June 2022 Grower of the Month

This is a lifestyle choice. I'm doing this so maybe I'm not stuck in this regular time job.

Our AROYA® Grower of the Month series spotlights the stories of craft cultivators whose ingenuity and resourcefulness we find inspirational. 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.

We're here with the AROYA grower of the month: Jacob Ray with Injoy Cannabis. We are talking today about his journey in the recreational cannabis industry and kind of how he's gotten to where he is, which is fairly successful. He's grown fire over in Portland, and looks like we finally got some good weather here in the northwest.

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

AROYA: How are you doing today, Jacob?

Jacob Ray, Injoy Cannabis: I'm doing well. Thanks for having me.

AROYA: Absolutely. Thanks for being here, dude. Let's jump right in, man. It's beautiful in the northwest. We're all getting ready for summer. We're going to get to plant our gardens soon. Let's jump right into the nitty-gritty. You've been growing recreational cannabis for a few years now. How'd you get into it?

Jacob: Well, man, I found out my dad was growing medical when I was 18 in high school. Did the college thing for a few years, and when I graduated, it lined up right with recreational legalization in Oregon here. So I just partnered with my dad to grow Rec. He had a good partner, and we started out in 2018. It's been quite the journey.

AROYA: Awesome. So you've been there throughout some of Oregon's more rough years of rec production for sure and faced all the scaling issues. Scaling is pretty difficult, especially when you add on all that other business stuff. Looking for real estate. Like where the heck am I going to grow now there's zoning?

Jacob: I think we're looking at some ... Man, I have this beautiful piece of land squared away for indoor, space for outdoor, the whole deal. I'm glad we didn't go big. I think it was a good move to ride that wave out in the city. We're probably a 3,000 square foot greenhouse right now.

AROYA: Right. Keeping it manageable. Predicting hey, we kind of see we might not have super high prices for a long time, so let's hold off on that huge upscale until we get everything established and we're comfortable and we're making money.

Jacob: Yeah. I mean, since 2018, we've seen the price per pound double then crash. It's the wild west a little bit. Things are still figuring themselves out.

AROYA: Oh absolutely. I mean, it's just something you got to plan for, which I think you guys do well. And you hit that point where you're like, "Okay, I think we can plan to do better now. We survived the rough times. Now we can focus on just making everything nice, comfortable for ourselves, making our jobs day to day a lot better."

Jacob: That's a big part of why we hopped on the AROYA train. Even doing organics in soil, we were managing with me and a weekend guy for a few years. And now that we went through a few weekend guys and got to the point where we were looking at the cost of production and the ease and peace of mind that AROYA can give you as backup if nothing else. We kind of streamlined things and then I ran the operation by myself. Sometimes with a hand tied behind my back.

AROYA: Right. Yeah. But you still got to go fishing this morning, didn't you? I mean, that's huge.

Jacob: I mean, if I can get out of the city a few days a week, I don't mind putting in the hours.

AROYA: Oh yeah. And I think for a lot of us, part of the goal of getting into a small to medium size business and being able to run it yourself a little bit was like, "Okay, this is a lifestyle choice. I'm doing this so maybe I'm not stuck in this regular time job. And when the salmon are running, I can go fishing."

Jacob: Yeah, I was out on the boat checking my grass this morning. 6:00 AM, lights coming on, making sure everything's in ship-shape.

AROYA: Yeah. But it's helpful for you because you can now manage so much more without pulling your hair out, basically, or just losing it from stress. Which I think is huge.

Jacob: I've lost my fair share. I can tell you that much.

AROYA: Oh absolutely. And I mean, I know just from working together, it's been really helpful to help you mitigate certain things. I mean, how old is the building you're in?

Jacob: Yeah, for sure. There's mysterious dust coming down from 20 years ago, I'm sure.

AROYA: That's a huge reality of all this though for people. Between zoning, affordability, lack of financing on regular bank parts. You don't usually end up with a brand spanking new building that's spec built for growing anything in it. You're retrofitting this and retrofitting that and figuring out, "What equipment do I need to get in here?"

Jacob: And we're a family business. It's me and my dad. I didn't have investors. We put up some panda film and got our stuff tightly tied together. Made it work. And now, it's humming along. We've cut our cost of production in half, and we've doubled our yields. It's really all I can ask for.

AROYA: Yeah. And I think something you guys have been really good about doing though is, like I said, you didn't go too big. You scaled everything reasonably. And as we've worked together, every change you've made has been really incremental. And then a big part of it's been working with that facility. Like, "All right. What can we actually do in this room now that we can map it out and see what's going on?"

Jacob: Yeah. I mean, the first round, I had some brand new lights I got in right before we got all the AROYA gear. I was looking at it thinking, "You know what? I can push that bar. I can push the micromoles to 12. 11, 12, 13." And I found out quickly that my facility couldn't quite handle that. And I've dialed it back a few points, and man it's just ... It's beautiful.

AROYA: Yeah. I think one thing that's been really useful about that is right at the beginning, I was like, "Whoa, here's what we can do with these lights. But today if I have my credit card, how much am I willing to spend on HVAC equipment?" Sometimes it just takes that simple adjustment. Like, "Okay, we'll back off the light a little bit. We just can't quite keep up with this level of transportation."

Jacob: And sometimes your, we've talked about it plenty, sometimes your substrate doesn't allow you to do what you want to do. And you go to do what you can. But also the potential is there, right? I just got an order of slabs this week and in our tall rooms, we're going to be putting them into the slabs instead of just the six by sixes. I'm sure we will see that upper threshold with light and food kind of pop up.

AROYA: Oh yeah. Always push the max. And finding out ... Like a lot of people lately are finding out, for instance, if you don't want to go 65 overnight, if you have some strains that, "Well, yeah, they might not get as purple," but if you're not going to throw away 10%, 20% of them to mold. Just those little adjustments are worth it sometimes rather than figuring that on the backend and saying, "Well, we'll fix it next time." I've been in that situation a lot. Even if you're talking about substrate differences. When you're bulk ordering anything, especially coco, any time it's in demand, and we all know that at any point it could be hard to get ... You might forget to order one month and call in and they go, "Hey, buddy. Good luck." You know, sometimes you get a batch or you switch brands and then like, "Whoa, huge game changer.”

Jacob: Yeah. Totally. And that's the other thing about having you guys is it's a quick phone call to say, "Hey, what are my options here?" And you guys are working with people in the industry.

AROYA: For sure. And that is one thing I definitely value is being able to communicate with a lot of people in the industry and see what's out there. Especially when we're talking about our kind of specialization, media and irrigation strategy. So being able to gauge, "All right. Are you having success with this particular fertilizer mix or this media type?" For instance, we've talked about it, the six by six by sixes are very difficult to grow big plants in. It's a sweet solution to think that it will work perfectly, but it's not the perfect media for everyone. Even though sometimes it's really attractive on the price point side. Not because it's super cheap, but it's one less thing to buy compared to the slab.

Jacob: But yeah, I mean, you adapt. That's the name of the game.

AROYA: Oh absolutely. And honestly, the biggest thing is having the tools to know what's going on. If we talk about back in the coco days for me, I remember getting some batches or some boxes that even just had pots that were maybe half filled. But when you go to hydrate them, they don't have the right ratio of different chopped husks in it so some of it's got more pith. Some of it just is totally inconsistent with the rest. And if you don't have a tool to check it out, you can't even decide if that's worth using.

Jacob: First few years, I was grown under the tutelage of a master grower that I really trusted. We were trying something new. Even for him. So I learned how to grow with soil, Biobizz, and compost teas. And we were running that program. After some transition, I was running the show. It just became clear that I needed at least someone to ask some questions to and test out all the sensoring gear. Allowing me to kind of take some of the weight off my shoulders, so to speak, was a huge blessing. And yeah, it's paid off. We've been able to try things and dial in what we can for our facility. We're growing the best weed we've ever grown, so …

AROYA: Oh yeah. And it's not to say that using soil and organics makes ... You can grow great weed with that. None of us are going to deny that.

Jacob: Yeah. I think about some of those rounds often. They were terpy and gorgeous and great to smoke. But we were spending twice as much to grow it and working twice as hard.

AROYA: One little thing goes wrong, too. It adds scale. The organic production is beautiful, but there's always a point where it's going to cost more. And it's always going to be that way just because of the labor input. If you're a boutique grower and you can use that in your marketing and brand it that high and make it worth your time, that's a beautiful thing. But at scale, it's difficult when you've got to support all this overhead with the facility, potential employees.

Jacob: In Oregon where we have people growing outdoors who really know how to grow great, organic, sun grown. I love smoking that stuff. We're 3,000 square foot in northeast Portland, you know? That's not our game. I realized.

AROYA: Yeah, exactly. You just adapt and overcome. And that's all you can really do sometimes. You know, one of the important things is just having, like you keep saying, the tools to be able to do it. Once you've got that, it's not such a challenge when you realize, like one of the little things about organic gardening. Oftentimes I hear, "Salt fertilizer's bad. Salt fertilizer's bad." Well, you've got that.

Jacob: Your fertilizer.

AROYA: Yeah, exactly. You know? Poop still turns into salt in between when it's poop and it hits the root. Is organic beautiful? Yes. And I'll be honest. I grow all my own food at home in my garden. Not all of my food. I wish it was. But all of my garden is pretty organic. But that's because guess what? I don't have to pay for fertilizer if I'm using compost.

Jacob: Right.

AROYA: But it's not a market garden. It's just for me.

Jacob: Yeah.

AROYA: That's the difference sometimes. Like you said, even location dependent. If you could have the space and the ability. Like let's say in Oregon. I know in Washington it's the same thing. Growing outdoors is awesome, unless you can get some light depth though, you're going to just plan on losing a certain amount to mold every fall. It's just going to happen.

Jacob: Yeah. And if I had a soil pathologist on staff. Because at a certain point, it's what can you do right? We can do this right. But just myself, I want to go fishing.

AROYA: Yeah, exactly.

Jacob: Trying to minimize, maximize, not necessarily ... You have to be able to be in it for the long haul to some extent. There are a lot of growers that burn out. And fuck, I've been one of them.

AROYA: Totally. I mean, not getting to take a vacation for three months at a time, not even a weekend. That's pretty rough.

Jacob: Three years, you know?

AROYA: And that happens overnight, right? You're like, "Oh, after this run, we'll take a week off." Then yeah, a few years later, you're like, "Well, we haven't been able to do that." Especially when you get in the mode. You go from, say, having one room where that might sound feasible to like where you guys are now. You've got multiple rooms going. Everything's at some phase of the cycle. Everything needs attention every day. That's just the reality of running a facility. You're not going to ever not have that.

Jacob: Yeah. I'm harvesting every two or three weeks. And everything in between is happening. It's a lot. But with good people and a good mentality. I put my head down and grinded hard for a long time. And now, I'm learning to work a bit smarter and not carry so much dirt.

AROYA: Oh yeah. A huge part of it's, honestly, that ability to develop a plan and communicate it with other people. So you go, "Okay, I've built this out and then now I'm going to hop in the 21st century and stop writing on a chalkboard or white board and lay this out digitally."

Jacob: Yeah. And I'm training somebody right now. It makes it easy when you can say right here, this is what the plants are doing and this is what we want them to do. Every day make those adjustments and talk people through what we're looking for. It becomes pretty straightforward and streamlined if you can communicate that.

AROYA: Absolutely. And like I said, especially as you grow more and more strains, it lets you develop that plan and road map for each one. So you're not spending time flipping through binders like, "What did we do here, there, with this strain, that strain?" Like, "Nope. That's what we did. Cool. There's my recipe."

Jacob: Since we started with the AROYA, I turned my veg room into a bloomer. I've been ordering all new strains. I’ve never grown a certain strain before and come out, get two, two and a half pounds, per light and have a solid foundation to grow from. I'm already seeing improvements on our second round with some of those strains.

AROYA: Yeah, I've absolutely watched it just at your facility, dude, just because of that. You guys are always getting new stuff. And that's a reality. Two, three years ago, you probably didn't want to have to do that. But that's how it is. That's where the market's gone and that's where we all have to be able to adapt in the future. That's just the way it's going to be. I won't name names on it, but I've known a few farms over the years that had some real special strains. They just couldn't make it on those one or two strains, which tugs at my heart strings as a connoisseur, an enthusiast. I'm like, "Ah, well I guess I'm going to go see if I can get a cut from that guy now that they're out of business maybe." You know?

Jacob: Also market change. But also I mean, keeping genetics healthy. It's hard keeping healthy moms every round, vegging them right, making sure that ... because I've seen it with some of my own strains. And we've tried to clean them up with tissue paper, but that's the name of the game. Healthy genetics going in. You've got to have healthy clones to have the yields you want. Some people just keep throwing the same stuff out there because of what they've got in the past or because of how it turned out in the past. But sometimes you either have to clean it up or do some breeding. You have to clean it up a little bit, because genetics definitely get tiring if you don't do it right.

AROYA: Oh yeah. I mean, we can ... We're talking about a plant that evolved to live for six months or so, nine months maybe. And we're keeping that mom alive for three to six months at a time, easy, before going to a cut. Just normal disease accumulation is a thing. There's quite a few people that don't realize they have it until it hits a horrible point in the facility where it's like, "Whoa, over the last six months, our yields have just bottomed out and everything's runt-y." That’s why it's important to realize that limitation. Like for you, "Okay, do I look at bloom space?" Or, "Yeah, I might pay a little more. Maybe. Because if I'm sourcing healthy genetics, I'm not wasting my own time, efforts, and money trying to do this huge project on my own that is for sure a whole profession all on its own." Almost every big facility I've been to has a specific person that takes care of their moms and/or their veg room. And sometimes it's the same person. Sometimes it's someone else. But there's one to two people dedicated to just clones. Like, "Hey, this is your main responsibility." And at certain sites, that's not feasible.

Jacob: Right. Especially when you're doing the growing, the sales, managing the trim room and the cure. And, I mean, yeah, we've already seen the benefits of adding that fourth bloomer. Just we're streamlined, you know? "With this stream, oh man, it's taken three, five days to clone when I was running it next to the other one that I'm going to run it with.” And you run into those issues where three days turns into a week turns into two weeks, and all of a sudden you're missing out on a round and projections. And to be able to harvest, clean out, and then transplant in because I know I'm getting my health clones delivered and they're ready to go. That makes all the difference in the world. It can essentially be your profits for the year.

AROYA: Oh yeah. Yeah. A day loss production time is more than a percent of the time you need for production. It costs a fair bit of money. When every square foot doesn't have a plant in it. And even if the lights are off, that's still a square foot of rent you're paying for, or a mortgage, or business loan, whatever. It all costs money. So any down production time is wasted time. Wasted money. For sure.

Jacob: Yeah. Yeah, it's important to dial in those milestones and really get them streamlined. Your day seven, day 14, day 21, day 42 goals and hit them.

AROYA: Yep. And that's one thing I've noticed about your farm and a few others, especially in Oregon. With the state of the way the licensing happened, it was just kind of the wild west for a while, right? The competition was just crazy. Like you said, you'd seen it. The price had doubled, halved, gone lower than that. It's been all over. So being able to adapt and then basically everything you're saying. Make those choices that were instinctively a few years ago hard to make but now you're looking at it going, "Okay, I have the data to say this is what I can do with that room."

Jacob: Yeah. Right.

AROYA: "This is now a clear choice. Now the infrastructure's built out, I can make some more of those normal business choices that weren't available a few years ago." And then one thing that I see is great value for you when you're being able to run all these new strains, any breeder or nursery that you get them from, you can go back and actually give them quantifiable data.

Jacob: Totally. And I mean, just building relationships. That's one of the benefits of getting clones from a nursery. Fuck, if I have some ... If potentially I had some catastrophic failure, I'm on good terms with my nursery and I can say, "Hey, man. I need clones this week. What did you get?" Hopefully they'll back you up. Seed swapping is an age old thing.

AROYA: Oh yeah.

Jacob: We take care of each other and want to make sure we're all eating.

AROYA: Well, that's not just in cannabis. That's part of cannabis coming right into the normal fold of things. If you're an apple grower and you're getting a bunch of signs to go out in your orchard, some of them were mislabeled or diseased, that's what you're doing. You're going back to that person who over the years you develop a partnership with. When you're more at the top of your game like where you guys are at, that relationship is really valuable to them. Because when they give something to you, they know that if you couldn't grow it, you're going to tell them why. Like if we look at certain strands on the west coast right now, GMO isn't as big anymore but has been working with a lot of guys back east that love GMO. Well, you cannot run GMO with a lot ... I'm not going to blanket say any particular fertilizer regimen, but it's sensitive to nitrogen. So if you have a particular mix that you've been running, and let's say it's something that's really easy to run all the way through, suddenly you might have problems with this plant. If you don't have the right kind of sensing equipment and then the right experience, it's going to be really hard for you to tell what's going on.

Jacob: Yeah.

AROYA: They might have given you something that really does have a lot of potential, but you missed this one factor. You're like, "What the heck is going on?" You know?

Jacob: Yeah. I'm glad I feel less and less like I'm doing it on my own. But, you know, it's ... Yeah. All power to them. It's a lot of work. If you got your moms and you're getting a few points added on your price per pound for your boutique strains, then awesome.

AROYA: Well, we're even getting there, honestly, with ... I mean, you guys are just, you're at that crossover point where you're like, "Well, do we add that or do we not? It's worth the money." Eventually maybe that changes. That's totally possible. As the business grows, as more people get involved, it's totally possible.

Jacob: I don't doubt that it will.

AROYA: But even for that, we're using substrate sensors for our moms so we can start to steer those now. Keep those a little squatier. Try to get uniform clone production. And then, you know, the ultimate goal, right, for rockwool cloning, running domeless. Well, now you can at least use a censor to figure out if that's possible in your setup or make it possible. We're right at the brink of a lot of things coming online in cannabis, and I think it's super exciting.

Jacob: Yeah. In terms of the science and the culture, cannabis is kind of in its infancy. It was underground for so long and now we're creating it.

AROYA: Yeah.

Jacob: And it's cool to see you guys being a part of that and making it accessible and less of a headache. If every single person had to learn how to do what they're going to do with their life from scratch on their own without learning anything else, we would be in the dark ages. We need to learn from each other.

AROYA: Yep. And that's what's beautiful about it. Even five, six years ago, the possibility of making a graph out of this data and then saving it. First of all, enter it all into your computer, save it, and then put it out on the internet. I was like, "Whoa. No. That's a terrible idea." And now, the people who are really taking off in this industry, that's what they're doing. They're just embracing, I don't want to say normal business practices, but best business practices. That's what it comes down to. And then, you know, appreciating it. When you look at that graph, you know what you need to do now. We might talk about some strategies to get there. But for the most part, unless something breaks there. And that's the other thing, too. Now you know, too, for sure when something does break. And that's huge, too, just that peace of mind. When you wake up in the middle of the night and you're like, "Oh shit. Did I turn that off? Did I turn the light timer back on? Okay. We're good," or, "going to work."

Jacob: Yeah. I had one of those in the boat today like, "I did empty out those clone trays, right?"

AROYA: Yep. All the time.

Jacob: Yeah. And who knows where it's all going. I was reading an article, Thailand just legalized. Every citizen can grow as much as they want for personal use. That just opened it up. Once the whole world has it ... because what you guys are offering has been available for commercial horticulture for a while now to some extent.

AROYA: Exactly. But you know what's cool is cannabis is taking it to the next level. And that's what I did before I ever got into recreational cannabis four or five years ago. It used to be spreadsheets, dude, you know?

Jacob: I was going to say a lot of people with old Excel sheets thinking they got it down.

AROYA: It used to all be that. And now we're in the 21st century, man. It doesn't have to be someone's full time job to compile this data and attempt to interpret it. We can just look at it and make real time decisions. And it cuts down the learning curve so much. Instead of learning something every round, you're learning it every day. Like when you adjust your irrigation strategy, look at the graph and go, "Okay, what did I achieve to increase in water content? What did that do to my AC?" Then even if you're not going to sit down and do math about it every day, you at least get intuitive. This type of technology can still work with the old green thumb. And I actually just came from northern California visiting some family, and we're talking to them about just water usage in their regular raised beds. Some of them do a little bit of medical growing for themselves, but they also are big gardeners. I was like, "Hey, water restriction. What can we do to figure out how to keep our garden alive and now get penalized for extra water usage?" It's like okay, well we can start to put numbers on it now. You can still use your intuition and say, "Oh, I think the plant's looking bad." But what is that number now and how far can it go? Then next level, what kind of automation can we put on there just for those little safeties?

Jacob: Automation and building your substrate. I have family up in northern Michigan, and they just are starting to work on their 70 by 30 greenhouse. My uncle went in there, dug four feet down and buried a bunch of logs. Yeah. All about water retention, minimize and maximize.

AROYA: Imagine how quick his learning curve would be on that, though, if you gave him a T12 and shoved it down in that log. Let's see how that does throughout the year, you know? Next year you might have a bigger log in there. Certain places, that would definitely be the thing.

Jacob: Right. Exciting stuff.

AROYA: Well, it's been good, Jacob. I probably better get going. It's been great chatting with you, bud.

Jacob: Yeah. You, too. Always good.

AROYA: Yep. We'll talk to each other again soon. Take it easy, man.


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