By Mat Lee
If you’ve been smoking cannabis in the medical or recreational market here in Washington, you’re probably familiar with Noble Farms. CannaBiz Journal recently toured the Noble Farms facility in Tacoma and sat down with head grower Mark Rowland for an interview.
Mark Rowland was a construction contractor before all this, and has loved and respected cannabis since he was a kid—making questionable decisions with his friends, as most kids do. Mark says, “Owning a couple contracting companies throughout the country has helped me understand that business is not a hobby; it’s actually a professional career that you look at, and I’ve always taken cannabis as that as well. I’ve respected it, and it’s respected me back. There’s a lot of guys that are in this industry that only plug it for the money and they don’t care about anything else. I truly believe cannabis has the possibility of saving this world.”
Of course you can’t save the world unless the world needs to be saved, but from what? For starters, the fact that cannabis is a completely renewable resource that has multiple applications in various large industries alone is enough for the giants of those industries to fight it with lobbying power and money. Both are in no short supply.
The medical cannabis industry gave birth to the high-powered stock of strains that circulate throughout the facility Mark has known, grown and loved these strains since before medical marijuana became a reality in Washington. It all stems from the seed (or clone, in this case). Mark’s team handpicks the nicest and most homogenous-looking set of clones every cycle, thus ensuring a consistent product.
Once the clones have nice roots developing, they are put into the vegetative state. With careful attention paid to detail like a painter’s brushstrokes, all of the growing variables are set and monitored to allow for optimal plant growth. Once that is achieved, he moves the ladies into the flower room.
This is where all the bud magic happens. Nutrients and a good water flush is the name of the game. The result is a harvest of hand-picked, top-shelf buds that are ready to be cured. The curing process is what gives the buds the taste and the smell you experience upon opening bag of Noble Farms cannabis. It’s all about the terpenes, and how a bud is cured has a lot to do with which terpenes stay and which ones go.
Mark says that he’s fortunate he grew up on the west coast, where people tend to be a bit more relaxed when it comes to cannabis laws. He point out that he has a lot of family throughout the midwest who—if this was 10 or 15 years ago and they found out about his cannabis vocation—would have hollered some nonsense about it being the devil's weed and other fun reefer madness rhetoric.
But, as Mark says, they are but a product of their environment being exposed to reefer madness and validation for country boys drinking whiskey and rye and smoking cigarettes.
We’ve come a long way from guerilla grow setups and underground operations that have allowed countless people the luxury of smoking weed. If all those people could see what’s actually possible when cannabis can legally be grown professionally, they would be amazed.
Mark says, “Our style of grow is, of course we’re doing big volume, and we’re borderline big AG, but we still are holding onto that boutique and love connection with our plants. Happy plant, happy product. Happy facility, happy processes. It’s full circle and it’s real.”
Some people think they can get into this industry, have a huge outdoor grow, and produce cannabis as a commodity for cents a gram. They think they can make a pretty package and sell for a high price; meanwhile, people like Mark know that’s not how it works.
Mark says, “This is not a product where you just mix three ingredients and now you’ve got a beer. Or you mix different things and now you have a product you can sell and crunch down the numbers and make the cheapest materials to get the biggest profit.”
Sure, the market can speak for itself, and most likely the in price and quality will vary. Just like in the alcohol business, there’s “two buck chuck” and top-shelf, special celebratory booze that only comes out on certain occasions. The market supports both, so both exist. The same goes for the cannabis industry—or at least it could, depending on the regulations.
As far as building such a large facility in the city of Tacoma goes, Mark says, “Tacoma was pretty tough. A lot of the cities and jurisdictions really were. A lot of it also comes down to timing. We were getting our license and building this place out in January of 2014. A lot of the municipalities and different regulatory departments were very under-educated and very leery about it. They may have even been opposed to cannabis in a legalization format. So we had to jump through a lot of flaming hoops.”
Mark says he’s pretty open to seeing both sides of an issue, and appreciates where they are coming from. Even with all of the permits and regulations to deal with, he understands and is sympathetic to the hardship. On something new like this, especially something that is still federally illegal, you have to be more careful. Once everyone is working safely within such tightly constrained variables, you can start to ease up. It’s been a learning process.
Mark is also an avid consumer of good quality cannabis and likes going to recreational stores to see what else is out there. He says he never reveals who he is, but whenever he asks budtenders what their favorite or best-selling cannabis is and they say Noble Farms, he gets a satisfied feeling.
The big hurdle in the industry, Mark says, is consistency and predictability. You must have a flow to the setup. You can’t just add more lights to a grow room to increase its yield and efficiency. Different strains have different cycle times, so it’s important to stick with a set of strains that works with your particular situation. Countless variables come into play, and Mark took them all into consideration when he created this facility.
The Farm is very professional, from the large, 24-hour security desk that greets you when you arrive, to the way the building is laid out and circulates with clipboards and glyphs, each following around the lot they entered with, being shuffled throughout the different stages of their life until being cut, cured, trimmed and packaged.
All cannabis grown at Noble Farms is pesticide-free, because due to the care and time they take they don’t normally have problems like bugs, or they catch them early. (That’s one of the issues that plagues many large-scale grows.) The flower from Noble Farms top-shelf is that they want to be in there every day tending the plants because they love it—not just because it makes money.
For the future, Noble Farms is looking to expand the canopy, and possibly purchase a second and a third license in 2017. The growth of the company is based on Noble Farms and the consistent flower product. Mark says, “We’re trying to be an industry leader as far as clean packaging and the clean direction of what we want our products to say to the consumer, and what that full experience is.”
Some other companies Mark is involved with are making a hard push toward the extraction and processing side of the industry, but his love is in this facility. He has a strong team that he’s been working with for a long time and they all have clear direction on how they want to pioneer and help this industry thrive with all the good aspects and positive components of cannabis.
Mark says, “The pictures will speak for themselves. Having a pesticide-free facility, and having healthy, happy plants—being able to love, connect, and touch and feel every plant is paramount; it’s second to none in the process. We brought this plant back to what it was really meant to be, in soil, watered and nurtured. Every plant happy.”
How do you sustain healthy plants? You put love into it. That’s clearly apparent in each and every room that makes up the flow that creates the heartbeat that allows high-quality, pesticide-free cannabis to populate the shelves of your friendly neighborhood recreational cannabis store. For that alone, we are all grateful.
You can find more information about Noble Farms on their website Noble-Farms.co.
Photography: Brie W.