Three partners have come together to launch Carver Family Farm, an aspiring adult-use cannabis microbusiness based in Albuquerque, N.M., that plans to bring quality and variety to the state’s forthcoming adult-use cannabis market.
“One of the things I’m excited about is Albuquerque has a huge microbrewery and craft distillery culture here, and I think that craft cannabis is going to be the next big thing for Albuquerque,” Matt Muñoz, the company’s chief innovation and finance officer (CIFO), tells Cannabis Business Times.
Muñoz and the company’s other two partners, Chief Cultivation Officer Andrew Brown and Chief Operations Relations Officer Erika Hartwick Brown, a husband-and-wife team, are seeking to secure multiple adult-use licenses to become a vertically integrated cannabis microbusiness.
The trio applied in August for a producer license, which it received in mid-December. The New Mexico Cannabis Control Division (CCD) opened the application process for retail and manufacturing licenses last month, and Carver Family Farms will apply for those, as well.
“We’re focusing on an organic, no-till, living soil indoor operation,” Muñoz says. “Erika and Andrew have been patients since New Mexico had a medical cannabis program. They’ve been personal producers at their home, so they’ve been growing from there and perfecting this crop ever since.”
Muñoz says cannabis has also been a big part of his life after he was arrested at age 18 on possession charges.
“It took me five years to graduate from high school because of it,” he says. “I lost my scholarships. It’s something that’s been a part of my life since I was young. It’s something that I believe in.”
While Erika and Andrew applied for one of New Mexico’s 34 medical cannabis business licenses nearly a decade ago, they did not ultimately secure a license when the state awarded them through a lottery in 2014.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the state’s adult-use cannabis bill into law in April, and the statute sets “a pretty aggressive timeline” for adult-use sales to launch in April 2022, Muñoz says. Regulators have told the Carver Family Farm team members that they should have their final licenses in the next month or two, just in time for the first legal sales.
Building a Business
Carver Family Farm has a facility in Albuquerque where the team plans to co-locate the company’s cultivation, manufacturing and retail operations. Muñoz and the Browns are Albuquerque residents and spent the first few months of their business lives in the city looking for real estate for Carver Family Farm.
“I drove around neighborhoods I didn’t know existed in Albuquerque just looking for warehouses, calling the owners on the tax rolls to see if they wanted to rent it,” Muñoz says. “We were pretty aggressive getting our building.”
While New Mexico’s adult-use cannabis law prohibits the state’s municipalities from outright banning cannabis businesses within their jurisdictions, it does allow them to enact restrictions, such as how far away cannabis operations can be from a school, day care or church.
For example, Muñoz says that Albuquerque banned cannabis stores in its historic district, but several adult-use dispensaries are already planning to set up shop a few blocks outside of that area. Albuquerque also requires cannabis cultivators to have an odor control plan in place, he adds, which prompted Carver Family Farm to purchase carbon filters late in the business planning process in order to comply with the ordinance.
“I know one of the small towns put that you can’t be 300 feet from a residentially zoned area, which basically meant there were two shopping centers in the entire county where you could put a dispensary,” Muñoz says. “They’re still finding creative ways to restrict it, but they can’t just outright ban it.”
Opportunities and Challenges
Muñoz applauds New Mexico for creating microbusiness licenses, which he says “lowered the bar for a lot of smaller producers to enter this market.”
Albuquerque has a culture that supports shopping small and shopping local, Muñoz adds, which will help microbusinesses like Carver Family Farm find a niche market.
“That’s what I’m excited about, is seeing this high-end, craft cannabis that you don’t really see in some of these bigger markets,” he says.
Muñoz points to ever-changing regulations as some of the company’s biggest growing pains.
“They’re not finalized, so it’s like we’re building a business while they’re building the regulations, and that’s our biggest headache,” he says.
Securing additional employees is also a chief concern, Muñoz adds, as the national labor shortage continues.
“Finding enough workforce to actually bring in the harvests and trim and all of the other labor-intensive parts of this process that we need is a concern for me in the short-term,” he says.
Securing water rights is another challenge for many of New Mexico’s cannabis producers.
“It’s their biggest roadblock besides financing,” Muñoz says.
It’s a complicated issue, he adds, which could ultimately keep larger, multistate operators from dominating the state’s market.
“New Mexico put in statute that you have to have water rights in order to grow, and so it’s not going to be [like] in other parts of the country where you can just build a warehouse and drill a well and suddenly start growing,” Muñoz says.
Water rights are attached to property in the state, he says, and cannabis producers must find farms that have the proper amount of water rights to support their crops.
“We’re fortunate in Albuquerque because we have commercial water [and] we have a commercial lease,” Muñoz says. “For commercial property, if you have a commercial lease, you can use it. But outside of that, finding commercial water in New Mexico is going to be the hardest thing.”
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic also poses its own unique set of challenges for new businesses, in New Mexico and beyond. The Carver Family Farm team plans to follow all state and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines to keep its employees and customers safe, Muñoz says, and the company will require its employees to be vaccinated and boosted.
“New Mexico changed the definition of fully vaccinated—it’s considered with a booster,” he says. “We’re going to have a mask mandate—everybody is going to have to wear a mask. We’re looking at what happens after Omicron. What’s the next issue? We’re looking at doing the online, web-based market, which became very popular during the pandemic.”
To promote social distancing, the team is considering moving some of its trimmers out of the facility’s designated trim room and into other areas of the building in order to keep employees 6 feet apart while trimming.
Finding a Niche
Product quality and variety will ultimately set Carver Family Farm apart in New Mexico’s nascent adult-use cannabis market, according to Muñoz.
While the company’s organic, no-till cultivation is more labor-intensive, he says it produces higher quality flower, which medical cannabis patients have said is lacking in the state.
“That’s really where we’re going to be distinguishing ourselves, is putting out the highest quality flower that we can,” Muñoz says.
The company has also amassed a wide variety of cultivars over the last 10 years, he adds, with a collection of 169 different genetics.
“We have some strains that are sought after all over, that you just can’t find anywhere close to us,” Muñoz says. “We think that’s also a way for us to distinguish ourselves.”
Flower will be Carver Family Farm’s main focus, as it continues to be the most popular product category among New Mexico’s patients, according to Muñoz. Many of the state’s medical cannabis retailers consistently sell out of their flower offerings, he says.
The company is also paying close attention to the rise of solventless extraction and plans to produce live rosin for New Mexico’s adult-use market.
Carver Family Farm’s main goal, however, is to have product on the shelf when adult-use sales launch April 1, Muñoz says. “Short-term, we just want to have product to sell and have our market ready."