack a little bit, we didn’t really talk too much about the rosin. Rosin’s really only been around since the hair straightener video, a little over a year ago. It was popularized and then the industry emerged from that. Why did you guys choose rosin over the other methods of extraction?
Jonathan Cachat: That one was pretty easy, actually. The writing on the wall from MRSA, the California’s Historical Regulations on the medical market here, defined manufacturing based on volatile solvents or non-volatile solvents. We were playing around with BHO at the time, but became very interested in rosin because it was solventless. In other words, it was certainly nothing inherently dangerous, nothing could explode. In fact, rosin is a more accurate representation of the essence of whatever is being extracted.
Of course we started with the hair straightener for sure. Got one of those from Target, tried that one night. Wow, this works. Cool. Moved on to a t-shirt press that we were going to go with one of the more popular presses that you can get on the market, there’s a few companies out there now, but decided instead just to manufacture our own press based on what our production goals were and our quantity and quality goals were. We have a pretty unique press up here, and we actually got a few new enhancements or adjustments coming on the way that I’m pretty happy about.
You’re right in that the rosin market is small, but I think that really seeing what it does is believing as well, so I recommend anyone who hasn’t tried rosin, get out there and go try it. Then try an AB test next to a BHO and see how you feel.
Josh Earlenbaugh: Especially I would say flower rosin in particular is what we specialize in. There’s definitely more and more kief and hash rosin coming out and some of it’s really good. The flower rosins are particularly reminiscent of the flower that they came from. I think that once people get used to that palate, they’re really going to prefer the rosin to the BHO. But we’ll see.
Jonathan Cachat: Farmers love rosin because-
Josh Earlenbaugh: Yeah that’s the thing we noticed.
Jonathan Cachat: … they can taste their fingerprint on the bud in the rosin form. The officianados and the growers like it. I think that they will just … Plus I think that BHO and CO2 and even ethanol extractions, unfortunately, in this first wave of regulations, are going to get pretty regulated out. I think rosin is going to be the new standard hopefully here pretty soon.
Josh Earlenbaugh: Yeah, especially as price comes down as well. We’ve been trying to scale up so that we could bring the price in the market down for flower rosin. As that happens, as you close the gap with the competitors like CO2 and BHO, then it’s more of a fair market comparison, because now someone who may not have bought rosin before is going to try it just because the price point makes sense for the first time. They might like it and switch over.
I think really growing the market is essential for continuing to do all rosin.
TG Branfalt: All right guys. We’re going to have to wrap it up here. Why don’t you tell the audience where they can learn more about your products.
Josh Earlenbaugh: Certainly, yes. On the web, it’s fleurishfarms.com, F-l-e-u-r-i-s-h farms dot com. Across social media channels we’re @fleurishfarms, and if you want some behind the scenes on the sungrown indoor, check out @fleurishfarmer, and of course you can always just send an email or fill out the contact box on our website, [email protected]
TG Branfalt: Thank you so much for joining me.
Josh Earlenbaugh: Appreciate it Tim.
TG Branfalt: You can find more episodes of the Ganjapreneur.com podcasts in the podcast section of Ganjapreneur.com, and the Apple iTunes store. On the Ganjapreneur website you’ll find the latest cannabis news, product reviews and cannabis jobs updated daily along with transcripts of this podcast. You can also download the Ganjapreneur.com app in iTunes and Google Play. I’ve been your host, TG Branfalt.