Herbal Ambassadors

Yerba Buena works to inspire others through education, inclusion and eco-friendly cultivation practices

Cultivation assistant and veg room caretaker Sarah Levin peeks through the plants at Yerba Buena’s Oregon facility, where the company hopes to lead by example through inclusive business practices and sustainable agriculture. Photo courtesy Yerba Buena.

As one of the first eight farms licensed to grow recreational marijuana in Oregon, the folks at Yerba Buena take their role as industry leaders seriously. They know the country is paying close attention to the new industry and see it as their job to set the standards for the emerging corporate culture.

“It’s being born right before our eyes,” operations manager Laura Rivero says. “We have a responsibility to build a business structure that’s inspiring to all businesses.”

Named for the Spanish phrase meaning “good herb,” Yerba Buena uses organic practices and has received Clean Green Certification. Instead of using chemicals or pesticides, Yerba Buena treats the plants with bio-active foliar sprays containing beneficial bacteria and fungi and uses an integrated pest management system to control insects.

But its commitment to good business practices doesn’t stop there.

A.J. Paparelli delicately inspects several plants.

Beyond the buds

While sustainable, organic-based farming practices are important, Yerba Buena looks beyond the plants and hopes to set an example for other cultivators and cannabis companies.

Each “Yerbafarmian,” as the employees are known, goes through a rigorous training program that covers the history and properties of the crop they are cultivating and selling.

“It’s important that they are knowledgeable,” operations manager Laura Rivero says of the company’s employees. “They are the face of this plant.”
She says Yerba Buena emphasizes education to combat decades of misinformation about cannabis.

“We have a great opportunity to shift perspective,” she says.

Yerba Buena’s vision extends to its own structure as well. Located in Hillsboro, Oregon, about 45 minutes southwest of Portland, the farm began production about two years ago as a medical co-op, but saw the recreational market as the “next frontier.”

Tyler Allen (in far back) takes sure every plant has the proper tracking labels for the state’s seed-to-sale tracking requirements.

On April 29, 2016, the company received its recreational cultivation license, and it’s now the largest Tier 2 operation in the Beaver State, clocking in at 9,000 square feet of indoor canopy and 4,000 square feet of outdoor.

Yerba Buena was the first recreational farm in Oregon to have a product tested, sold to another business and to the public.

Early on, the four principal partners, Laura and her husband, Casey Rivero, who serves as the farm’s head grower, and co-owners Preston Greene and Rick McClish, decided to “always be doing the right thing,” in hopes of creating a “butterfly effect” as their employees interact with others as representatives for both cannabis and the farm.

“We’re a learning company,” says Greene, adding that having their staff be ambassadors is fundamental to ensuring future growth of the entire industry.

What started as a medical grow in 2015 has bloomed into the largest Tier 2 operation in Oregon with 4,000 square feet of outdoor production and 9,000 square feet of indoor canopy.

Greene says many of Yerba Buena’s competitors focus solely on the quality of the product, but he wants his company to be something more.

“Not a cannabis company, but a great company in the cannabis space,” he says.

Yerba Buena is a founding member of the Ethical Cannabis Association and a member of the Research Innovation Institute. It cuts down on energy usage by employing LED lights in its vegetative rooms, and though it uses high-pressure sodiums for blooming, the farm is experimenting with various LED lights during flowering as well.

Laura says the company also values diversity and inclusion, going so far as to have an in-house diversity committee to develop respectful language toward individuals, their stories and their cultural heritage. All of the company’s 30 employees receive a living wage and health benefits. The company hopes to inspire others in the industry to do the same and create a “culture of positivity, education and community.”

“We’re all involved in each other’s well-being,” Casey says. “What affects us, affects someone else.”

Analysis

Unlike many farms, Yerba Buena has a full-time data analyst on staff to provide reports on the effects of different factors on the crops, such as nutrient regimens or temperature. Tracking yield, potency and other critical information allows the company to make changes to keep its product at peak levels.

“Our harvest reports are amazing,” Laura says. “Every strain is going to respond differently to its environment and we’re able to respond to lots of different factors all at once.”

According to Casey, the reports look at all aspects of the operation, including how environmental conditions affect the plant. The analysis helps him pinpoint the similarities and differences between the strains and gives him the data he needs to make adjustments for the next harvest.

Yerba Buena also uses market research reports to evaluate consumer preferences, which guides the company in its next round of planting. The post-harvest analysis allows Casey to focus on producing the highest-quality cannabis he can.

Tyler Allen (in foreground) carefully removes excess leaves from the crop, while Derek Rayhorn waits patiently with a delivery.

“You have to constantly be evaluating,” he says, noting that most growers get very little information about their plants and the value of the product after it’s harvested. “As growers, we see everything up until we put it in the drying room.”

Grow op

Yerba Buena grows about 60 strains, including top names such as 9-Pound Hammer, though its top seller is Blueberry Cookies. It also has harder-to-find strains, such as the exclusive Silverhawk sativa and a high-CBD bud called Corazon.

“We pride ourselves in having some of the more obscure strains,” Laura says, adding that the farm has a “robust breeding program” in the works. Yerba Buena is always developing new products, like Blueberry Cough, a proprietary strain Casey is currently working on that has a 1:1 THC-to-CBD ratio.

Tyler Allen (in far back) makes sure every plant has the proper tracking labels for the state’s seed-to-sale tracking requirements.

All the plants are grown in a custom, reconstituted soil blend purchased from an Oregon company, which keeps with Yerba Buena’s core philosophies.

“We definitely value sustainable agriculture methods and do everything we can to use those,” Laura says.

“For an indoor facility, we’re definitely one of the more sustainable,” Casey adds.

Casey admits that growing cannabis can be “an amazingly huge consumer of resources,” so the company has focused on sustainability from the very beginning. Yerba Buena designed all of its growing systems — from lights to the HVAC to water and dehumidification — to be interconnected and work in concert with each other to establish efficiencies.

“We’re treating all systems like branches of the same tree,” he says.

Casey says the goal is to keep the grow rooms as free of outside contaminants as possible, so every employee wears scrubs and has in-room lab coats.

“We treat our grow rooms like clean labs,” he says.

Derek Rayhorn transports a harvested branch to the trimming area.

Moving forward

Yerba Buena’s approach seems to be working. As its profile has continued to grow, the farm has encountered a problem most businesses would love to have: Demand outpacing supply.

“We can only grow so much,” Laura says.

While the company is expanding, Greene says its primary focus remains on growing a quality product and “trying to get better every day.”

“We don’t like to dwell on the future,” he says. “We plan for the future, but every day is about execution.”

And in a future made uncertain by a new president and attorney general who are sending mixed signals regarding cannabis from Washington, D.C., Yerba Buena continues to live up to its name, making data-driven adjustments to its operation, while representing the industry and the plant in a positive light.

“If you have happy employees that are putting their love and enjoyment in the plant, I feel like that translates through to the consumer,” Laura says. “This is such an important responsibility to be caretakers of this plant.”

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