Hiring is one of the most challenging aspects of any business, and implementing policies and programs that demonstrate to employees how much they are valued is essential to keeping great people on the team. While company culture can feel intangible, building an environment where people want to work comes from offering real benefits, such as competitive wages and paid time off, but there are other motivating factors.
What makes a great place to work, and how can you tell if employees are happy? Cannabis Business Times, in partnership with Best Companies Group, an independent research firm specializing in identifying and recognizing great places to work, sought to discover the answers through CBT’s second-annual Best Cannabis Companies to Work For - Cultivation program, which includes questionnaires about benefits, pay and more, and interviews with companies that make the list.
CBT is pleased to introduce the 2021 Best Cannabis Companies to Work For, which are profiled in the February 2021 issue:
No.1: Napa Valley Fumé, Lake County, California
No. 2: The Grove, Las Vegas, Nev.
No. 3: Dragonfly Wellness, Salt Lake City, Utah
No. 4: ARL Healthcare, New Bedford, Mass.
No. 5: Stability Cannabis, Oklahoma City, Okla.
Eligible cannabis companies that applied to the Best Cannabis Companies program completed two surveys—one sent to executives and another sent to employees. The employee questionnaire, weighted more heavily at 75%, included statements such as, “I feel I am valued in this organization,” that employees then rated from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree.” On average, 86% of employees at companies that ranked on the list responded positively to survey questions, compared with 76% of those at companies that did not make the list. Feedback is published in aggregate; employee responses and individual company performances are confidential.
Ranking companies performed well in several categories that are commonly recognized as key to creating a positive work environment and culture, including “Leadership and Planning,” and “Training, Development and Resources.” Key results from the research, including how Best Companies scored overall versus those that did not rank, are featured within the profiles. While the survey results provided interesting insights, that only tells part of the story. We had conversations with leaders at the top-ranking companies to find out more about what they do to create great work environments for their teams.
Whether consulting individual caregivers or large commercial cultivators, Neil Champion uses organic-based living soil programs to grow the healthiest cannabis possible. Since Arizona mandated that medical cannabis must be tested for pesticides starting in November 2020, this mindful approach has become even more important to growers.
“Now that there are more stringent testing regulations in several states, [growers are] rewriting a lot of pest control plans,” says Champion, owner, CEO, and lead consultant at Arizona Grown Consulting & Referral Services. “I’ve been able to write [synthetic] pesticides out of a lot of programs by instituting biological products and beneficial insects from ARBICO Organics.”
Champion uses ARBICO products almost exclusively when consulting operations of all sizes throughout the Southwest—leveraging the company’s predatory bugs and compatible organic sprays to prevent and control pests and disease.
“Starting with the soil, I use their NemAttack™ beneficial nematodes to lay a good foundation,” he says. “Those stop common pests, like fungus gnats, in the larval stage before they become a problem in the flower. That’s been a better control for soil-based pests than anything else I’ve found.”
Depending on the grow facility, Champion may also use biorational pest controls—like plant-based PureCrop1 insecticide or OMRI-listed SuffOil-X® spray—as part of an integrated pest management (IPM) program. If specific insect infestations or fungal issues arise, he’ll deploy more targeted defenses from ARBICO’s arsenal of beneficial bugs.
“Their predatory mites have taken out infestations overnight,” Champion says. “The Neoseiulus Californicus and Amblyseius cucumeris were able to knock out my spider mite populations. Recently there’s been an influx in russet mites, and the Amblyseius swirskii predatory mites have done great work decimating those infestations.”
Beyond the products, Champion relies on ARBICO as an IPM resource he can turn to anytime for answers and advice. “They have, hands-down, the best customer service of any company I’ve ever worked with,” he says. “If you have a question about a specific condition, they’ll develop a plan for you over the phone—almost immediately in most situations.”
By blending ARBICO’s pest control expertise and non-synthetic controls, Champion helps cannabis growers produce healthier plants with fewer problems.
“Because their products are biological, there’s no chemical resistance built up by pests within the grow. You’re not having to reintroduce microbes to keep the soil alive because there are no chemicals killing your living system,” he says. “Your end product is not molested by anything, because the bugs take care of everything.”
Whether growers are concerned about producing healthier plants, selling safer products, or simply passing state purity tests, Champion recommends ARBICO Organics as their solutions partner.
“Using ARBICO products as a maintenance tool and preventative measure has probably been the best move in my consulting career so far, because there are no problems to mediate the end of the grow,” he says. “My clients' [plants] are healthier and happier and growing better.”
Learn more at arbico-organics.com
As a third-generation greenhouse grower with decades of plant experience, Jake Van Wingerden knows that “good roots make good fruit.” Promoting healthy root growth is key to producing better yields at SunMed Growers, his medical cannabis cultivation company in Maryland.
Since Van Wingerden started using Hemp Pots™ from Blackmore Company a year and a half ago, he’s noticed stark improvements in his crop’s root systems—and the resulting harvests.
Previously, Van Wingerden trialed countless containers, from labor-intensive bags to “plain old plastic pots,” and everything in between. When he saw the Hemp Pots—which Blackmore introduced at the Cultivate trade show in 2019, following the success of its popular Ellepot—Van Wingerden couldn’t wait to compare the patented pot-within-a-pot concept, designed specifically for growing hemp and cannabis mother stock.
“We ran a side-by-side test [against traditional pots], and the results were extremely noticeable,” says Van Wingerden, president of SunMed. “The size of the plant, the girth of the stalk, and the root ball itself in the Hemp Pots was just a night-and-day difference.”
That’s because standard pots don’t accommodate for the aggressive weed-like growth of cannabis plants, he notes. “When you look at a cannabis root ball in a traditional plastic pot, the roots have circled around the pot into one long root that wraps around itself,” he says. “With Hemp Pots, the root hits the end wall and air prunes itself, then breaks. All those breaks create an incredibly dense, fibrous root ball.”
The Hemp Pots feature a patented layered design that exposes the entire root system to air circulation, preventing root circling and girdling while promoting denser feeder roots for better nutrient uptake. This extra layer of air also acts as a cushion against high temperatures—cooling the root base up to 35 degrees F to insulate plants from heat.
“Through our trialing, the roots were definitely cooler and more fibrous in the Hemp Pots,” Van Wingerden says. “Anything that helps create a better root zone inevitably leads to healthier plants, which leads to better bud.”
Van Wingerden was so impressed with the early trial results that he worked with the team to develop a 1.5-gallon container to fit SunMed’s 250,000-square-foot greenhouse cultivation space. Now, his operation uses Hemp Pots exclusively to transplant cannabis liners for finished growing.
“We love working with Blackmore. We’ve always had a good relationship with them,” says Van Wingerden, who has worked with the Blackmore team since he started Tidal Creek Growers, his containerized bedding plant operation, in 2002. “The Hemp Pots are better than anything else out there right now. I’m not even looking anymore, because they work so well.”
Learn more at firstname.lastname@example.org
Zoë Therapeutics is a giant in the Oregon hemp scene, producing seeds and seed starts for other hemp farmers, as well as smokable flower for sale to consumers. The latter products are especially popular, with retailers buying up Zoë Therapeutics’ full supplies even before they are harvested.
“We've established [relationships with] big clients, here in the U.S. and internationally, that we produce seeds for,” says Zoë Therapeutics' CEO Chris Shirley. “We've produced some of the best indoor hemp flower in the country. … We have it pre-sold before we even harvest.”
Meeting those quality and volume demands takes a team effort, which is why Zoë Therapeutics partnered with Green House Feeding to supply the hemp company with all the nutrient solutions it needs for its combined 44,000 sq. ft. of controlled environment production space.
Zoë Therapeutics uses products from Green House Feeding's mineral line, including its Grow and Hybrids nutrient feedings during vegetation and flowering, respectively. The farm supplements those nutrient feedings with varying rates of added calcium (required for company's using a reverse osmosis (RO) system) during all stages and Booster PK+ during flowering.
“With Grow, we get a good growth rate on the plants, and I also get good established cuttings from our moms,” Shirley says. Having a higher clone success rate helps reduce labor on managing unproductive clones, he adds.
“With Hybrids and Booster, I’ve seen the rate of growth and the trichome development increase tremendously. It really gives it a nice yield and dense flower. And the denser the flower, the heavier the weight, and the heavier the weight, the more profitable you can be," Shirley says.He also points to Green House Feeding’s experience and customer service as two of the main factors that led Zoë Therapeutics to choosing the nutrient company as a partner. “[They have] a ton of experience and years of growing behind them … [and] can contribute to whomever that is interested in using their feed lines.
“When you're spending the types of monies that are spent with certain companies, … having a real person to be able to contact and bounce ideas off of or discuss different growing situations that the vendor could help shed light on, I feel is very important,” he adds. This expertise will be especially helpful when Zoë Therapeutics launches THC products (produced under an Oregon Liquor Control Commission license) later in 2021.
Green House Feeding’s products also require fewer system flushes to clean out lines and tanks, Shirley details, again reducing labor. The nutrients “leave hardly any residue in any mix tanks and in the lines."
For these reasons, and more, Shirley says that since securing Green House Feeding as a partner, “we haven't gone away from it since.”
Learn more at shop.greenhousefeeding.com
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