By Garrett Rudolph
FORD, Wash. — Big River Farms may not have the canopy size that some of its large-scale Eastern Washington competitors have, but the family-run business utilizes six greenhouses to allow for year-round cultivation, in addition to making use of the sun.
The farm is owned and operated by Kameron Hynes and the Hupp family. Dick and Juanita Hupp were the licensees, while their son, Jesse, is involved in the day-to-day operations.
“Like all things, it’s kind of a struggle,” Jesse Hupp said. “We’ve had better months and worse months. There’s a lot of competition right now, but all in all, the future looks good as far as I’m concerned.”
Big River Farms received its license in the summer of 2014 and has withstood the ups and downs of Washington’s legal cannabis growing pains.
“The biggest two (obstacles) in my opinion were the steadily dropping price in product and the fact that we’re getting taxed up the wazoo,” Hupp said. “It makes it a lot harder to operate at a profit.”
Big River Farms also faces the challenge of getting by on a small full-time staff — just five people, including the owners, run the day-to-day operation of about 6,000 feet of growing space.
“The workload is pretty heavy,” Hupp said. “It’s 24 hours a day and seven days a week for some of us. The other guys work 8s every day, sometimes 10-12 hours a day when we need.”
Hupp said the competition among growers in Eastern Washington is pretty fierce, which keeps the prices pretty low. Big River farms currently sells its product to about a dozen marijuana retailers, mostly located in Eastern and Central Washington. So far, it’s been packaging mostly flower, while sending some of its product out for extraction into oils by other processors. Hupp said there’s talk of getting a butane extractor to make some oils on their own.
The most valuable asset of the grow operation is the six greenhouses that measure 20 feet by 50 feet, with high ceilings that allow plenty of room for supplemental lighting. The greenhouses can be layered to provide enough insulation to grow year-round, even in the midst of wintry snowfalls.
The team has been able to operate almost entirely without running lights since early May, except on days that are particularly dark or dreary.
“I have been really impressed by these greenhouses,” Hupp said. “You get the sun, and you get the control. You get the best of both worlds. It’s awesome.
“We can use the sun to the best of our ability, as long as it’s available, and still have a functional room through the winter.”
The biggest challenge during the winter months was snowfall and possibility of a catastrophic pile-up of snow, Hupp said, but the team was mostly able to escape the cold stretch unscathed.
“If they’re going and they’ve got heat, they kind of melt most of (the snow) off,” he said.
On top of the challenge of having a small staff, Big River Farms employees have harvested all their cannabis by hand.
“I never thought I’d get tired of looking at it,” Juanita Hupp joked.