July 2022 Grower of the Month

Saving a $450,000 crop – you can't say enough good things about that.

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 ways to optimize, refine, and improve their processes while also blazing new trails – and finding success—in this emerging industry.

Our July AROYA grower of the month is Jake Shockey, General Manager for Peninsula Gardens. As the special guest on our 30th episode of Office Hours, Jake explained what it was like to shift from growing cannabis as a caregiver for more than a decade, to overseeing a state-of-the-art, licensed commercial cultivation in Orion, Michigan.

Listen in as Jake shares some of the challenges he and his team have had to face over the last year, how data from AROYA factors into their day-to-day, and how it feels to be an award-winning brand in one of the country’s hottest new cannabis markets. Follow their journey on Instagram.

[This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]


AROYA: Jake, tell us a little bit about your background and what you do for Peninsula Gardens.

JAKE SHOCKEY, GENERAL MANAGER FOR PENINSULA GARDENS: I was a caregiver 10+ years ago, growing in Michigan's medical market on a small scale basis doing 72 plants at different mediums, different styles of cultivation – basement, bull barn, those kinds of practices. And now, 10 years later, we're in a beautiful state-of-the-art facility and things have changed a little bit – all the way from the data monitoring and tracking to the cultivars that we're growing. So it's been a really exciting time to grow with the cannabis industry itself.

Cannabis has always been in my family. My dad's had a huge passion for cannabis for a long time. My mom was the first graduate from the turfgrass program in Ohio State, which is an agronomy degree. So she's always had a huge love for plants, which kind of inspired me at a young age to learn a lot more about plants in general. From there, I dove in a little bit deeper after college into cannabis specifically.

I was able to team up here at Peninsula with a group of 12 or so caregivers that were all doing our own thing on a separate scale. We were able to recruit a really talented cultivator from Grassroots, Austin Edelmeyer, who's our DC over here at Peninsula Gardens, as well as Aaron Schneider, a good friend of mine who went to high school with me. And we reconnected years later after high school not knowing that either one of us were even into cultivation and growing cannabis. Now we're partners at a pretty large scale. So it's been fun to take this journey on with all these individuals at Peninsula. We have a really strong family, close-knit group of people, and we are always here to push each other and grow every day.

AROYA: How did Peninsula get its start?

Jake: So we started the journey about three years ago. I actually came on board initially as a consultant. I was doing consulting on about 10+ licensed facilities as Michigan was transitioning from the caregiver market – which was a small medical side thing where you can only grow for your patients – all the way to a licensed Metrc-compliant state. I consulted on many different grows, then I consulted on Peninsula and I was able to meet my partners, which we have today. We just hit it off really well. That was about three years ago when we started the project, we built the building from the ground up suited exactly to our needs, state of the art. That way, when things go federally legal, we have everything in place to be fully up to snuff as far as top-shelf cleanliness, practices, and so forth. So that's kind of how Peninsula came about. We've been actually growing for about a year now. First plants went into the ground about June 1st, 2021 so that was an exciting time for us. Our first harvest was in September 2021 and now we are here deep into the harvest cycle and we can't keep product on the shelf. We came a long way and it's exciting.

AROYA: What are some of the things that you really liked about growing as a caregiver, and how has that changed? What is your favorite thing about cultivation these days?

Jake: We all started becoming a caregiver cuz we had passion for the plant. We had passion for smoking cannabis. We had others, whether it be in our family or friends of friends, that needed cannabis from a medical perspective. So we were passionate about the plant from a medical use standpoint, as well as just, you know, competing and growing the best possible flowers that we possibly could. The nice thing about being a caregiver that I really miss is, you could try a lot of different things. We grew in a lot of different mediums, different styles. Initially, we were kind of starting like an ebb and flow—I don't know if you guys remember those days—all the way to a deep water culture, pretty high-level water culture. And then a little bit of aeroponics all the way to that drip style that we are using now with like a coco medium, Rockwool as well.I just really missed the hands-on experience that, you know, you're with the plants every day – those kind of caregiver things. But today, it's about managing the people, managing the data, making data-driven decisions generally, and making sure that you're giving the people what they want: new cultivars, new flavors, top-shelf stuff. So it's just a little bit different world from the caregiver to the commercial life, but we love them both the same.

AROYA: Tell us about your facility.

Jake: We have three flower rooms, each flower room is 80 lights. We have an all-LED facility—we're using Fluence VYPR 2p’s in each flower room. We have about 600 plants per room, give or take. We're generally pulling around 200-240 pounds of trimmed, usable flower (not counting trim) per harvest. Obviously, strain dependent—some strains yielding heavier than others—but obviously growing for quality, terpene flavor profile, which is why we got these awards over here. That's what we strive for. Obviously, we want quantity, but quality is first here, always.

We have a really solid cultivation team of about 12 people; they're very well knit. We take fresh-frozen sometimes for extracts. We do rosin products, different collaborative products, but in-house we mainly prepack our flower in eighths. We have some really cool packaging as well that's also on our website. We also do pre-rolls; we prided ourselves in having some of the top pre-rolls in the state as well.

Fertigation-wise, we use a rhythm, direct injection feed style. We're currently transitioning to a batch-style feeding system, which I think we're gonna be a little bit more happy with. We also have some cool knickknack stuff, like a cryo freezer for preserving terpenes when we're taking extracts. We really try to make data-driven decisions in everything. Whether that be from fresh frozen yields based on how long we're freezing our product in a cryo freezer, or whatever, we really want to make sure we have that data so we can get the most out of what we're doing here at Peninsula. Currently we're in the process of tripling production. We're gonna be adding on five additional flower rooms since we only have three, a lot more mother and veg space as well. Currently we have a two-tier veg room, so we're currently building out to a second phase as well. We're adding on a retail location as well. So we're really growing very fast. We also have an outdoor cultivation set up, which is 20 acres that we're doing all for extraction. So we're doing a lot of different things and it's growing. It's a challenge, but it's a lot of fun.

AROYA: What are some of the biggest challenges facing your market right now?

Jake: At the time that we came online with the COVID stuff going on, finding good labor, people willing to work. The market was rough. We harvested in September, so we came with our first harvest to market during Croptober. The market takes a nice little dip over the winter, as well as there was a big recall in the state of Michigan which affected about 80% of cultivators – that affected us as well. So we had a really challenging first few months getting to market, no doubt. Our packaging was delayed due to the COVID stuff, that was a challenge. But we started 2022 off with a bang: we dropped our exclusive packaging, our pre-rolls, new strains, everything's high testing, and you know, we haven't really looked back from there. But it was definitely a challenge challenging 2021 and I think the whole Michigan market can attest to that a little bit. It's very competitive, lot of cultivation facilities, lot of lights online and more coming. And we're happy to compete, it's gonna be a fun time, but it definitely was a challenge to establish a new brand that no one was aware of.

AROYA: How did you first hear about AROYA, and what’s been your experience with it so far?

Jake: AROYA was opening up a whole new frontier to data and analytics on the cultivation side that I don't feel like anyone was really addressing. So that caught my eye when they were just launching. I think we came on board with AROYA early in August, but we didn't actually use AROYA until our second crop because our first crop was already almost to the point that it was gonna get chopped. So our second actual cycle, we came online with AROYA. We were achieving amazing yields without AROYA, but once we added them online it prevented so many potential issues: a zone that didn't get fed, or a zone that was drying back a little too hard, or a zone that was getting overwatered, or a strain that we wanted to stack EC a little bit at that particular time and we realized it wasn't doing that so we wanted to steer it a little bit differently. So it's been amazing to have that data, have the apps on hand to be able to task with our team. We use the tasking sometimes as well to let our team know – cause everyone's moving 10 different ways—you can all refer back to what task you have for that day, when it should be completed and what the status is. We love that, and being able to repeat the scheduling from each harvest so we don't have to input data every single time has been nice. And I think the coolest thing about AROYA is we're still learning new values. We're working with you guys directly to try to better the platform, to give you guys feedback on what we wanna see, what things you guys can maybe improve on. When you guys are willing to work with the cultivators that are using your guys' stuff, it just makes the process seamless and we can improve together at a much quicker rate. So AROYA’s been great, and the whole team loves it. I don't think we could ever see a time where we didn't have it.

That data's so important. We wanna make sure that the product's drying, curing, being packaged at the right temperature, right humidity. If there’s issues, we get an alert so we can adjust and be aware of that. Those RH alerts have been super crucial. Sometimes you'll have a compressor go down or whatever – it's cultivation, things happen – snd then you get that alert and you're like, oh shit, I gotta head to the facility. But at the same time, you're very appreciative you got that alert. So we haven't had too many, but you know, pays dividends when they do.

AROYA: What are some of the biggest struggles that you've been able to overcome since you've had 24/7 data monitoring?

Jake: The biggest struggle we've had [with] growing of a lot of cultivars in the same room—you're growing 8+ plus strains in one room—a lot of those strains don't like the same thing, don't like the same lighting intensity, feed intensity, whatever it may be, drying back as har, maybe they dry out quicker than the other strains. Having so many different variables at play in the same flower room is definitely, always a challenge. I think that’s one of the fun parts about cultivating, it challenges our team to learn each strain, especially as you bring in new strains. You're constantly finding out what that strain may like, whether it's a heavy feeder early on or it doesn't like to be fed as high. So you wanna watch that AROYA, make sure that EC’s staying between 3-5, [that’s] generally where we like to see that runoff, and just kind of maintaining that it's within its set guidelines per strain per cultivar.

The other side is, managing all the rooms, you know, some strains maybe want to come down a few days before the others. You want to harvest them at the exact right time so you get that trichome head exactly where you want it, but it's tough when you have that many cultivars. That's one thing that we've been challenged with, but we've scheduled our room a lot better so we don't have to deal with that. We can put things that like to grow a certain way together, and then certain strains that like to maybe be pushed a little harder in this room. So that's been something that we've figured out, but that's definitely been one of the biggest challenges on the cultivation side. I think our irrigation strategies as well from a fertigation standpoint have also been another challenge that we've experienced because we can't just shoot micro shots into our medium, whenever we want. We have somewhat of a limited time range that we can feed certain times, so we don't get to steer quite as much as maybe some people that are on dab pumps or Dosatron.

AROYA: Which AROYA features are you looking forward to exploring in more detail?

Jake: As you guys integrate closer with Metrc in Michigan, I look forward to using the harvest platform and data more. Once you guys fully have that onboarded, we look forward to kind of playing with that because then we'll have all our data in one place and it can better steer our decision-making – harvest batches, was that the perfect run, are these strains perfect for each other, so forth. We can really look back at each harvest’s data, have it in the same place – that'll be helpful.

It's a lot more technical than I thought originally, but it's been fun and we got a really strong team. We have a great post-harvest team, our packaging team is top shelf. Cam, he's our manager for our post-harvest side, he makes sure our weed’s cured perfect every time. The cannabis is always within the right water activity that we look for every time so you get that clean smoke. It doesn't grind up into dust, it's not too dry, it's not too wet where it's chunky. It really that fine level that you wanna see where it's sticky, but it's not shredded into dust. We’re just very appreciative that we have each sector of the facility rolling hand in hand together to push forward to the same goal, which is providing the best cleanest cannabis possible to the end users. That's what we're striving for, and I feel like we're getting there every day a little bit closer.

Michigan has some of the most rigorous testing standards in the United States from a compliance standpoint. So we're constantly tasking ourselves with being better from an air quality standpoint for a facility to, monitoring how we can continuously provide the best possible cannabis to the end users. There's so many things that are at play from an environmental standpoint, air quality standpoint, a feed perspective, irrigation strategies are obviously a factor as well, to drying, curing, maintaining that water activity, proper burping protocols, and such. That whole process is a lot deeper than people really think to provide the perfect cannabis at the end of the day. So we really strive to push ourselves in all those areas.

AROYA: How steep was the learning curve to go from being a caregiver to large-scale commercial cultivation?

Jake: It was definitely different. We were pretty large from the caregiver side, so we were pretty used to curing large bins, stuff like that. But with the whole compliance side, the testing, the SOPs, the cleaning protocols have to just be a lot deeper and a lot more thorough. So that was a little bit of a challenge, but Cam our team lead on the harvest side was able to help us streamline our processes. We were able to kind of get together and take a team approach to it, and get everyone's feedback and take the best strategy. Obviously every day we're learning, we're adjusting, and trying to grow to improve strategies. But we do have some really good standards at play. I would say right away, weren't exactly there, but we learned pretty quickly. If you don't learn quickly in Michigan, you're not gonna last long.

AROYA: What improvements have you seen since you started using AROYA?

Jake: We were able to have [Client Success Team Member] Noah, who's our account manager out on site. He was very helpful to the team. Not only did he show a lot of love to the brand and to the team, introduced himself to everybody, but he also wanted to pick our brains about what areas we could see improvement, what areas we love, what areas maybe we didn't like. The support's been great, obviously working with you guys has been really cool, the marketing's been great. You guys are constantly promoting us, we're promoting you guys, so I feel like there's been a really good partnership.

And then obviously the data. The main thing that stays on my computer screen next to me over here is three tabs of all my flower rooms of AROYA. You know, constantly just keeping the team in the loop on that and educating us on how we can better use your platform. [That’s] something that we definitely need to allocate a little bit more time for cuz as you guys know, the grow gets time-consuming and every day there's new challenges and different things popping up. We definitely want to take more time to learn more about the platform, but it's constantly helped us to understand how we can steer better, what growth periods are at different feeding times, you know.

I think Noah's helped specifically guide us with our irrigation strategies as well. “Hey, maybe you guys should increase that first shot volume so you guys can get closer up to max saturation earlier, and then you guys can use your next couple shots to maintain that level.” That kind of data and that kind of input is very valuable because obviously he's working with clients on a day-to-day basis and also comes from a cultivation background. So, you know, getting another great mind to give us some feedback on what they're seeing on our rooms, where you guys can look exactly at what our rooms are doing, how they're performing, ask us questions [like] “Hey, why are you guys dropping the humidity so early?” – oh, you know, well, we were spraying this or doing that, or we didn't notice that. Thanks for catching that – that's been huge for us to better guide the team. I think everybody on the cultivation side, even our daily grow team, they're all becoming familiar with AROYA platform, which I think takes time. It's only our first year, so I think over the next year, we'll continue to get them more access and get them all interacting a little bit more with AROYA. We have a computer out on the floor that all the growers are able to go in and look at data, interact with AROYA, or they have it on their phone as well to go on the app. So the multiple uses has been great for us. And the biggest thing is, the alerts has been huge. Saving a $450,000 crop – you can't say enough good things about that.

AROYA: Tell us about that!

Jake: We'll push our plants pretty hard like a lot of grows will, and sometimes in cultivation you may have a solenoid fail; you may have someone shut a zone off for whatever reason; you may have a fertigation issue. A zone doesn't get a shot or a room doesn't get fed, then you get that alert pop up that says, “Hey, zone one or room 1 or 2 is at 20% water content (wc)”, and we're like, “Oh no, what's going on?”, so we'll pop in there. That's helped us numerous times and I think without AROYA, we definitely would've had some crop loss for sure. So I think it's done a great job just helping us from potential issue, educating the team on Hey, you can't do that, or solenoids do fail so you gotta be aware. And without active moisture monitoring, you would never know unless you're there every second of every day, which is impossible.

AROYA: Now that you’re using data logging to make decisions, what are you seeing in terms of consistency with individual cultivars?

Jake: Good growers are always reading the plant. There's signs of stress, there's things that we're constantly looking at [like] runoff – all these things that we're used to doing as basement guys, knowing the plant very well. But then when you get these tools at your hands, it's almost like a cheat code. I wanna read the plants of course, but I can make decisions before having to read the plants are pissed off by having these tools. Having that data has helped us a ton understand our new strains, our old strains, and validate some of our feelings.

AROYA: What AROYA features are you looking forward to exploring further, and what would you like to see in the future?

Jake: The biggest thing is the harvest integration platform with mainly the state on the Metrc side. Me and Noah had some in-depth conversations on the updates on that. So I think that's something I'm just really looking forward to when we can basically use you guys’ harvesting scale and we can weigh our full plants and it can integrate directly into Metrc—streamline that. Taking one more platform away so that way we can just be streamlined with all our data through AROYA would be very helpful so we're looking forward to that. There's also a cost savings associated with that because obviously, you're paying for these services, so we look forward to getting that up. Once we have all the harvest data on the AROYA platform compliant-wise, that'll be just huge. That'll basically allow us to look at so much data every day and really understand what each strain is producing on a square foot basis, per harvest – so we can really understand which runs were the best, what was done those runs.

AROYA: Amazing. So great to speak with you, thanks for sharing your story with us Jake!

Jake: Let us know when you guys are ready to come out we'll have the red carpet wait for you!

Head over to YouTube for the full interview.


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