Photos by Daniel Dronsfield.
Located in the center of western Oregon, Eugene has long been known as a liberal university town with a reputation for funky bars and restaurants, free spirits and plenty of outdoor recreation.
When most people think about Eugene, the city likely invokes images of the University of Oregon Ducks, Grateful Dead concerts and the Oregon Country Fair. Increasingly, it’s also gaining a reputation for high-quality cannabis as the tolerant local government welcomed the new businesses that followed the 2014 passage of Measure 91, which legalized recreational marijuana in Oregon.
As of mid-November, Lane County ranked second in the state for marijuana business applications. One of the newly licensed businesses is Winberry Farms, owned by partners Dustin Jessup and Kevin Spence and located 40 miles south of Eugene on the banks of Winberry Creek.
Their vision and grow style represent what could be the look of many future cannabis farms.
The two entrepreneurs decided early in the licensing process that they would operate in an environmentally friendly manner with the goal of producing top-quality sun-grown cannabis in harmony with the local fruit orchards and forests.
They also set up their grow in a relatively rainy part of the state, deviating from the approach that most sun-growers have taken.
Most cannabis cultivators in the Pacific Northwest have traditionally settled east of the Cascade Mountains or further south in Oregon. The Cascades form a powerful rain shadow that sucks up a lot of the moisture from the Pacific and leaves the east side of the two states relatively dry and sunny.
While Eugene receives 45 inches of rain annually, Bend, directly east and located on the dry side, gets only 11. Medford, about 170 miles south, gets 19 inches of rain each year.
The Winberry partners knew the increased moisture in the fall might cause problems with mold and mildew, so they devised a simple solution. They covered all their plants with hoop houses to keep out rain and moisture.
While hoop-style greenhouses are fairly common at outdoor cannabis farms, most growers use them for light deprivation to initiate early flowering. Winberry’s structures are solely for protection.
“The hoop houses are to keep the rain and dew off the flowers when they are developing,” Jessup explains.
Some of Winberry’s strains weren’t going to be ready until the end of October, “and the weather cannot be counted on in our part of the world,” Jessup says.
Jessup and Spence also departed from traditional cannabis production in other ways.
“Our growing is modeled after organic and biodynamic farming practices,” Jessup says. “Until the early days of flowering, we encourage the plants to grow with the local flora and fauna. This naturally keeps pests and diseases in check.”
Their grow style utilizes large, 65-gallon pots and a custom, enriched, organic, soilless medium, which they claim is better for moisture retention and consistency. Winberry Farms used nutrients from Down To Earth, a local company that was founded in Eugene in 1977 as an alternative to synthetic products.
Jessup says he was happy with the results obtained from using the DTE products. However, he also hinted that the company might change some of its techniques next year after experimenting with the native soil this past season.
“The plants in native soil did well, so we’re likely to spend more time on that program in 2017,” Jessup says.
Jessup and Spence admit that their farm is still very much an experiment. As such, their goal is to keep their costs reasonable and manageable. While many cannabis farms employ dozens of people, Winberry is very much a small, family-run operation.
“We don’t have any full-time employees yet,” Jessup says, “and we’re fortunate to have many great family members and friends who come up to help when we need it.”
While the company’s overhead is still relatively small, its strain variety is not. Winberry currently has 43 unique strains, and the partners like the idea of experimenting to discover the ideal varieties for the western Oregon climate. Jessup has several strains he’s excited about, including Fire OG, Jah Goo, Star Fighter, Sensi Star and Critical Cure. Several others that appear particularly robust and noteworthy include Blue Dream, Gorilla Glue #4 and UW Purple. At this relatively early stage in the legal cannabis industry, the Winberry partners will have plenty of time to tweak their strain mix as they continue to hunt for the perfect varieties for the relatively moist western Oregon climate.
Winberry Farms seems poised to take advantage of Oregon’s new legal marijuana marketplace. With its central location in western Oregon, and two partners who are committed to the harmonious cultivation of top-quality cannabis in a sustainable, biodynamic manner, the future looks rosy indeed.
As the new legal cannabis industry marches forward into uncharted territory, it will be pioneers like Jessup and Spence and farms like theirs that will one day be seen as the early models that set the tone for a much larger, national business. In the meantime, Winberry is a great example of a business that is operating in a manner that fits well with the current, somewhat unpredictable cannabis industry.