The race to the bottom for cannabis producers in Oregon may have dropped the price-per-gram to an all-time low, but a different race has growers pushing to become the model for environmentally-friendly and sustainable cannabis production.
Many modern cultivators have been migrating to greenhouse and outdoor production, believing the finish line to be somewhere in the remote farmlands of Oregon. However, Eco Firma Farms CEO Jesse Peters believes he’s found a better solution without leaving the comforts of his indoor growing operation: renewable energy.
Veterans in the Industry
As Marijuana Venture celebrates its four-year anniversary with this issue, we profile nine veterans who have made their mark not only in their service to this great country, but also in the cannabis industry. It’s safe to say that not everybody in the marijuana business is a consumer. But stories like these highlight the outrageousness of Jeff Sessions’ infamous statement that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
The following article is from the March 2018 issue of Marijuana Venture, © 2018 Marijuana Venture.
“I don’t think indoor cultivation for cannabis is a dead technology,” Peters says. “I actually think it’s a progressing one and we have to evolve with the market to ensure that we’re on the right path.”
Efficiency in Agriculture
It could be said that Peters has an abnormally high threshold for stress and sleep deprivation.
He’s held three overlapping jobs over the past quarter-century or so, with 22 years in the Marine Corps Reserve, a decade spent as a firefighter and six years as the chief executive of a legal cannabis company.
While joking that Portland has more marijuana retailers than Starbucks, Peters seems to relish the competition. The anxiety of operating on the bleeding edge — where every day carries the potential to lose everything — fuels his passion for the industry.
“I like that you rely on yourself in this industry,” Peters says. “We’re in an exciting time and we’re going to see a lot of consolidation. There’s a lot of creative business happening right now that I am extremely intrigued by.”
He and his wife, Kate Guptill, started Eco Firma as caregivers in 2011. Today, it could be one of the most innovative farms in the industry.
Located in the small town of Canby, about 25 miles south of Portland, Eco Firma’s 23,000-square-foot cultivation facility operates exclusively on wind power. In 2016, Peters bought 236,340 kilowatt-hours of renewable energy, saving the atmosphere from more than 370,000 pounds of carbon dioxide. In addition to using 100% renewable energy, the farm grows with LED fixtures, employs a multi-tier growing system to maximize space in the facility and features automation components “that can calculate down to the milliliter of any substance we use for the plants,” Peters says. The attention to operating an environmentally-conscious farm helped Eco Firma receive a gold certification from Green Mountain Energy in 2017.
“We’re getting more and more efficient at what we do,” Peters says.
The company intends to further reduce its carbon footprint by eventually using solar power. A grant from the Energy Trust of Oregon has already been secured to cover the costs of the panels.
But it’s the streamlined automation that helps the cutting-edge farm survive in one of the most competitive markets for cannabis growers in the world.
Peters knows that for every inch of retail store shelf space, there are 10 growers vying for that slot. And in a vertically integrated state like Oregon, his competitors often include the retailers themselves. To combat the dwindling margins, Peters is always looking to refine his operation to be more cost-efficient without sacrificing quality. Eco Firma won a Dope Cup award for its strain The White, while also earning second place for its Anonymous V strain. The farm currently has product in more than 50 stores across Oregon.
The Marine Corps is rarely recognized for its humanitarian efforts. The above photo was taken in Riongo, Kenya, during Natural Fire 2006, a 10-day training exercise in which citizens of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania worked alongside U.S. soldiers helping to build a safer and more sustainable quality of life for residents.
The soldier, U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Jesse Peters — now the CEO of Eco Firma Farms — is helping a boy from the Pokot tribe open a ration given to him by one of the visiting soldiers.
“He’s from a neighboring tribe. Where we were at, there are no towns,” Peters says, describing the scene. “When you start getting away from Nairobi, you see depressed towns; the towns turn into shanties, the shanties turn into random shacks, then it all disappears into nothing. There are no roads deep in the Sahara. But then, all of a sudden, you’ll see a tribe who are literally living in stick huts and have never seen a vehicle.”
Peters says the program moves throughout the region, building schools, clean water cisterns, providing medical, civil and civic engineering education, while also providing military training for residents.
“We bring together multiple countries, get them water, get them sustainability in order to combat terrorists from coming in there, recruiting and taking over that area.”
— Patrick Wagner
The average person might cringe at Peters’ workload, but he’s numb to the stress, having managed a dual life since his childhood. For about six years, he managed Eco Firma while serving both as a gunnery sergeant in the Marine Corps Reserve and putting in 54 hours a week as a firefighter. After 22 years, Sept. 23, 2017 marked his final day in the military, but he continues to work as a firefighter in addition to being a marijuana entrepreneur.
“I always lived in the real world with real jobs,” Peters says. “I just live a life where you couldn’t have certain people over to your house, and I was just a little more private as a person.”
In retrospect, Peters says cannabis has always been a normal part of everyday life.
“I can remember handing a joint from my mom to my dad when I was 5,” Peters says. “It was no different than if someone would get a beer for their dad out of the fridge.”
It was such a common occurrence to Peters that he didn’t question why he couldn’t run around his uncle’s backyard or why another relative would warn him to stay away from certain areas of the house. By the time Peters had entered middle school, his parents explained that their family wasn’t exactly like the others. He was told to omit certain elements of his life at home.
“I wasn’t the only one. Lots of kids grew up this way in the ‘70s and ‘80s,” he says. “It was just the way it was.”
Cannabis didn’t hinder Peters from achieving his goal of serving 20 years in the military or stop him from earning his MBA from Portland State University. In truth, living a dual life helped him see things from a business standpoint at an early age. He sold marijuana before he even consumed it and realized he could make a small fortune selling eighths to friends.
“That just kept progressing; helping friends growing led to growing, setting up one basement led to setting up several basement operations, and setting up multiple basements became setting up shops,” Peters says. “Then came the day that I said to my wife that this is going to be a valid business within our lifetime, so let’s start going down that path.”
By 2014, the couple realized the farm could take the place of their traditional careers. After 18 months of developing the facility, the couple purchased the property on which it sits.
“Everything I’ve done has been from the base up,” Peters says. “I wasn’t born into a trust fund — I don’t even know any rich people.”
As the cannabis industry matures, the level of competition continues to rise and Peters keeps his business looking toward the future. He plans on eventually shifting to some greenhouse production, as well as exploring vertical integration.
“To me this isn’t, ‘Let’s go buy an Eco Firma Farms dispensary,’” he says. “This is about finding good partners who thrive in the business and making those relationships successful.”