Ruby Farms blossoms in the foothills of Oregon’s Cascade Mountain range
Any number of contenders may lay claim to being the best location in the country for marijuana production.
California’s Emerald Triangle has been recognized as the Mecca of sun-grown cannabis for decades, a distinction that has brought a certain level of prosperity and notoriety to Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity counties. In the valleys of Southern Oregon, cannabis farming is simply a way of life, and growers will match their crop up against any in the world.
More recently, Southern Colorado hot spots like Durango and Pueblo have emerged on the scene, and Washington’s Okanogan County features more than 50 state-licensed growers taking advantage of the excellent climate, relatively inexpensive land and fertile soil that make it an agricultural hub.
But for Rustin Kluge, the president and CEO of Ruby Farms, the perfect spot might just be near Bend, Oregon, in the foothills of the Three Sisters.
Ruby Farms, which produces CannaTea, a holistic cannabis beverage for Oregon’s medical market, benefits from 300 days of sunshine a year, perfectly pH-balanced water straight from the well and some of the cleanest air in the country, Kluge says. At an elevation of nearly 4,000 feet, the climate provides a natural deterrent to pests and powdery mildew.
“In my opinion, it’s one of the best grow locations in the country,” he says. “The air clarity is so clean, fresh and crisp, and the fluctuations in temperature actually help bring out the terpenes in the strains.”
Kluge isn’t just looking at the immediate future, with fully-legal recreational sales expected to begin in Oregon this fall.
“We’re really in it for the next five, 10, 20 years when interstate commerce opens up,” he says. “It’s only a matter of time.”
Ruby Farms utilizes multiple light deprivation greenhouses that allow year-round production, even during the snow-filled winter months of Central Oregon’s high desert.
Each greenhouse is designed for maximum environmental control, with radiant heated floors, cooling walls, solid-steel end walls, commercial dehumidifiers, blackout tarps controlled by pulley systems and 15 industrial fans to help with air flow. During the colder winter months the company uses propane heaters to keep the facility at its ideal temperature.
Twenty-five Gavitas provide supplemental lighting when days are short. To determine whether supplemental lighting is needed, workers regularly walk around the grow room with a PAR meter to make sure the plants are receiving the right amount of light.
Ruby Farms is one of 35 farms in Oregon to be Clean Green Certified, an independent program based on the standards of USDA Organic. Kluge sees consumer preferences shifting more toward organic cannabis products, similar to the foods they eat. Becoming Clean Green Certified is part of a marketing plan to build consumer confidence.
“And it’s for the future,” Kluge adds. “When the opportunity comes to get certified as USDA Organic, they’re the agency to do it.”
As a producer of medicinal cannabis, it’s even more important for Ruby Farms to avoid synthetic chemicals and pesticides, Kluge says. Rather than using noxious pesticides, Ruby Farms focuses on prevention as the best defense against pest problems. The company limits the number of people allowed in the flowering room, and everyone at the farm is required to wear gloves, sandals and a full-body Tyvek bunny suit.
The concept of sustainability influenced Kluge the decision to use greenhouses, rather than an indoor grow that couldn’t utilize the sunlight. It was all about the carbon footprint and energy-efficiency, Kluge says.
“I don’t ever want to be on record bad-mouthing indoor growers,” he says. “It’s still part of the industry and it’s still commercial agriculture, but the state of Colorado used $4 billion of cannabis electricity (in 2014). That’s going to be an issue in the future.”
But Kluge says the industry is slow to embrace greenhouse cultivation, even though the climate and photoperiod can be controlled exactly the same as an indoor grow.
“If you’re talking with a dispensary, the first thing they’ll ask is whether it’s indoor, outdoor or greenhouse,” he says. Most dispensary operators immediately discount outdoor product by $500 a pound compared to indoor-grown cannabis. Greenhouse wholesale prices fall somewhere in the middle, despite being an “indoor-grade flower,” Kluge says.
“We just believe in giving the consumer the best quality product at the most affordable price while being kind to our earth — period,” Kluge says. “If we can achieve all three of those things, we’re creating success.”
Growers in rural Deschutes County breathed a sigh of relief when county officials recently announced their intention to overturn a ban on recreational cannabis cultivation. The county must enact an ordinance to do so, meaning the ban will likely remain in place until September. As of May 19, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission had received 30 applications for marijuana business licenses in Deschutes County (18 producers, 10 retailers and two wholesalers). According to a Bend Bulletin story, the Oregon Health Authority listed more than 1,500 registered grow sites in Deschutes County as of April.
Initially, Measure 91’s legalization of adult-use marijuana sent municipalities throughout the state scrambling to ban cultivation operations from their jurisdictions.
Kluge expects the cannabis landscape to shake out the same as it did in Washington and Colorado, where many counties that originally banned marijuana businesses later reversed course. It doesn’t take long before the job growth, tax revenue, better allocation of law enforcement resources and crime reduction sway the opposition, Kluge says.
Still, each of the four states that have legalized marijuana have large areas that maintain bans of marijuana-related businesses. In Oregon, counties that prohibit the cannabis industry will have an impact on the market, Kluge says.
“It’s new to a lot of people, and a lot of people don’t like change,” he says, but points out that it’s only a matter of time before national laws shift toward legalization. A majority of the country — an all-time high of 58% — now supports marijuana legalization; advocacy is even higher among millennials, with about 71% of adults under 35 backing legalization, according to Gallup polls.
Ruby Farms currently operates under Oregon’s medical program, but plans to transition into the recreational market when licensing becomes an option.
Because of the existing medical laws, Ruby Farms is limited by plant counts. However, Kluge has big plans for the long-term future of the farm, but much of that will depend on local regulations and the state’s licensing process.
“If we’re not in 100,000 square feet of grow within the next 18 months, we’re not hitting goals,” he says.