John De Friel
Company: Raw Garden
John De Friel and the science-focused team at Raw Garden are taking the “conventional wisdom” of cannabis and turning it upside down, rethinking nearly every step of the production cycle and turning cannabis into a modern agricultural crop.
The California company has 105 acres licensed for cannabis production and harvests each acre twice a year.
While many growers are producing cannabis indoors or using high-tech greenhouses, De Friel’s company draws on inspiration from lettuce, tomato, strawberry and raspberry growers to scale outdoor production and maintain quality. While most companies use clones, Raw Garden grows exclusively from seed. While much of the industry uses trim to produce concentrates, Raw Garden uses flower.
The company embraces blue-sky thinking; it is reimagining modern farm implements and harvesting technologies, reevaluating drying and curing methods, developing high-throughput processes for freezing plant material and rethinking the common pre-roll.
But perhaps the core of the company’s disruptive success is its conventional agricultural breeding program — the largest cannabis breeding program in the world, according to De Friel, a Ph.D. candidate and a chemical and biological engineer by trade. The company has produced about 15,000 distinct crosses of cannabis, maintains a seed bank of more than 25 million seeds and conducts 1,200 to 1,500 field trials every year.
Rather than investing in the infrastructure required to control the environment, Raw Garden has spent seven years dedicating its energy to breeding cannabis that thrives in the natural environment of California’s Central Coast.
“Plant breeding is definitely not a get-rich-quick scheme,” De Friel says, “but every iteration pays off in some new reward.”
De Friel has his eyes on the day when interstate commerce will be allowed and California growers will supply cannabis to the rest of the country. And Raw Garden is set up to be a major player when that day comes.