Our AROYA Grower of the Month series spotlights the stories of craft cultivators who inspire us with their ingenuity and resourcefulness. Every feature is a chance to celebrate growers who constantly find new ways to optimize, refine, and improve their processes while also blazing new trails – and finding success – in this emerging industry.
This month we spoke with Jason Caliendo, Cultivation Manager at The Botanist MA. Before channeling his love for botany and the plant into his dream job of overseeing cultivation, Jason spent three years rising up the ranks at Columbia Care. Since joining The Botanist in 2022, not only have he and his team made great strides dialing in the drying and curing process – but they’re also pheno-hunting and getting ready to drop some serious heat onto the Massachusetts cannabis scene. And AROYA’s been with them all the way.
Learn more about The Botanist and their Superflux extracts brand by heading over to their website, and be sure to follow Jason’s journey on Instagram.
This article has been edited for length and clarity.
AROYA: How long have you been working with The Botanist and how long have you been the Cultivation Manager?
Jason Caliendo, Cultivation Manager at The Botanist MA: I’ve been a Cultivation Manager at The Botanist for a year and two months. We provide all of our products through our two Botanist locations in Worcester and in Shrewsbury. And we're also available on a lot of shelves throughout Massachusetts through our wholesale distribution network. So The Botanist is available, I can guarantee it, somewhere near you in Massachusetts and is definitely worth trying.
AROYA: That's awesome. How's your time, and your experience been there so far?
Jason: Oh, it's been fantastic. I've really felt like I've been able to establish myself in this competitive market here. I have a great team of people in my cultivation and post-harvest team. And honestly, it's a collective effort from all of us, but this opportunity at The Botanist really gave me a chance to spread my wings. So it's really been a great experience.
AROYA: What were you doing before you were working for The Botanist, were you cultivating?
Jason: I worked as a Cultivation Technician, an IPM supervisor, and a Cultivation Supervisor at Columbia Care in Lowell, Massachusetts. After three years there, I saw The Botanist was looking for a Cultivation Manager. It was my chance to be a Head Grower and it was closer to home, so for me it was a double win. I've been here since June of last year and it's been the best decision I ever made.
AROYA: How did you first get into growing?
Jason: I always knew that I wanted to be in cannabis cultivation because of my natural love for botany and my passion for the cannabis plant. I've always been interested and amazed by the diversity of the cannabis plant – that's one of the things that makes growing it so unique. I've known ever since I was a teenager that I wanted to get into this new industry and be like one of the early growers in Massachusetts. So the second Massachusetts went medical and eventually rec, I knew that I wanted to get my foot in the door somewhere.
AROYA: So were you an early medical card holder and everything?
Jason: I honestly wasn't. I always loved growing the cannabis plant and enjoyed all of my own harvests. I understood that I had a real natural passion for it, and I really wanted to carry that into a career.
AROYA: What do you love most about cultivating?
Jason: Probably just the fact that every run is an experiment. There isn’t a single veg or flower cycle where I haven't gained something from it or learned something about a particular cultivar Just being able to see how these plants develop from clones into full canopies of colas is really what keeps me going every day. I often look forward to my Monday morning walkthrough because I get to come in from the weekend and see how the garden has progressed. A lot changes occur in 48 hours, and it's the constant state of change that I love. And that's true for this industry too – the only constant in cannabis cultivation is change.
AROYA: Going into Mondays excited, that's great! Let's talk about some of your strains, tell us about your catalog.
Jason: We're known for a couple of really key strains like Orange Mojito, Dosi Pop, and Grape Guava. Those are some of our older genetics that have been around in the Massachusetts market for a little bit of time now. But I think what's even more exciting is what The Botanists will be known for. We have a lot of new strains that are about to hit the commercial market. So I'm really excited for strains like Grapple Pie, Giscotti, and Johnny Appleseed, all with very diverse and unique terpene profiles. I really think they're going to catch some attention in this Massachusetts market.
AROYA: What are people really asking for out there in Massachusetts?
Jason: People are really just asking for terpene preservation. I think that in Massachusetts, there's the stigma of there being nothing but dry weed available in the market because Massachusetts as a whole has a problem preserving moisture. I think that really dialing in and extending the drying and curing process in a climate that's as chaotic as New England, that's really what's going to separate craft cultivators.
AROYA: If you could grow only one strain, which would you choose and why?
Jason: That's like asking if you want one food for the rest of your life, what would it be? If I had to just give you my gut answer, it'd be one of the new strains that's about to hit the market called Johnny Appleseed. It's a very eye-catching flower, very purple with bright orange hairs. It's really rich in a terpene called ocimene that is present in mango fruits; it's pretty rare to find any cannabis pheno with this level of ocimene. And the way that it carries over with the limonene – which is the second most dominant terpene in the flower – it gives you the sour apple, almost Jolly Rancher-type smell. It's really been one of my staples since joining here. It's a combination of two strands that are really hot right now in the market. The cross of Apple Fritter and Cereal Milk is really impressive and I know it's going to have people talking in Massachusetts.
AROYA: Let's talk about your garden. As the cultivator, what are your philosophies on growing and running the facilities?
Jason: I think knowing how to pull the best genetic representation out of every cultivar is the key to getting true optimal performance out of a cultivation facility. Knowing exactly which physiological responses each strain has to certain types of stress is really key as well. We utilize a lot of drought stress here at The Botanist Massachusetts through our generative steer in the latter half of flower. We implement a lot of deliberate environmental stressors as well. I'm a firm believer in exposing late-flowering plants to cold environments to help bring out some anthocyanin development while also stimulating secondary metabolites. I believe that there's a natural evolutionary element to that as well. I believe that cold stress is one of the most underutilized practices in this industry.
AROYA: How do you use tech to dial in on some of these things? How are you using tech in your garden?
Jason: Using the AROYA SOLUS probes, we are able to get live dry back and EC data at any given point, which really enables us to dial in each cultivar to its full potential. Using AROYA to obtain that live data really enables us to make on-the-spot, day-to-day decisions that help us bring the genetic maximum out of every strain in our garden.
AROYA: Amazing. How did you guys first hear about AROYA?
Jason: AROYA had actually been implemented here before I started. We did not use AROYA at Columbia Care, but when I came over here to The Botanist, this software was already in place. It was already being used throughout the garden, and it was instantly clear to me that AROYA beats any blue lab device by a mile because of the fact that it live streams data at all times.
AROYA: How big is your team, and are they able to use AROYA?
Jason: My cultivation team is 10 strong including myself. My Assistant Managers Ferdinand and Jacx are extremely dialed in using AROYA for our flower and veg rooms. Everyone on my team has a unique skill set and role to fill that contributes to really bringing out one of the best gardens in Massachusetts.
AROYA: How your business has grown since using the platform? Are there strains that you’ve seen perform a little better over time as a result of using AROYA?
Jason: It's pretty clear to me that monitoring a harvest and comparing strain performance is really one of the most interesting parts about using AROYA. Being able to look back to a historical log of what the plants were getting shot with, what you see when they're being fed at this stage of development compared to last time, and trying to create a schedule that suits the cultivars’ needs really opens the door for you to pair these cultivars into rooms that are all requiring roughly the same strength of feed. We're limited to one batch tank per harvest room, so making sure that the strains all have a very similar EC demand is very important.
Another way that AROYA has been a really big help for us is in our drying process. We've recently put up a climate station in our dry room and it's really enabled me to make live on-the-spot decisions for changing set points for our dehumidifiers, and our temperature control. When you have a room that is designed to dry cannabis, but you have different volumes of wet weights going in there, you really need to be able to make those live decisions to prevent overdrying the harvest. I have been using the climate station as my guide to throttle our environmental inputs.
AROYA: What are some of the challenges that you guys have had to face in Massachusetts, and how does the climate station help?
Jason: New England is known for its chaotic climate conditions at any given point. We can have 60 degrees one day in the fall, and then 30 degrees the next. But with that temperature swing also comes natural humidity swings. Using the AROYA climate station, we've been able to really dial in the set points at which our dehumidifiers and our steam humidifiers kick on in our dry space.
AROYA: It's really giving you guys a lot more control in the dry room, and that's such a crucial time to have that control. What's your favorite sensor that you use?
Jason: I love the climate stations. I love having another reference point for each of my grow environments. That isn't necessarily the one that controls our system itself but for me, it's a good emergency backup where I can receive an alert message if a room's parameters fall out of whack. It's nice just having a secondary level of protection. Having that second source of truth is really key when it comes to adjusting things such as humidity levels in a room.
AROYA: Talk about optimization! How has the business grown, anything you can share there?
Jason: Yeah, it's really funny. Massachusetts got to a place where it's very, very oversaturated, as anyone that grows in Massachusetts realizes. But we've really been able to focus on quality, and the quality of the flower itself is what makes us shine even in a saturated market. Our production is beginning to ramp up as the demand for our product increases. I think what really matters is brand recognition, being known for what you put out there, and caring about the final product that hits the dispensary shelf.
AROYA: It is so important. That's the thing that we keep hearing – your name is everything, and so the quality you put out there, it's everything. So what can we look forward to in the future from The Botanist?
Jason: My goal is to introduce new cultivars into our crop rotation. THC matters, but terpenes matter just as much if not more in my opinion. We have been aggressively pheno-hunting new cultivars here at The Botanist with one goal in mind: increasing our crop rotations’ cannabinoid and terpene diversity.
Lots of cannabis is very rich in limonene, caryophyllene, and myrcene but for us to get some new strains in the garden – like the Johnny Appleseed that is rich in ocimene, and Dutch Treat x Cherry Pie that is very rich in terpinolene – is exciting for us. It's always those cultivars that have the secondary minor terpenes at the highest values that are always the ones that catch people's noses. So really, pheno-hunting based not just for THC but for terpene expression is just as valuable in my opinion. There are different therapeutic values that come with those terpenes as well which I know will improve the quality of life for many.
AROYA: Amazing! Thank you for sharing your story with us Jason!
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