At this point, we've nearly doubled our pre-AROYA revenue out of the same square footage
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 Joshua Andersen, Co-founder and President of
SKöRD Marijuana in Battle Ground, Washington. The seeds for SKöRD started taking root around 2012 back when Joshua was a small medical provider cultivating medicine for his dad. As adult-use loomed in the Evergreen State, the family made a bet: if legalization passed, they’d get into the business. Sure enough it did, so Joshua and his partners took the leap: securing a license in 2015, building a warehouse from the ground up, and launching their first line of products in January 2016. How’s that for a win-win?
We chatted with Joshua about his journey from teenage consumer to auto mechanic to cultivator of top-shelf genetics in a state that helped pave the way for adult use nationwide. Keep up with all things SKöRD by checking out their website and following Instagram accounts: @skord_life and @skord502. And enjoy the read!
[This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]
AROYA: How did you get into cultivating cannabis?
Joshua: My background is automotive mechanic, that's what I was doing. Cannabis was just a recreational thing for me. My dad was having sleep and back issues. He got his card and gave me the opportunity to grow. It was really genetics. Getting access to, if you grew from seed, all the different things that you could grow, in comparison to my experience with cannabis [which] was very limited selection. So I think my original passion just came from, Oh wow, look at all the diversity that’s actually here. That's been the basis of SKöRD – was really around popping seeds from the very beginning.
AROYA: So once you understood the scope of the plant, you were like, “Wait a minute!”
Joshua: Exactly. And it's an amazing education you can get coming from what I thought. For example, I thought I was interested in sativa strains. Then I started growing and I decided I absolutely hated growing sativa strains, and not only that, I preferred the effects of more indica-leaning genetics.
AROYA: What was it about growing sativa that you were like, this is not the way?
Joshua: Structure, manageability, the effects, and the quality that I was looking for just weren't there.
AROYA: When was the first time you smoked weed?
Joshua: I started smoking weed when I was about 15, and it was probably just due to being a delinquent kid. But it was always my drug of choice, I didn't dabble in much of anything else. For whatever reason, I think it's a body chemistry thing that weed kind of calms me down. I have a little bit of focus and ADD issues, so it's always been kind of a balancing thing for me.
AROYA: No wonder you decided to shift to indica if you’re trying to focus!
Joshua: Right. Well, when I first got access to it, I didn't know what I was smoking or have really any choice.
AROYA: What made you fall in love with cultivation?
Joshua: My dad was not a smoker. So I also got into closed-loop hydrocarbon extraction right away to make tinctures and stuff for him. So flower was always part of it, but I was into creating concentrates, and that also exposed the flavor and that whole process – flavor and smells on a whole new level. Coming from being a mechanic, that mechanical process of hydrocarbon extraction was kind of up my alley, it was kinda hand-in-hand at the time. That actually ties into AROYA in the end in a large way too, honestly.
AROYA: Oh, okay, before we get to that – if you could grow only one strain or cultivar, what would it be and why?
Joshua: It would probably be a Girl Scout Cookie cross of some kind. Cookie genetics are my favorite. I kinda lean into those earthy, gassy aromas. But I think it's one of the most rewarding plants to grow commercially: beautiful results, quality’s there, it's a joy to grow. They've always been my favorite strains.
Our first kind of claim to fame was with Nightmare Cookies, which was a cookie cross from Sin City Genetics. We kind of got away from it for a while; when you're popping seeds all the time, the market is always shifting on what it desires versus what you would grow just for yourself. So obviously, Candy and Zkittlez crosses have dominated recently and we've just kind of gotten back into a few Cookie crosses. We got some Gary Payton crosses that are pretty awesome.
AROYA: What's growing up there in Washington? What is the scene like with cultivation and genetics right now?
Joshua: The Washington market – there is really no staple, I would say, at this point for the top-shelf market. Everybody's now trying to bring new genetics to market. I think a lot of other cultivators saw the success in the top-shelf space by introducing connoisseur smokers to all the different flavors and whatnot that we were doing, so that's really caught on. Competition is strong. There's a lot of new stuff constantly coming out. And then at some point, you pop so many things, and finding something better than what you've already seen when you've gone through thousands of strains gets difficult.
AROYA: It's such an exciting time, there's so much innovation and development happening. What are some of your philosophies on growing?
Joshua: The only rule we really came into this with was we wanted to be a spray-free facility. And not just pesticides, but no foliar sprays of nutrients – that came because hydrocarbon extraction was a key point in part of our business model. Having clean product and then producing clean concentrates was priority one.
We also chose the challenge of running a perpetual garden. SKöRD is one big room broken up into zones. So we're cultivating, we're finishing flowering, and just starting flower in the same space all the time. Those were our chosen mission and our chosen obstacle, and the philosophy that's Plant Empowerment – I mean, that's one of my favorite books. It's really about a healthy plant and a healthy environment doesn't need pesticides or foliars. We've just been on a mission trying to find a way to cultivate that perpetual cycle, spray-free.
AROYA: Tell us about your facility. What's your setup like over there?
Joshua: It's relatively small. We run 2,800 square feet of flowering, so very small. I got a small team – it's basically me and I got three other growers. Most of our team is on the processing side, either doing the concentrates or packaging flower. Small sales team. We're single-source, so we don't bring in any other product. We only sell what we grow and produce under our brand. We do some limited collabs with some other concentrated companies occasionally but it's all based around us.
AROYA: And then what are your consumers excited about and into? What do they keep coming back for?
Joshua: I have to thank AROYA for this – I think what gave us our name in the market originally was consistency. It was a lot of things in the very beginning people struggled with, and SKöRD got its name based on just producing top quality consistently. Eventually, that transformed into we were bringing new stuff to the market all the time that was, at that time, rare. So I do think people would mostly just come back for the consistent quality though.
AROYA: They know what they're getting every time. So let's get into it – why are data and transparency important for your operation?
Joshua: Originally it was a learning and understanding thing for us. A little bit, even before AROYA, we were dabbling with a GroSens. I had met Ramsey around 2017 and he had kind of nudged me in the direction of plugging into your media. So we were dabbling in that. I had one sensor – it was a very slow process trying to get the information that you wanted when you had, you know, spot-checking with, one tool. Once you can see that data though, the amount of information you can slowly gain from the actual things that physically you're doing to the plant or how you're applying something and all those things, definitely not only increases your path to consistency and reproducible results – but then the small tweaks to actually get improvement as well.
AROYA: How did you hear about AROYA?
Joshua: We met them at MJBizCon 2018. One of my partners and Jason met and I don't even really think AROYA was a fully fleshed-out product idea at the time. It was more of a test, it felt like they were asking us, “Is this valuable to you guys?” They wanted us to test it and see what we thought and what kind of results we got from it – find out how valuable this kind of technology would be to cultivators. My partner Ron at the time was a 30-year tomato greenhouse farmer. He was like, “Oh man, if we had technology like this back when I was growing tomatoes, this would be a game-changer.” I liked the idea.
So this is kind of where it ties in a little bit to being a mechanic – I mean, I probably would've been a terrible mechanic back in the carburetor days. I had success there due to the technology and computers and plugging into a vehicle, it was very natural to me, and this was kind of a similar way to grow. I could plug into the plant and get way more information to either diagnose a problem or create the results I wanted. So I was super fascinated with technology from the very beginning. Of course we should be doing it this way.
AROYA: So y'all were early adopters.
Joshua: Yeah, we started out with doing a quarter of our room, testing there, and then applying some of those results there to where we were still kind of steering blind. And saw improvements across the board. It wasn't very long before we decided we needed to get AROYA throughout the whole building. ‘Cause again, if you're doing good testing, you have to test one variable at a time and a round per round – basically you're changing one variable every two months. I thought if I can get this in every single zone, I can make changes every two weeks. So it was more, how much faster can we progress in our learning by getting the entire facility outfitted?
AROYA: How has your business grown since first installing AROYA?
Joshua: It's amazing actually. So the first year we had AROYA in there, we saw about a 21% increase in our revenue. By the end of the second year was 72%. And some of that was yield. We were getting good yields, but we were getting inconsistent yields, and also again, with new genetics all the time AROYA has really given us a pathway, especially with all this experience at this point, to bring something new in and get much better results on the first run. I mean obviously, you usually don't nail it the first time, but you get much better results and you dial that strain in significantly faster. And so it is really hand-in-hand: yes we increased yields, but it was more about getting consistently amazing yields that really was the change.
AROYA: What does that consistency look like? Is it with that with terpene profile? Is it the jar appeal? There are so many factors that cultivators have to think about.
Joshua: It's consistency out of what you're producing – that, I would say, is part of it. At the time we were growing like eight different genetics, and we had two that were thriving and then it was kind of hit or miss on the others on whether we got good results. So it wasn't per se [that] these two things were perfect, but what was wrong with everything else. And AROYA really led to, we can grow anything now and get great results, repeatable results over and over again. It's more not taking the losses or not getting the ideal situation that led to an increase in revenue, versus overgrowing so much more than we used to.
AROYA: Reducing those losses, scaling back on those – that’s a great point. Part of what y'all are dealing with is figuring out is it even worth us growing a particular cultivar: we really wanna grow it, we think our consumers are gonna like it, but maybe the amount of effort isn't worth it. That's part of the thought process too.
Joshua: Right, and getting the best results out of a strain that the consumers want. Again, when you're testing a bunch of different genetics, there's obviously things that would be the most ideally commercially-viable strain out of that group. That rarely is the one that you even think is the best, or the consumer does. So we do get stuck in a situation quite commonly that the best producing or the highest yielding is not the highest quality. You can't get something for nothing. It seems like there's a little bit of a trade in cannabis: do the genetics lean quality or do they lean yield?
AROYA: You were dealing with some inconsistency with yields before AROYA. How are they now?
Joshua: We average across our square footage – and now we grow about 30 different strains – but we get an average of about 3.6 pounds per light at about 65 grams a square foot. Again, across 30 strains there's ones that do much better than that, but when you're averaging those kind of yields across everything consistently – I mean, it's been amazing.
AROYA: What's coming down the pipeline for SKöRD? What can people look forward to?
Joshua: We'll eventually expand. I'm a little bit of a stickler about how that's gonna happen, but we bought some property behind us, so we're hoping to build another warehouse. The market's not really there to make it super incentivized to expand at this very minute. We're in a really good spot, all things considered in the market. So, continue bringing new genetics out there, doing what we're gonna do. Someday, maybe expand. If not, we're in a really good spot, I got a great team. We're enjoying the ride.
AROYA: Yeah if it ain't broke…
Joshua: Don't force it. I mean, we want growth, but we're not gonna be one of those companies that forces, or over-scales. We're just gonna take it and do it our way just like we did the first time. I mean, it's not the fastest way to build facilities from literally bare land. But the clean slate, having a building built specifically for producing cannabis, does help in the long run. Best if that’s a slow process.
AROYA: One last question: the last couple of years has been really rough for cultivators. What advice would you give people as they continue on?
Joshua: Not over-scaling. Nobody knew Covid was gonna hit, and while that was a little bit of a benefit to the industry initially, with that surplus money going to people, a lot of people overexpanded during that time, and they're really hurting now. Focusing on what you do well, getting more efficient at it, getting more profitable at it right where you are is probably step one. I think people, out of excitement or opportunity, are over-scaling and potentially ruining their businesses.
I would push expanding faster if I could get direct-to-consumer sales of some kind across the nation. I'm sure that's every top-shelf producer's dream. That's really the holy grail: creating that ultimate experience for the customer, curating that customer yourself, the margins – it all makes the most sense there.
AROYA: Amazing. We’re so glad that AROYA is working for you.
Joshua: It was the game changer we all hoped it was. At this point, we've nearly doubled our pre-AROYA revenue out of the same square footage.
AROYA: That's so good to hear! It seems like you're living your dream, and just to be able to stay in business is such a blessing.
Joshua: Yeah, we feel super blessed. It has been tough for a lot of people, but we've been blessed and it's been great for us.