SNOWFLAKE, Ariz. - What was once a greenhouse to grow tomatoes has now become one of the biggest cannabis growing operations in the entire country.
In the small town of Snowflake sits Copperstate Farms and its roots start with a familiar name in Arizona politics.
"We’re delighted to be a community partner here in Snowflake, Taylor and the White Mountain region and we draw talent from a lot of different areas within the White Mountain region. We have been supporting Snowflake with all of their endeavors, but really they’ve been supporting us. It’s been a great partnership," said Pankaj Talwar, CEO of Copperstate Farms.
In 2016, Fife Symington IV, son of former Arizona Governor Fife Symington III, purchased the property. His vision for the farm has now grown into 40 acres of greenhouse space. Blooming inside: cannabis.
Talwar says the farm is the largest employer in the town with 365 employees. 650 employees in total, including its Phoenix operations.
What they produce here gets shipped to Sol Flower Dispensaries in the Phoenix metro area.
Talwar says their employee base has doubled in the last 18 months. With the farm’s new 40 acre expansion, they will hire about 100 more people looking to get into cannabis cultivation.
This expansion is a direct result of the legalization of recreational marijuana.
"There is no doubt supply is tight and and that’s the reason we invested in upgrading greenhouse 4 which will allow us to increase production, but everything we make we sell. So there is nothing left in inventory," explained Talwar.
Talwar says it’s their more natural approach to growing that makes the product stand out among the rest. Their secret ingredient: the sun.
"We follow extremely, what I would say, is natural processes. For example, infestation is a common issue on greenhouses. There’s a lot of bugs that tend to like to hang out. We create a perfect environment for them. We use ladybugs as a natural predator and right now, we are bringing in 1.1 million lady bugs per week that get distributed to the greenhouse.
"And they take care of infestation versus harsh pesticides and that’s an example of how we let Mother Nature take care of our problems versus chemically applying something to the plants that might kill the infestation, but leave residue on the product," said Talwar.
It’s about a 16-week process from plant to dispensary.
"From what we call clones or cuttings, all the way to harvest is a period of about 12 weeks, but then we have to take it from that to get it cut, dried, cured, trimmed and tested that will add another three to four weeks to that time, but that depends on testing," said Talwar.
Chef Aaron Chamberlin with Good Things Coming takes that end product and whips it into bite-sized edibles, which are then shipped to 42 dispensaries across the state.
"We have a total of eight product lines. We have six flavors. We make a Valrhona chocolate brownie bite. We make a hard candy which is lemon, lavender and honey and then we make four different fruit jellies.. we have Yuzu, which is Japanese citrus flavor, we have a pomegranate, we have a mango chili."
The lab at the farm creates a distillate extraction. It’s pure concentrate of THC and easy to cook with.
"When I got into this, what was very important to me was I wanted to know when I made an edible and people ate it, what was this going to do to me? So precision dose is our tag line. Chef made precision dose and precision dose is really important to us. So we do multiple testing so that ever single fruit jelly you get, you know it’s going to be the same milligram, it’s going to be the same effect on you and that is something that is super important."
The edibles side of things has flourished in the last few months.
"We used to make 15,000 units a month and right now we’re producing over 150,000 a month and that all happened within a three week time period," said Chamberlin.
Soon the company will have a total of 80 acres under glass on the same property. The goal is to continue expanding and growing with the market.