By Patrick Wagner
Not only has Monkey Grass Farms been a mainstay on the shelves of Washington marijuana retailers since day one, but it’s also quickly become one of the most ubiquitous and recognizable brands in the state, among consumers and industry professionals alike.
The North-Central Washington operation is the brainchild of Eric Cooper, according to his daughters Katey and Rachel Cooper, and the family business has been able to distinguish itself with branding, a little bit of creativity and a product that’ll have people swinging through the trees.
“Rachel and I were wary about the name at first,” Katey Cooper said. “We wanted people to take us seriously.”
Like so many start-ups in the cannabis industry — particularly in more rural areas of the state that have opposed marijuana legalization — the Coopers wanted Monkey Grass Farms to be seen as a legitimate business.
“Which we are,” Rachel said. “So we kept the name Monkey Grass Farms and branded it to the best of our ability, so that we weren’t just a funny name but also a recognizable name.”
The farm itself sits in an old warehouse that was leased through a connection that Eric Cooper formed during his childhood in Wenatchee. Monkey Grass Farms now employs nine members of the Cooper family, and a total of 23 full-time employees.
It was the 12th marijuana business to be licensed by the Washington State Liquor Control Board, a process that began back in 2013 and was rooted in the experience of growing for the medical market.
It was a nine-month process between starting the application and receiving the Tier 3 producer/processor license, Katey said.
“The thing that took the longest was the application process,” she added. “We just always responded really quickly and once our paperwork was finalized we had it filled out in a month. … It was crazy. A lot of hurry up and wait and then get it all done really quick.”
The Cooper sisters both attribute the quick license approval to being overly prepared for their state inspection. For fear of failure, the Coopers were ready to accommodate any changes or additions that the state would require.
“We had people here to run line for us if we needed an extra camera. We were just ready to anything that the state needed us to do right then and there, to make sure that we could pass,” Katey said.
Monkey Grass Farms passed its inspection the first time through, giving the family the window it needed to have product on shelves when the first flurry of Washington retail stores opened for business July 8, 2014.
Getting the license quickly allowed the company to get in on the ground floor of Washington’s recreational market, and became one of the go-to producer/processors for the first wave of retailers at a time when demand dramatically outpaced the supply.
“A lot of the retailers started by contacting us, because we were one of the few who were going to have product ready by July,” Rachel said. “Retailers were contacting Katie and I, and they would come out to the farm and visit with us. They met our family, and in a sense, they became a larger part of the Monkey Grass family as well. It was all done by handshakes.”
From there, Monkey Grass Farms has continued to network, attend business meetings and trade shows in order to keep a pulse on the growing industry and maintain lines of communication with similar businesses.
“When we meet people in the industry, we are always pleasantly surprised with how professional and how business-oriented everyone really is,” Katey said.
However, the family saw that their initial success brought several new challenges that Monkey Grass Farms would need to overcome. Its rapid rise also meant a need for more employees.
“We have two sides. We have the garden side and then we have the processing side,” Rachel said. “The processing required a lot more hands then we thought we were going to need. The processing side is a whole other beast. There are people who have to package, label, transport, everything. We do all of our own labeling here because, every strain is different in testing.”
Another challenge was growing on such a large scale.
“Nobody had every grown this many plants at once, legally,” Rachel said.
“Except for Colorado,” Katey adds as the sisters share a laugh.
The end result can be found behind the counter of several Washington recreational shops.
“We are currently in 10 different stores right now,” Rachel said.
“Some we’ve created relationships with, but now we are trying to break into other markets,” Katey said. The market is insane. There are so many more producer/processors versus retailers, so the competition is fierce.”
On its website, the farm lists more than 50 strains as options for retailers, even though it doesn’t grow that many at once.
“We actually don’t offer that many strains right now. When we were licensed, we basically took as many strains as we possibly could so we have those options to grow,” Rachel said. “It’s good for finding out what’s working and what’s not working in our environment.”
The ability to maneuver through multiple options to pick and choose what works for retailers has allowed Monkey Grass Farms to accommodate the needs of stores without sacrificing selection.
“The market in recreational is very driven by THC right now,” Katey said, pointing out that not as many people have shown interest in high-CBD strains.
“There are a few strains that we’ve gotten rid of because they’re not testing where we want them to be, or they’re not growing or producing or yielding as much as we want,” Rachel said. “So we destroy the strains that do not do well for us. We just take them out because there is no need to produce something that we don’t like.”
“The Pineapple strains that we grow, as far as THC levels, those have been the highest for us,” she said. “We get a lot of people asking for our Rainbow strain as well, which is kind of fun since those two strains (Pineapple and Rainbow) go with our branding. We kind of go for an island-type Tommy Bahama feel and it’s funny because those are the two strains that are doing well for us.”
The farm hopes to take its interest in genetics to storefronts at some point with its own signature strain, Rachel said.
The Washington State Liquor Control Board reigned in its original regulations that allowed license applicants to apply for three separate licenses and a total of 90,000 square feet of canopy. Now, even Tier 3 producers are allowed no more than 21,000 square feet of canopy and just a single license.
Despite these limitations, the ambition of Monkey Grass Farms has not been stifled.
“When the state limited everybody to one license, then we decided that we wanted to be able to harvest all year long,” Rachel said, referring to the decision to grow indoor, despite being located in one of the top growing climates in Washington.
“But there are definitely plans to add to Monkey Grass and do outdoor as well,” she said.