An Honest Living
Organic-style indoor grow takes inspiration from Colorado’s scenic beauty
By Lael Henterly
The Honest Marijuana Co. isn’t founder Anthony Franciosi’s first stab at turning his knack for cannabis cultivation into a business.
A previous effort backed by local investors failed before it even got off the ground.
“After buying the property, building, etc., the people I was working with lacked the capital to be successful,” Franciosi says.
Franciosi says he had “kind of given up” on the idea, but then received a call from a family friend who was interested in financing a new grow operation. Fresh off his recent failure, Franciosi says he had the crystal clear vision that one experiences only in hindsight. He knew what went wrong with his previous attempt; he knew what he needed to do differently to be successful in his next venture. The investor appreciated Franciosi’s candid approach and was impressed with his growing acumen. The investor agreed to bankroll Franciosi’s new indoor marijuana production facility and the Honest Marijuana Co. finally took root in Oak Tree, Colorado.
The company’s grow is modest in size, but ambitious in mission. Franciosi plans to bring the values and ethics of organic farming to the cannabis industry.
Honest Marijuana’s 5,000-square-foot indoor space was designed for maximum energy efficiency, with low ceilings that make it excellent for climate control while also giving it a downright cozy vibe.
Powered by energy-efficient light-emitting ceramic (LEC) grow lights, the facility draws 30% less power than it would using traditional high-intensity discharge lights. Franciosi plans to make his operation even greener next year by installing solar panels on his 70-foot, south-facing roof.
Franciosi stokes his prized organic soil with nematodes and nutrients derived from kelp, beets and other natural sources.
Franciosi prefers to make everything himself — whether it’s a loaf of bread or a 5,000-square-foot grow. But building the structure from scratch turned out to be trickier than he expected.
“Now it’s a really finely tuned machine,” Franciosi says. The company leases its current space, but Franciosi designed the floor plans himself and selected all the equipment.
“My landlord is kind of a business partner,” Franciosi says. “In the future the company hopes to purchase the building.”
From landscaper to cannabis grower
Colorado’s natural beauty and the decade Franciosi spent working as a landscaper in Steamboat Springs inspire his growing technique and philosophy.
“The longer I’m in Colorado, the more organic living rubs off on me,” he says.
Franciosi’s entry into landscaping wasn’t glamorous; he moved to Steamboat Springs from New Jersey when he was 18 years old and started “doing grunt work and moving wheelbarrows.” He was really interested in irrigation, though, and as he proved himself over the years, he was able to shift his focus toward water supply and conservation.
Meanwhile, Colorado’s medical marijuana program was rolling out and Franciosi began growing his own plants at home after getting a medical card. At the time, he would sell excess product to local dispensaries.
When that program ended, Franciosi scaled back to growing marijuana strictly for personal use. He kept talking to people in the dispensary community and had opportunities to grow on a larger scale, but it wasn’t feasible to follow his green dream until he had access to startup capital.
While the company is still in startup mode, Franciosi sees profits on the horizon.
“It’s not lucrative yet, but we enter our fourth store this week and next month we roll out our flower line,” Franciosi says.
Coping with challenges
Inspired by what he learned by building irrigation systems in Steamboat Springs, Franciosi designed his grow to work with Oak Tree’s challenging environment at 7,500 feet above sea level.
“All the dehumidifiers collect water and we reuse it for watering and cleaning,” he says. “I use between 500 and 600 gallons a day and collect nearly 400 gallons. It’s an incredibly green set-up for an indoor system.”
When it comes to mitigating hazards without pesticides, the closed system design helps a lot.
“Nothing comes in. It’s very clean,” Franciosi says. “We have a very strict flow for employees, where you can go without showering and changing clothes.”
Each month Franciosi adds fresh nematodes — roundworms that destroy larvae — to the soil around each plant. Franciosi has found that a signature blend of essential oils and neem oil — a naturally occurring pesticide — work well as an insect deterrent.
In the rare instance that a pest makes it through, Honest Marijuana resorts to biological controls, not chemicals.
“Predator mites are our last line of defense,” Franciosi says. “If you discover a pest late in flower, you really can’t spray, so a predator mite can help you finish the harvest.”
Honest Marijuana has fewer than 10 employees, many of whom are Franciosi’s long-time colleagues from his landscaping days. The team shares a passion for the outdoors and a deep respect for the plant they nurture.
“We always say there’s a difference between working to live and living to work,” Franciosi says.