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 sat down with Cory Desloge, Director of Cultivation at Harbor House Collective in Chelsea, MA. With a decade of commercial experience under his belt in legal markets spanning from California to Nashville, Cory joined Harbor House in September 2021 just as the brand was having its first harvest – and recovering from a build-out stalled by the pandemic. One of his first orders of business: add AROYA to the wishlist. Cory had actually learned about the platform through Ramsey and tried it when it was brand new.
Now with a fully functioning vertically integrated facility with ~40,000 square feet, just under 400 lights, and a lean team of 7 growers (himself included), Cory started out knowing that precision crop steering was crucial to not only the plants’ success – but the company as a whole.
From dropping fun facts about the old-school strains from his Virginia upbringing to revealing what inspired his commitment to quality and more, Cory’s love for the craft of cultivation couldn’t be more palpable. Enjoy the read, and give Harbor House Collective a follow on Instagram to follow their journey.
[This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]
AROYA: When did Harbor House Collective get its start?
Cory Desloge, Director of Cultivation at Harbor House Collective: Harbor House Collective started their journey of trying to get a license back in 2018, and it took many years to get through the approval process. Then right as COVID hit is when the license actually went through, so they actually had to build out the facility and get everything up and running and approved while there were many restrictions and people couldn’t come onsite. I wasn't here for it, but it sounded like one of the hardest build-outs mainly just because of the timing and what was happening in the world.
But after all of the hard work from the founders, they were able to get it up and operational; I think they had the first plant in the building in May 2021, so a little over two years ago. The first harvest was in September 2021 so that's actually when I came on.
There were a lot of things that slipped through the cracks during the build-out. So the first year here was rebuilding and trying to peel back the layers and see what needed to get addressed on a facility level. I was growing as well, but a lot of my focus was trying to get the facility up to par so that we could stabilize operations and output, things of that nature. The first year, that was a lot of the work and now we've hit some strides and things are moving in the right direction. We've done a lot of reworking and the building is far more stable. Building a team as well over the first year or two was also quite difficult in a new rec market, but the crew we currently have is crushing!
AROYA: Talk about building the airplane while flying!
Cory: Yeah and I'll be honest, my time in this industry has kind of been that.
AROYA: How did you get into cultivation and then evolve it into a career?
Cory: I'm from Virginia, born and raised, and I had an older brother and some older cousins that were the ones who got me into good weed. I'm 36 now and back when I was coming up there was mid-grade, beasters, and then every once in a while there would be headies, good weed, that would float around.
Cory: Yeah, B/C bud – beasters is what you would call it. It was pretty much just quickly flowered indoor weed that was quick-dried, sometimes it came smelling like a gym sock, and not in a good way. It was what was around when there wasn't any sort of legal framework. This was early-2000s, late-90s.
So I was fortunate enough to have some people that were ahead of me that showed me what good weed was. And I never really dove into the quality and the growing and the production of it until I lost one of my best friends, unfortunately, to leukemia. I was providing him with cannabis from my cousin and other outlets while he was in the hospital. To me it was like, man, I'm having to do this to supply somebody who's getting the best medical care in the world, but he can't get good clean weed because I'm having to buy it from the street. That kind of is what lit my passion to go on the path of where I'm at now: to try to make good clean weed accessible to everybody who needs it without feeling like they have to commit a crime in the process.
I went to school in Richmond, Virginia, and there was a lot of legacy varieties that I was able to get my hands on during that time. A few standouts were VB Ghani or Virginia Ghani, Four Way from DMV, Apollo 11, Cindy 99 or the Pineapple, Razzleberry, LA Confidental, Blockhead and few others that would float around.
AROYA: Giving us some insight into the Virginia cannabis scene!
Cory: There’s a lot of it! Super Skunk: what's known as Massachusetts Super Skunk is actually a Skunk pheno that was started in Virginia, passed through some guys in Staten Island, under the name “Diesel”, and then traded into the Chem Crew out in Western Mass in the early nineties. Maybe I'm biased because I'm from Virginia, but I think Virginia has some of the best weed in the country.
AROYA: What do you love most about growing?
Cory: There's never a dull moment. I feel it's a process you have to commit to because you're not building a motor in a day and seeing it run the next day. It's like it's a constant project, certainly with AROYA now that you get real-time feedback to be able to see what changes you've made and what they actually do in the garden relative to the outputs.
But I dunno, it's something that's kind of always been in my blood. I'm from a small town in Northern Virginia called Gainesville; the high school I went to, Brentsville District High School, was a very horticultural-driven school surrounded by dairy and sod farms. Growing’s always been a passion of mine and it's sprawled into my career.
AROYA: What’s your favorite cultivar to grow?
Cory: My favorite ever, if I had to pick a favorite, would be DJ Short’s Flo – the purple phenotype from Colorado back in 2010-12. There's a buddy of mine who allegedly got a cut of it that I haven't seen in years, but that one historically has been my favorite genetic to grow on top of the VB Ghani. Currently, I would say my favorite 2 genetics to grow are the Super Boof by 3rd Coast – it grows amazing – and the Albariño, which is genetic that we have in-house here at Harbor House. Don't get me wrong, there are some varieties that are challenging which can be fun. We have a Kosher Kush that is a squat-growing OG. It is probably my personal favorite smoke, but it's just a trickier plant: it's harder to root, it's much more finicky in regard to nutrition, it doesn't yield as much but the smoke is worth the challenge every time.
AROYA: What’s the cannabis scene like in Massachusetts?
Cory: I really like it, the culture is strong and the east coast has a deeper appreciation for good weed than the west coast in my opinion. I've spent some time in Colorado, California, Oklahoma, I did some work in Nashville. I think this is something happening across the country but everybody seems to buy weed off of TAC, or total active cannabinoids – basically potency. When people are always asking me, “What's the most potent?”, I'm like, how often do you walk into a liquor store and say, “Give me a bottle of Everclear”? You don't. To me it just kinda shows the ignorance of the consumer; and I mean that in the nicest way, they just don't know. They've been told, “Get the most potent so you can get the highest and then you'll have the best experience.” It's my personal experience that's not the case. When the consumer goes to a store and asks for the most potent weed, sometimes there's a bit of smoke and mirrors in regard to what they can enjoy from that. I have smoked many a weed that's 20% [THC] that gets me just as high, if not higher than the ones with say 40%. So in regard to the Massachusetts market, I think that's a big thing right now. It's new, so everyone's excited in the fact that they just get to buy weed; that there's a store that has weed, they don't have to go to some random person's house to buy a bag. So as new products and brands and even us, as we expand our marketing material and educational material to try to let the consumer know there's more than just potency to generate your experience, I think it’s going to get better. Luckily we've been growing weed that's pretty potent, a lot of our varieties are consistently about 30%.
AROYA: Tell us about your grow philosophy. What's keeping you motivated?
Cory: Just the hunt for new and better genetics. Like anybody who makes anything, you have an ideal scenario in your brain – for me, I have a few different scenarios in regard to what's quality, but it all starts with genetics. It's hard to make bad genetics good. You can grow it to their potential, but they only have a certain amount of potential. For me the most fun is being able to do breeding, run through seeds, try to find varieties that check all the boxes that meet my production models and my idea of what quality weed is, and then continue to work those lines. . When I first got in, I felt like any seed that I found out of any bag – because it was a seed I found and I started – the weed was going to be good. I was consistently let down, and it was through ignorance. A lot of the legacy varieties, such as any Diesel or Chem, they're all bagged seeds so I think it's always a grower's dream to find that one bag seed that then paves the way for years. But what I found is that it's very hard to do. When you have good varieties that you're able to work with and breed/hunt through the seed stock to be able to find that diamond in the rough, to me that's the most fun part.
AROYA: What strains put Harbor House Collective on the map?
Cory: The Albariño for sure. That's a cross of Lemon Tree and Grape Pie so it's definitely very citrus-forward with a little bit of rotten fruit. It's a good one. OVM (Orange Vanilla Milano), Kosher Kush, Motor Breath, Pawpawlado – those are all varieties that people are consistently wanting to see from us for sure. We have about 50 genetics right now and we’re cycling through some to thin the herd.
AROYA: Tell us about your facility.
Cory: We are located right near the Boston airport. We're vertically integrated; we do all cultivation and processing so we have a lab, a kitchen, retail, plus the grow all in one location. It's a building that's just under 40,000 square feet. Our canopy is around 15,000 square feet of cultivation space. But believe it or not, when I get into work, the first thing I look at is AROYA.
AROYA: How did you first hear about AROYA?
Cory: I was working with Zion Farms in Nashville, we were doing breeding for hemp, and that was when I met Ramsey. So Ramsey, Josh and I, and then our other friend Pat – this was right at the very beginning stages of AROYA becoming a platform – we just connected. Pat had a lot of canopy in Colorado, and he's the one who actually touched base with Ramsey, and then I connected with Ramsey while I was running the operation in Nashville. That was when they sent the first TEROS 12 to me that looks like an old calculator. They've come a long way.
A lot of growers (and I was guilty of this) we want to believe everything that we do – how we blow on the plants, our breath – it makes things different. I still believe there's intention that needs to be involved, the eye of the grower is very important. But what AROYA really humbled me at is knowing the data and seeing that maybe some of the things I was doing that I thought were beneficial were actually not. That was what I learned first from AROYA, just more or less the importance of being precise and consistent with your actions. Consistency is the most important thing. My first introduction to AROYA was when I was managing 15 acres of greenhouse for fem seed production. At that scale, we were not able to use sensors in every greenhouse, but we were doing daily monitoring and that was when I got into crop steering in a bit more effective way. I knew the philosophy just from reading books on controlled environment agriculture and the philosophy of crop steering and different ways you can prune and irrigate to get your generative or vegetative response, but I'd never had a tool outside of a scale that I could use to monitor my drybacks or have real-time feedback through a sensor. When AROYA came about, it really just made it so we could do a lot more precision steering and precision growing with less than 20-hour days. I don't like using the word easy because none of this was easy, but it definitely made it easier to get a bit more precise with our actions, see the cause and effect of it all.
AROYA: Did you bring AROYA to Harbor House?
Cory: Yeah, I brought it here, but the first place I used it after Nashville was in Oklahoma. We had 10 flowering rooms and that was where I had the ability to utilize the platform in its infancy and run it there. Then when I came to Harbor House, it was one of the first things that I put on my wishlist so we could really just get an optic into what's happening at a granular level from points that are very important to the plant's success, as well as the company's success.
AROYA: How’s AROYA working for Harbor House so far?
Cory: It's working great. It being such a new platform, there's a lot of teaching that is involved, and obviously AROYA is great with that in regard to having consultants that you can set up meetings with. If I have any new onboarding or anybody that needs a refresher, we’ll set a call up or I'll teach them what the capabilities are and how to track and log events. One of the biggest benefits is being able to log processes to try to replicate the growth cycles to be able to consistently produce the same quality product for the sake of the consumer. At the end of the day, they want to be able to come back and buy Motor Breath and have it be pretty much what they had the batch prior – that's where the data and the feedback through AROYA helps you get to that level. To have the same exact proper batch time and time again – for me as a grower that's an end goal.
AROYA: What kind of results are you seeing with AROYA, and how do they translate into your bottom line?
Cory: On the irrigation side, we can dial in the irrigation strategies to make sure we're not overusing or underusing water. On the production side of things, we use it to track events and build event calendars to be able to make high-level decisions for the production. Even on the backend for processing: if it takes twice as long to prune a genetic because of its growth structure, how it branches, or how leafy it gets, maybe that's not one we keep around unless the demand is such that people want it. Or if I love it enough, I’ll put in that extra work to keep it around. [AROYA] really helps mitigate big mistakes or system failures through the alarm settings and threshold settings. There's a lot of instances where, in regard to the bottom line, without AROYA we'd have much more catastrophic failures. We also try to run very lean, we're just under 400 lights and we have just seven cultivators – six plus me. And so we're able to do a lot with a little, because we're leaning on these sensors and automation to give us the feedback we need to help mitigate mistakes. But in the past, if you had lights fail or irrigation fail or mechanical failure, you wouldn't know until you showed up that next day A lot of damage can be done in a day and it takes days for the plant to recover. So in regard to bottom line [AROYA is] extremely valuable in my experience, it helps keep things on production. If you're not hitting your marks, if you're not hitting the goals of the production, it can be pretty catastrophic for any business. That's a big, important part of why AROYA is worth it. It's a feedback loop that keeps the wheels on the bus.
AROYA: Fantastic! What can we look forward to seeing from Harbor House in the near future?
Cory: A lot of new varieties from our first in-house breeding project: Albariño crossed with the Super Boof, Albariño and Motor Breath, Albariño into Gary Payton, Albariño into DayGlo, Albariño into Pure Michigan. So we'll be rolling out a lot of these new varieties over the next year. Focusing a lot on solventless products. My passion is good flower, melt, and quality rosin. A lot of what we're focusing on is bringing new varieties that are unique to us, bred in-house, and really focused on the quality.
I love Jason, he's been awesome. Even Josh or Ramsey, I know they're not totally a part of it, but they've helped me a lot. Being able to have a small network of growers that I trust that come from experience has helped me grow. Jason's a glorified therapist for a lot of cultivators. He's been there for me in times when I really need it, and I appreciate that. He's just a great dude.
The important part for me in cannabis is community and passion. Without passion, you're just selling a product that you don't really care about. Good weed will never go out of style.
AROYA: We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.
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