A Voice From Happy Valley Farms

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When you think “mom-and-pop” boutique cannabis grow, think of Happy Valley Farms. This tier 2 indoor grow in Bellingham, Washington, is co-owned by Deanna Brown Cain and her husband, Kurt Cain.

Deanna started out with a career in traditional medicine as an occupational therapist, but after some research moved on to medical cannabis. Deanna and Kurt have a surviving craft cannabis grow and want to stick to good quality cannabis, rather than creating a mass-produced product.

Happy Valley Farms has over 100 different strains in their seed bank, but they only grow about 15 strains at a time. Some of their strains include Aurora Berry, Afgooey, Bubba Kush, Cherry Pie, Chocolope, Death Star, Kandy Kush, LA Confidential, Romulan, and White Widow. Deanna’s philosophy is that you cannot grow all the strains at the same time, because you do not get enough of one strain at harvest time to sell. So they have kept the grow small.

CannaBiz Journal: What got you into this business?

Deanna: We (Deanna, Kurt, and another couple) got together and talked about growing medical cannabis. We wanted to help people and also make money.

I have 20 years in a career as an occupational therapy practitioner, so I’ve worked in the medical field. I worked with adults with physical disabilities, cognitive disabilities, and other health issues. I’ve worked in multiple settings like hospitals, nursing homes, and other places that provide occupational services. I’ve seen a lot of medical problems and pharmaceutically-ruined people—people whose medication side effects affect both their physical ability to do stuff and their independence.

I bought into the idea of medical marijuana. I did research on it and we talked about the costs of growing it. We looked at what kinds of people we could help and work with. We went about learning more about cannabis than I had known before.

In that process, I learned the difference between indica and sativa. It is simply education. I began educating myself about taking the right strains for the right problems. I experimented with strains that I liked to the point that I was able to discontinue three prescription medications I had been taking. One of them was for anxiety and one for chronic insomnia. I took the chronic insomnia medication daily and I had to have the pharmaceutical medication on hand for the anxiety. Just in case.

Then I started medicating with cannabis. The first medication I felt comfortable stopping was the sleep medication, Triazepan—which has major side effects that affect the memory. Previously, you could call me and I wouldn’t remember anything about the conversation at all. I was groggy in the morning. Now cannabis helps me sleep. After that, I bought into “let’s do this!”

I started growing with a medical grow and I was able to kick the anxiety medication. I haven’t had to use it in years. The cannabis makes me feel good and I have a natural medication that helps me sleep and deal with anxiety.

CBJ: What is your opinion of the tier system in Washington?

Deanna: The tiers are the non-working part of the Washington system. The reality of the tier situation is that the big growers are pushing the smaller growers out of the market. They are also pushing the price of the cannabis down.

Mass farm commercial growers (tier 3 farms) are mass producers. Mass growers can’t treat their plants for individual nutrient deficiencies or whatever an individual plant needs. They mass treat their plants for pesticides and for feedings. They are trying to get the same kind of results as craft cannabis companies. Smaller grows are working to make high-quality cannabis, to build specific cannabinoid profiles of each strain, and to develop its potential—not grow just for yield. Small growers use a different business model than the big commercial growers. There needs to be a place for us (boutique growers).

The point is that the tier 3, or mass, growers, are pushing the price point for cannabis down so low that many retailers feel that they have no choice but to buy it because they can mark it up so much and make more money. They just won’t order the craft cannabis. They need to order it, though, despite the mass production and the mass commercial products, so we can stay in business and continue to do what we are doing.

CBJ: What is your favorite strain?

Deanna: A strain called AC/DC, 20:1 CBD:THC. She is my favorite strain. You can consume AC/DC in the daytime without feeling impaired, such as not being able to think, remember, process, or focus.

CBJ: How often do you harvest?

Deanna: We have tried several different models. In the beginning, we kept a huge room that we constantly harvested from. We would take out groups of plants and bring in groups of plants. We were constantly harvesting every two weeks or so.

Then we had to downsize because of the common failure of a new business. We expanded too fast. We were selling everything we had, so it was okay to take another space and grow. That was when we were harvesting every two weeks. We were becoming less boutique and more commercial, yet we were not making more money because the price was dropping each year. So we downsized and went back to the boutique model. Now we will be harvesting three times. We have two rooms, so we will have about six harvests a year. We went from having six rooms to having two rooms—from a huge veg to a smaller veg.

CBJ: What do you think is one of the problems with growing cannabis?

Deanna: We (growers) are forced to use a very limited number of labs and required to pay the price they set for testing. That is a monopoly and it is undue influence.

There is undue influence in the market. There is undue influence in the retailer, simply with the price markup. I don’t mind if you want three times, 10 times, or 20 times markup. I don’t care. It is your business. Mark up whatever you want, but treat us all the same.

We, as producers and processors, are required to treat retailers the same. We can’t vary our price and create undue influence amongst the retailers. Yet they are doing exactly that to us. When they can buy product for, let’s say, $3 or $1 and they mark it up 10 times, they will make more money off the $1 than the $3 purchase and that automatically creates undue influence because people are going to buy the less expensive product. They (the retailers) need to treat us all the same. If the markup is three times the price, than mark up everything three times. If it is a markup of 10 times, than mark up everyone’s crop 10 times.

CBJ: How does it feel to be a woman business owner in the cannabis industry?

Deanna: As proud as I am to be a woman in this industry, I couldn’t do it without my husband. I wouldn’t want to do it without my husband. He’s the guy that makes everything easier for me to do.

People think growing is really easy, that there is nothing to it. The reality is, in particular, if you are growing inside, you have to very carefully maintain the environmental controls. If you want to grow a really big plot, it takes a little bit more than just letting it grow.

A team is required. Just one person can’t do alone. Besides the mechanical stuff, my husband is my support. I need him to keep going. This business takes a lot of perseverance. We’re “mom and pop” even though we are grandparents. We are in this business to help people and to try to retire. We’ve put everything we have into making it work.

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There is so much more to this business than growing plants. I wish all I had to do was grow and worry about how big the nugs were. But I also have to worry about getting them (nugs) out the door and paying my taxes and paying my bills and being able to survive. How are we going to market it? How are we going to do all of this stuff? As a mom-and-pop business owner, that’s not so easy to do because you are also the full-time grower.

We’ve made mistakes along the way. We tried to get too big too fast. We expanded too fast. My husband and I started out with just us. We rented a farmhouse with a barn and we grew medical there before we decided to leap into 502 (recreational). You’ve probably heard it said that there are a lot of farmers who don’t do business well and a lot of businesses that don’t do farming well. We are kind of in between that.

If you want to know more about Happy Valley Farms, visit their website at www.happyvalleyfarmswccg.com or find them on Instagram.