For some, just growing cannabis is a dream—but having a hand in every step, from seed to selling the finished product, is just plain hard work. In 2011, the husband and wife team, Jon Cunningham and Brie Malarkey, began their journey by founding Sun Breeze, Inc. in Central Point, Oregon. Working under Sun Breeze’s umbrella, they established different businesses to handle the seed to sale of their overall mission.
Sunna Ra Acres
Jon and Brie took over their 40 acre farm in 2011. When they first moved to the farm there was a large S and R on the barn. Brie thinks that it might have been the initials of the person who built the barn.
“We were homeschooling the kids and doing a mythology lesson,” said Brie. “We were studying mythology, and this place is so warm and so hot that we decided, as a family, to name the farm Sunna Ra Acres. Sunna is the Norse goddess of mythology and Ra is the Egyptian god of the sun. They are both sun gods, so that is how we came up with the name. We only homestead and cultivate around two to three acres. The rest of the 40 acres is left wild. I call it my buffer from society.”
Jon and Brie began by producing raw milk, heritage pork, free-range eggs, herbal teas, and herbs, which they sold at farmers markets. Eventually, the farm was licensed as a Tier I Oregon marijuana producer.
“For us,” said Brie, “this is the foundation of a whole product line. We cultivate with the health of the end user in mind. We expect all of our farming partners to do the same and, because Jon works to grow organically, sustainably, we can have high expectations. You know what? We can do it; you can do it!”
“Because our product line is now certified organic, we cannot use any of our products grown here,” explains Brie. “The farm cannot be certified because of the cannabis and we don’t produce enough here. So we now use all these medicinal herbs (that we grow) to feed the cannabis plants. Jon has woven them into different compost teas, soil amendments, to give all the wonderful terpenes from these medicinal herbs back to the cannabis plants as food.”
“I consider myself a soil farmer before any other kind of farmer, so I’m constantly feeding the soil,” said Jon. “I feed the soil with what we grow here.”
Along with soil improvements, Sunna Ra Acres also focuses on companion planting. The excess crops from the companions are commonly donated to people in need.
“We chose garlic because it grows in the winter,” said Jon. “We want to keep the (soil) mounds active and live all the time. There is always something going on. I don’t want barren soil. I don’t want anything fallow, so we planted garlic throughout the mounds. The garlic does three things. First of all, it grows underground so it doesn’t interfere with the cannabis when I plant it later. Secondly, it grows over winter when it is not the growing season. Thirdly, it is a natural insecticide. It is an insecticide against spider mites. You use less insecticides and pesticides. It is part of my pest management.”
He continued, “I also grew potatoes for multiple reasons. For most of the same reasons. They grow under the canopy. They can be harvested way late, after we have harvested everything off the surface. Once all the cannabis is down we can go back down with a potato fork and find all the rest of the potatoes.”
With the increase of cannabis and hemp production in the Rogue Valley, many stakeholders of the agricultural land have identified a growing problem in the community. “People are worried about the Rogue Valley becoming a food desert with our local citizens not having access to as many locally grown foods,” stated Brie. “So as cannabis farmers we really wanted to prove that it could be done. You could grow food in a small environment like this and be able to give back to the community. Our crop that we make money [on] is cannabis. We cultivate these other food crops to give back to those in need.”
Jon and Brie are determined to eliminate waste from the farm as well. Instead of using disposable plastic netting that many farmers use, they are using range wire for their plants. This is a more expensive and permanent solution desired to protect the environment.
“We are really trying to be role models of sustainable cultivation: ethically produced, being really good citizens, and being part of the community,” said Brie. “We are a brand new, emerging history. Cannabis workers have worked for a millennium. We are finally out of the dungeons and in the light. We’re sungrown and we can really choose to develop a sustainable industry that makes good decisions.”
The farm uses a growing philosophy call Hugelkultur, along with living soil. This creates a regenerative property to the soil and limits the amount of new resources used on the farm.
“You can’t just bring in a bunch of soil, dump it down, and call it a garden,” said Jon. “It isn’t going to be alive. It’s not going to have diversity. So with these mounds, I started with the native soil and then I started adding different things to it. Different sources of carbon, different sources of organic matter, microorganisms, worms, and that kind of thing. Every year I feed the soil. I get a lot of calls from different agricultural companies trying to sell me soil amendments. I don’t buy anything because I’m not feeding the plants. The soil is feeding the plants. I feed the soil.”
Sunna Ra Acres also maintains the water rights to a seasonal creek that fills up the water holding ponds. This recycled rainwater is used to provide the water for the farm’s activities. Jon mentioned that he balances the amount of plants with the amount of water that is available, to keep the farm sustainable without a need to rely on outside water sources. “We are cannabis farmers,” said Brie. “We are medicinal herb farmers, but we are also land stewards.”
CannaBiz Journal: Do you have a favorite strain?
“I love white grapefruit,” said Brie “There is a month that I walk out here and I feel like I’m in a citrus orchard in California. The terpenes are all full of citrus. It is one of my favorites and I just love the aroma. It is amazing to turn it into plant juice if you are into juicing raw cannabis.”
“My favorite plant?” said Jon. “When we were doing wine, my favorite wine was the one in my hand. Out here, my favorite strain is the one we are growing today. I’ve been cycling through different cultivars and they are fun to get to know. It is like meeting a new person.”
“He can’t say what his favorite is in the garden,” commented Brie. “It is because the plants out here will get mad at him. The others will feel jealous.”
Sun God Medicinals
Jon and Brie founded Sun God Medicinals in Central Point, Oregon, in 2014 to process their herbs and cannabis. Being certified organic, Sunna Ra Acres does not supply the hemp used in Brie’s product lines. “We buy all our hemp from a certified organic hemp farmer out in Williams, Oregon, because our product line is certified organic, so we have to have certified organic hemp,” stated Brie. “So at Sun God we have an herbal product line, we have a hemp-infused product line, and we have a cannabis or high THC-infused product line.”
We extract and blend over 50 different herbs and plants here and make a big combination of things for people,” said Brie. “Our motto is to help find the right combination of herbs for the right person. We have a line of herbal teas we sell on Amazon. We ship to all 50 states. We have hemp products that are hemp-infused and we ship to about 20 states.” Brie explained that many states have put restrictions on hemp products and they do not ship to those states because they are unsure of the rules. “We want to respect the states and their rules, although customers in those states are not too happy.” They only sell their THC products in Oregon-licensed facilities.
Within the Sun God facility, they also create edibles called Sandy’s Candies. This line includes high-THC, salted caramels, peanut brittle, chocolates, and hard candies. These are also only available in Oregon. None of the candies contain food coloring so they take on a natural color.
Sun God cannot make any medical or therapeutic claims about the cannabis or hemp in their products according to Oregon law. The suggested use of their products is based on their use of herbs. “We really believe that herbal allies can work together to boost the effectiveness of the cannabinoids and help deliver it throughout the body,” said Brie. “We are an herbal compounding company first and foremost. Anything with the Sun God Medicinal name on it is going to be a combination of herbs that are going to address a specific symptom.”
“Sun God Medicinals is all about herbal compounding or combining herbs,” stated Brie. “We recognize that people may not want a combination of herbs or are taking a lot of pharmaceuticals, so we developed this raw product line. The raw product line is only single herb extracts for people who do not want a combination of herbs.” That means that the mugwort is only mugwort and the elderberry is only elderberry. “Maybe it is because this company was founded by an herbalist. I really know that everyone’s body is unique and different.” So Brie dipped into a niche by creating a herbal line that can be customized to each consumer.
In 2014, Brie and Jon decided to expand into the medical dispensary business. “Oregon decided to legalize medical dispensaries, so we decided to open a dispensary,” said Brie. “At first I really wanted to develop a product line that would weave all my other medicinal plants and herbs with cannabis. But at the time it wasn’t legal to have a manufacturing company. It was only legal to have a dispensary, so that is what I did.”
Brie explained that they first looked at Ashland, Oregon, as the location for their dispensary. The idea was that the community would provide a great consumer base for an apothecary that embraces cannabis in its herbal complement. “Even though it is a very liberal community,” said Brie, “a lot of the property owners are very conservative. They weren’t very willing, back in 2014, to consider a cannabis business. We looked all over town and we have never experienced so much discrimination in my life. I’m a woman and I’ve never experienced discrimination as a woman. When I said that as an herbalist I wanted to embrace cannabis, I had doors slammed in my face and I had phone calls: ‘I won’t rent to your kind!’ I was like ‘Oh, my gosh! What is my kind?’ I don’t know what my kind is. It was very challenging. In one spot I tried to rent, the landlord considered me. He put it out to the other tenants in the building. The other tenants said ‘No way. We do not want her kind here in the building.’”
So Jon and Brie tried Grants Pass, Oregon, and found a landlord willing to rent a location for a cannabis business, but the city said no. “‘We will never allow marihuana businesses in our town!’” quoted Brie.
“So the city, Ashland, said fine, but I had a hard time with landlords,” said Brie. “Then in Grants Pass, I found a landlord that said yes but the city said no. So we were driving home to the farm and went through a little town on exit 40, off I-5—Gold Hill, Oregon. In the middle of nowhere. I don’t even think they had a population over 2000. I saw a place for rent and it was a woman who owned her own building. She didn’t have to answer to any banks or mortgage companies. She said, ‘Yeah as long as you pay your bills.’ Then we met with the city government and the government said they were putting a moratorium in place.”
“It’s like, if I find the right landlord, I can’t find the right community. When am I going to get everything together? We spent three months lobbying the city council and meeting with them in Gold Hill, where we explained our business plan. We explained what we were trying to do. We didn’t want to be just like a pot shop. We didn’t want to be that kind of place. We wanted to be the kind of place for anyone who needs safe access.” Eventually, the city gave in and allowed for the establishment of Breeze Botanical.
“I tell anyone who is opening a cannabis business, it is really about having a public-private partnership,” said Brie. “It is working together to create a new industry. If we can do it right here in Southern Oregon than maybe the pillars of prohibition will fall in other communities and other cities that are looking won’t be afraid. Look in Gold Hill, Oregon; we were able to make it work. We have over 20 people now working in that community. We’re able to generate taxes for the community. We haven’t had one instance of crime. (Knock on wood!) We have been great members of the community. We do a lot of nonprofit giving and giving back to the community. It just goes to show that it’s not what the proprietor sells, it is how the proprietor interacts with their community.”
“We can create an environment where all citizens feel comfortable,” continues Brie. “That is what we’ve tried to do at Breeze Botanicals. So, not only staying true to our original mission to be an apothecary, but also a place where all generations, all people, can come and learn about cannabis and not feel like they are dirty or bad. With prohibition and reefer madness propaganda, it’s been 70 years of brainwashing. A lot of the older generation have been told those are bad things. That delinquents use cannabis. It’s a gateway drug to horrible, bad drugs. People are really afraid. Some people are very afraid. So we, at this store, try to buck those stereotypes. We really want to be a place that can showcase Southern Oregon.”
Sun Breeze has expanded part of their products outside of Oregon. They are found on Bainbridge Island, Washington; Missoula, Montana; Indiana; and even Alaska. Sun God Medicinal products are starting to appear throughout the country. Brie mentioned that one of their goals for the company is to develop a national reach. More information about Jon and Brie’s businesses are on their website at sunbreezeinc.com.
“In the age of big business and corporations, my husband and I have chosen to stay family-owned,” said Brie. “It is really important to us to always answer to the end users, not the shareholders, and to answer to our employees. If we do those two things right, our consumers and employees, the profits will follow.”