Good things are happening inside a nondescript industrial building in Salem. There, Don, his family and fellow growers are cultivating healthy cannabis.
Most of us haven’t seen a cannabis “grow,” so Salem Weekly sent this reporter to check out Don’s, which does business under the name, Herbal Evolution Gardening.
The building has many rooms; some for growers doing paperwork and some for storing garden supplies, but one door opens to a brightly lit, noisy room full of strong, robust plants, cooled by fans and entertained by music.
“Our system is a hybrid hydro system that works like soil does rather than like conventional ‘hydro’ gardening,” Don says. His methods have been developed over many years; pampered plants are fed twice a day from a nutrient-rich feed bin. A netted trellis supports each branch of the plant. “These supports are like giving the plant a giant hug,” Don says. Plants enjoy the golden rays of high-pressure sodium bulb lighting, which is reflected off the walls with reflective materials. They listen to boisterous rock and roll.
“You’ll always find music playing at grows,” Don says. “The show ’Mythbusters’ actually did an episode on this, and they found the most vigorous grown comes when you play speed metal.”
Mature producing plants live on carts that Don invented himself “by necessity,” to allow them to be positioned off the floor and moved when necessary to better light or for cleaning. It also “individualizes the plants” – three to a feed bin – “to make it easy to follow their progress for our monitoring system.” Growers follow feed uptake, PH levels and indicators of health.
Don himself manufactures the carts from a composite plastic material “to keep it all food grade.” He sells the carts to other growers and off his web site.
The plants are fed with all kelp-based nutrients “and lots of love and care,” Don says.
Grow rooms are sealed off with heavy charcoal filtration. “We keep the [distinctive herbal cannabis] smell down that way,” he says. “It’s a requirement, and it’s important for the community we’re in. So we do everything we can to take care of it.”
A separate grow room houses young plants, from several inches high to several feet high. The plants, radiantly green, grow vigorously. They have their own lights, their own fans and their own music.
Cannabis is comprised of many dozens of chemical components called cannabinoids. Two of the most prominent of these are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC demonstrates analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties while CBD shows anti seizure, anti-anxiety and anti-psychotic properties.
Don and his growing team raise medicinal marijuana. They raise three strains of a primarily-CBD product. These strains are 17 – 21% CBD, he says, with less than 1% THC. It’s a tested therapeutic ratio that offers medicinal benefits without producing a mind-altering “high,” and has proven an extremely effective cannabiniod ratio for those suffering from medical conditions such as cancer and many kinds of seizures.
The high CBD products are grown for family members, other farmers at the grow, and donated “to the indigent community,” Don says. “This medical program allows members of the indigent community to get the medicine they need, that they couldn’t get otherwise because they can’t afford it.”
Herbal Evolution also produces 12 marijuana strains with 21 – 29% THC, a level that produces stronger psychoactive effects. These are sold to dispensaries.
“Everything we grow is food quality,” Don says. “You won’t find powdery mildew or bugs here.” He has “a high respect for cleanliness and professionalism, and taking pride in what we do.”
Don is himself a medical patient for diabetic conditions. “I see this business as a wonderful opportunity for those who are business-minded,” he says, though he cautions that growing cannabis, “is not as easy as it may look from the outside… you have to know a russet mite from a spider mite. We have to remember that what we are dealing with is alive, and it is vulnerable.”
His work in the grow tending plants, filling out exacting compliance paperwork and other tasks keep Don busy long hours, 6 days a week. A businessman since the age of 17 and a cultivator of medicinal cannabis since 2009, Don observes, “over time, it has been amazing to see the rapid growth of the medical patient program, which has led to the full legalization for persons 21 and over.”
He is proud of his work with several cancer patients deemed ‘terminally ill’ whose use of his medicine for a short time produced a cancer-free bill of health. “Everyone is still dealing with stigmas of before my generation. This medicine has been a major taboo, even though studies have shown time and time again the stigmas were wrong,” he says.
Don is making plans to expand his business to other grows. He has a building under construction for recreational cannabis.