Truly Oreganic: A Journey into Sustainability

 Charles Johnson, COO and Akshay Gupta, CEO

Charles Johnson, COO and Akshay Gupta, CEO

What do you get when you put two chemical engineers with a love of cannabis together? You get Truly Oreganic.

Truly Oreganic is a tier-1 OLCC recreational producer located near Bandon, along the Oregon Coast. Started in 2016 by two buddies with visions of ethical and eco-friendly practices, Charles Johnson, COO and head gardener, and Akshay Gupta, CEO, are determined to run a sustainable and socially responsible cannabis grow.

Johnson and Gupta met in the chemical engineering program at Mississippi State University. “We both studied chemical engineering at Mississippi state. That is actually how we got to know each other.” 

Johnson went on to Portland State University to study biology while Gupta earned his MBA in Barcelona. Eventually the two friends found themselves working together on their shared vision of the future.

IT STARTS WITH THE DIRT

The co-founders claim that building their own soil creates a strong beginning for their plants. It allows each strain of cannabis to grow to its full genetic potential. By creating their own living soil, they know exactly what is in the mixture. 

“The dirt that we get from the harvested plants,” said Johnson, “we will break it down, re-amend it with dry amendments, compost it, and recycle it for the next round.” The amendments are sourced locally and include chicken manure, natural dry N-P-K nutrients, and fresh earthworm castings.

 “We are keeping a closed loop cycle for the soil.” explained Johnson. “So we are never pulling any new soil—which is costly. So what we do with the soil next is that we take it out of the bin and plant our clones in it.”

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VEG HOUSE

The next stop on the tour is the veg house, which is full of developing clones and young adults. Nothing is in flower in the veg house. “The veg house with the clones is completely separate from the flower house,” explained Johnson. “We want light deprivation in the flower house.” The plants do not need special treatment until they reach the flowering stage. 

“Everything you see in here is from clones,” said Johnson. “Everything we do is from cuttings that we know are female, so we get female clones.”

Within the veg house is row after row of plants in different sizes of containers. “You see two different-sized pots because we have been playing around with spacing and the size of pots to get the better yields,” said Johnson. “What you are seeing here is about 250 ladies. This is actually fewer than we have ever had. We are fitting them in new ways trying to get them to yield better in smaller areas.”

“We start the clones in the clone bin,” said Johnson, “then they go in the smaller pots and they will immediately go into these larger pots as soon as they set roots in the small ones. We don’t ever give them enough time to get too big for their container.” 

Once they are ready the plants are moved to the flower house.

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FLOWER HOUSE

The next stop is a long, narrow grow house. Both the veg and flower houses are white, which reflects the heat from the sun. This ensures that the inside of the houses do not become too warm for the plants. The houses are created with rigid polycarbonate. 

“With hoop houses they tend to use polyethylene, not polycarbonate,” explained Gupta. “With polycarbonate, I won’t have to replace this for another 10 years. With polyethylene, it has to be replaced year to year.”

“We have all these motors here that control our light deprivation system,” said Johnson indicating the front of the flower house. ‘It is an automated system. We can have this close up and open up on its own in the morning and evening, making sure that we are getting that right during the right period to keep the plants flowering. We have cameras so we can remotely see what is going on.’

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Johnson continued, “We are on the coast here so we have the passive air coming through these vents to cool everything down. We have that nice coastal mineralization coming in here.” Potassium, magnesium and calcium in the sea air give the cannabis plants added mineral nutrients. 

“The only thing that goes into our products is what’s already in here,” said Johnson. “Just raw dry amendments, which we put down in layers and in spikes. This basically lets the microbes feed the plants.”

LIGHT DEPRIVATION

One of the innovations that Truly Oreganic has put into place is their light deprivation system. Set on a timer, a black curtain the length of the flower house opens and shuts twice a day. It controls the amount of light available to the flowering plants and can plunge the house into total darkness. 

“It took us a long time to find a supplier,” said Gupta. Most curtains are only 12 feet by 12 feet. “So we started with research, research, and research. Until we found somebody who provided us with a house and the light dep. He was the only one to come out and install the light dep.” 

Gupta continued, “They went as far as bio-mimicking, copying nature, so it is a clamshell design instead of every 12 feet having a curtain and that curtain casting a shadow. Because we were ‘like what happens when the curtain closes?’ It is still a little batch of curtain every 12 feet. And what is that gonna do. Its gonna cast a shadow. Every single time.”

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SUSTAINABLE WATERING

Large barrels outside the flower house collect rainwater to use for irrigation. This allows for a water source that is not full of human-made chemicals. The stored rainwater is pumped into the flower house and through a drip system.

“First we were manually watering the plants,” said Gupta. “This is connected to our rainwater harvesting. He [Johnson] doesn’t even have to go and mess with the plants or touch them. He just presses a button and boom! The plants get drip watered over a four hour period, which is better than him manually scraping through the plants and stressing them out and over-drowning them.”

Once the buds are ready, everything is weighed. The harvested cannabis is then taken over to the drying and curing container.

DRYING AND CURING CONTAINER

Cannabis hangs from racks and buds cure in bins throughout the container. The environment is dark and warm, perfect for drying herbs.

“What we do at this point is that after all these buds are nice and dry, we put them through a hand-trim finish and they all go to jars to do a little more curing before they get to the store,” said Johnson. “So they are about to get their smell back. They have finished drying. Once in the jars, that is when the smell starts pushing out again.” 

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PACKAGING

Truly Oreganic packages their products onsite. The flowers go into large glass jars and are kept in a safe room. Each jare is labelled with their name, brand, and terpene profile. 

“Frequently we’ve seen the stores put our jar directly onto their shelf,” said Johnson. “So when people are buying, they will pull buds, weigh out the grams, the quarters, whatever they are buying into individual packages at the store. So this is the only packaging we give to them.”

“These are half-pound jars,” explained Gupta. “So these are from the last harvest when we were manually watering; you can see the difference in the size of the buds. They are smaller compared to the new ones that are bigger. So the irrigation is the difference.” The newest buds with the no-touch drip irrigation system are twice as large.

THE NUMBERS

One of the interesting strains that Truly Oreganic grows is Harley Sue. “We have Harley Sue right here,” said Johnson, “which is our CBD plant. 100% CBD; no THC. So this is not technically a hemp plant. Harley Sue is known to be THC-producing through a lot of different phenotypes. This happens to be a selectively chosen phenotype of the Harley Sue strain that doesn’t have any THC to it. It is a cannabis plant, not a hemp-based plant. But it produces CBD like a hemp plant does.” 

Other strains that they grow are Oregon Huckleberry (23.02% THC/0.44% CBD), Critical Kush (19.10% THC/0.0% CBD), and Chocolate Mint OG (18.87% THC/0.0% CBD). One of their more popular strains is the Honey Badger Haze (20.29% THC/0.0% CBD).

 “We have our Honey Badger Haze, which is our sativa strain,” said Johnson. “It is our main sativa. We really love this strain because it is such an uplifting smoke. It doesn’t put you down in anyway. It really energizes you.”

“It’s honestly funny that people, when it comes to our strains, aren’t always focused on the numbers because a lot of what we do is produce natural high terpene, high taste, super smooth buds,” said Johnson. “Some of the best buds I ever smoked are sitting at 16–17% THC.”

SUSTAINABILITY

CBJ:  You have a sustainable model, how is that doing for you financially?

Johnson: It is a lot better than the other way. 

Gupta: We started our pricing at $2200 and we wanted the middle. We wanted to do the indoor quality at a reasonable price. We are not a factory, so we can do that. Now that the prices are going down to $1000 to $1200, we can match it. It is no problem. The indoor people cannot touch that at all. So they are going out of business.  

Johnson: So the main costs that we have here are the raw amendments that we have going into our soils to re-amend them. And that is such a small cost in general. We barely put anything into our soil. 

Gupta: And then the lights running per month. 

Johnson: Our electric bill is pretty minimal. The only time we run our lights is when it is really overcast. But we typically have really sunny weather here. It stays pretty sunny throughout the summer, so we are happy running our lights as minimally as we can. 

CBJ: So you guys are surviving the drop in recreational retail prices?

Gupta: We are not only surviving, our prices are still high. We have lowered our prices to less than $2000 for the first time. We are at $1600 to $1700 and we are still sold out. It is really the quality and the customers are still the same. Sustainability is our survival or else we would not be here. 

Johnson: We are a very small streamlined operation and that is due to the hands-off plants practice. 

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Gupta: And that is because we put in the R&D to develop it. So you don’t have anyone out here early mornings pulling a tarp up, or whatever. You don’t have anyone watering the plants. 

Johnson: I basically live here [onsite] and I make sure operations are running smoothly and check all of the automated systems to make sure they perform properly. So we still have to have human involvement. You can’t do without it, but automation makes it so we can do with minimal staff. 

Truly Oreganic products are available along the coast and I-5 corridor in Oregon. If you are a dispensary in Oregon and you would like to carry their products, go to their website www.trulyoreganic.com and hit the “Take Action” link. Leave your contact information in the form.