A look at the equipment, supplies and processes deemed indispensable by commercial cannabis growers
For a hydroponic grow operation with the goal of producing “medical-grade” cannabis, everything about the facility must be kept as clean as possible. This approach has been the key to Toucan Farms being the first producer to meet the strict standards for Washington’s relatively new medical marijuana program.
While state regulations prevent the company from labeling its crop “medical,” Toucan Farms president Steven Fuhr trademarked the phrase “Certified Clean Cannabis” for his brand and he takes the “clean” part seriously.
The Tier 2 operation features about 5,000 square feet of hydroponically grown cannabis, meaning any discussion of purity has to begin with the water.
Fuhr uses an Auto Flash reverse osmosis system to strip the chemicals from the city water supply. In addition, he uses a Current Culture Under Current system to keep his water and nutrients aerated with purified air.
“It enables us to inject purified air into the root,” Fuhr says. “All of the air that comes into our room comes through one of the huge bubbling systems.”
The air also helps keep the roots clean and even reduces nutrient usage.
Fuhr can monitor all of the numbers on water and nutrient levels, as well as 12 environmental factors like pH, through an app on his phone, allowing him to not only keep staffing costs down, but watch real-time data on his crops and head off any potential problems before the develop into a full-blown crisis.
“I’m a scientist at heart,” he says.
The next important factor in Toucan Farms’ success is the air temperature, which can be particularly difficult when trying to maintain an ultra-clean environment.
At Toucan, Fuhr solved that problem with a Surna Hydronics system that uses chemicals to pull heat from the water that circulates through the room, cooling it without exchanging any air from outdoors.
“Instead of taking hot air and making it cold and putting it back in, these systems just take heat out of the room,” Fuhr says.
Each grow room features four heat exchangers, although the chillers are on the outside of the building. Since no air is brought in, neither is mold or mildew.
The specialized air-filtration and temperature systems only work properly if the building is air-tight. Thanks to a special BASF spray foam insulation that Fuhr used in construction of the building, Toucan Farms is perfectly sealed off from outside contaminants.
“I’ll never build a building without it again,” Fuhr says of the foam. “It’s the perfect substance for a grow building.”
The soy-based foam is approved for food-grade use and is sprayed between the walls and the sheetrock during construction. It helps keep the building at a perfect 70 degrees with 50 percent humidity, while sealing the room from outside pathogens.
In Washington’s medical market, protecting the crop is even more important because if any trace of pesticides or heavy metals are found, the whole crop must be destroyed, according to state regulations.
Sealing the building from outside contaminants works best in tandem with a high-quality air-filtration system, so Fuhr took inspiration from another group that is highly concerned about air being breathed: NASA.
Fuhr says his farm uses “a highly specialized air-filtration system similar to what is used on the International Space System” to not only keep mold and mildew from getting to his plants, but to actively seek out and kill mildew spores.
Fuhr credits the foam and the air filters for keeping his mold levels well below the state’s allowable level of 2,000 colony-forming units. In fact, Toucan has never had a batch test at more than 200 colony-forming units, Fuhr says.
In the end, no matter how tightly the building itself is protected, humans still need to handle the product at some point, and that could also contaminate the crop.
Fuhr says it’s not enough to make employees and visitors wear clean clothes, protective smocks, gloves and footwear or require everyone to wash their hands.
Fuhr says lab directors have told him that employee cell phones are the number one vector for contaminating a crop. Numerous studies have shown cell phones to be filthy, particularly if people take them to the bathroom with them.
Because of that, cell phones at Toucan are kept at least three feet from all products and plants and everything from door handles to scissors to pens get wiped down at least once a day to cut back on contaminants.
The procedures and equipment Fuhr has implemented to keep Toucan Farms as free from contaminants as possible have paid off in the form of possibly the cleanest, purest cannabis products in the state.
“We’ve never had a detectable hint of mold,” he says.