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 Aisha Gharay, Cultivation Manager at Tradecraft Farms in Los Angeles. While cannabis aligned perfectly with being a high school creative, Aisha’s career aspirations – which included playing strings in an orchestra – tapped into other passions. The Salinas native headed down to LA in pursuit of a biology degree and the chance to work with autistic children. Then she took a summer job that changed her life forever.
Aisha has quickly risen up the ranks, going from a temporary gig supporting Tradecraft’s distribution team to overseeing nearly 500 flowering lights, around 60 veg lights, and four flower rooms with 108 lights each – LEDs and double-stacks on deck – with a manager title and nails always on point.
Aisha spoke with us about her journey from aspiring violinist to biology student to Cultivation Manager poring over grow data (even on weekends!) in the most influential market in the world. Get to know Tradecraft through their website and Instagram, and check out Aisha’s canna-babies – and hella fly nails – by following her Instagram.
[This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]
AROYA: How did you get into cannabis cultivation?
Aisha: In high school I was very into the arts, very creative. I could play any string instrument but my focus was violin. I was already taking college classes when I was in high school and then I was like, I wanna be in the orchestra. Me and my sister both played violin together; she was actually my role model.
I thought my career was either gonna be psychiatrist or psychologist. I came down to LA from Salinas, studied biology in college. I was working with kids with autism while I was going to school - I love working with kids and people. The kid I was working with didn't have summer school, so I had to get a little summer job temporarily. One of my friends back then who worked for Tradecraft Farms told me, “They're hiring if you wanna do packaging.”
I started working for Tradecraft Farms on their distro side. Within my first month or two there was an opening. I started working in the grow and on my first day they're like, “Do you wanna learn how to clone?” So I started cloning right after cleaning and they're like, “Wow, you have a green thumb!” I didn't even know the cultivation side. I never even thought about it – back then it was just more about smoking. Once I started cloning and de-leafing, I was in love immediately. A position opened up at a smaller location, about 72 lights, and I was working there under a manager cleaning the rooms, harvesting by myself. I'm so glad that she was a little tough on me and wouldn't let me do certain things until I was perfect at it. Now I'm really fast at harvest and I love it, especially de-leafing. I became a manager a year into growing.
AROYA: What’s your grow philosophy?
I am a very involved Cultivation Manager. My heart is in the grow, I work 50-60 hours a week. It's important to stay overtime to make sure everything is in tune. Going above and beyond is necessary for success. If I could live at work, I would sleep better at night.
My background in biology helped me understand the cultivation side. The plants give us signs so it’s our responsibility as growers to meet their demands in order to flourish in the environments we provide. I'm always documenting; I have like 28,000 pictures and videos in my phone. I'm able to look back at my pictures and say, “Oh, it grew different in this room”. Then I'll be able to look at how I was feeding them, if it was higher or lower because I'm really trying to hit that correct EC. I can look back at runs and see improvements along the way.
Irrigation is the heart of this facility. Everything related to irrigation I’m in charge of and control. I’m so involved I have a second office in the wet room; I have a laptop and I'm looking at AROYA over there, but also making sure that the tanks are on point when it comes to EC, PH, any additives. I enjoy growing in rockwool in 4x4x2.5 inches and then flowering in the 36-inch slabs. I’m always trying to make improvements to the grow to make life easier and growing more efficiently. It's very important to make sure everything's dialed in when it comes to feeding your plants.
AROYA: Cannabis cultivation is a pretty male-dominated field. How has that been for you?
As a female in the industry, I don’t think anyone five years ago thought I would be a Cultivation Manager in charge of a two-tier 500-light LED facility. I worked my way up to the top by managing a small grow of Tradecraft’s and then working at this facility. When the time came, I took over management – my dedication to the plants, hard work, and consistency got me to this position. I have the year planned out for my harvest schedules and it feels like this facility runs like clockwork. I like the pleasantly surprised people who find out a female runs the show whether it be delivery drivers or employees at a hydro.
It's really interesting that people may not take you seriously at first because you're a female, but at the end of the day, they do have respect for you once they see you handling business and doing your job. At Tradecraft, we have a female Cultivation Manager - myself. The Trim Manager is female and the same thing with Distro, so that makes Tradecraft very unique. They definitely support women, and it's just such a pleasure working for them.
What I like about cultivation is the never ending learning. It’s gotten to a point where sometimes it's not about growing and I find myself wanting to learn more – such as HVAC, I’m planning on taking some classes to educate myself on that. I have a lot of ambition; I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty.
AROYA Funny you say that - how do you get the job done with those nails?
Aisha: I do have little gems on here that are 3D and it’s not fun if it gets caught when you're trellising, so it's definitely better to wear gloves. I like that question, when people are like, “How do you work with those, ew!” It's just who I am, my personality. Everyone kind of knows me for that, and my company encourages it. It's just definitely what makes me unique and it doesn't really get in the way – and if it does, I make it work.
AROYA: How many folks are on your team?
Aisha: I have five people: one person for veg, and then I have the other people for flower. I usually have a team doing trellising, two people, and then the other two people in the other room doing plant work. I feel like it's a small team but I'm really proud of everyone just getting it done. As a female, it's nice to be really organized – I'm a Virgo. I write the schedule pretty much every morning; I have team meetings every morning; everyone always knows what to do and they follow up with questions. So it's nice to have that respect, and it's nice to be able to teach new people. It's a never-ending learning process because we're growing different strains that may be new to us and we have to tailor it. It's nice having a strong, supportive team, and we're able to knock out lollipopping in a day, in a shift. De-leafing takes us a couple days, but we're faster now than when we had more people.
AROYA: How did you hear about AROYA?
Aisha: Mo [Korched from Whipple Effect] basically showed us the irrigation side. We had our ideas about what we didn't know about P1s and P2s until he actually showed us we need to focus more on EC as opposed to water content. It was something that I didn't really think about back then, but I knew a lot of people in the industry telling me about their AROYA. When I didn't have AROYA at my location I was jealous, numbers are so important and meaningful to me. Back then with Mo, we were running a lot of Apples & Bananas and that strain specifically would stretch a lot – they would go through the lights, a lot of weaving. So I'm very thankful for just learning crop steering.
Even on Saturdays when I don't work, I'm sitting at home looking at AROYA and TrolMaster – I think both are important. I really like AROYA for notifications, especially texts. I pretty much have everything set up so I get all the notifications. High humidity and high-temperature alerts are what definitely saved the crop here. In this facility, I find myself having issues with random things, like maybe a de-hu goes out, so AROYA sends me the notification, and I live 10 minutes away so I speed over here! For some reason in a power outage the lights will stay on – with your TrolMaster down, it will cook up a room. So getting that AROYA notification to being here in 10 minutes literally saved a room. When it comes to TrolMaster, I think it's nice to have two sensors in the room for a hundred-lighter. I personally have it in row three, row six, and have AROYA somewhere in between just as a backup.
AROYA: How does data from AROYA factor into your day-to-day?
Aisha: I’m very organized and it shows in the grow: plants have an even canopy in all the rooms, location of plants by strain are strategically placed and planned. Biscotti in a 2-tier LED facility doesn’t like a high light intensity or hot environment. In contrast, I’ve found that Super Boof doesn’t mind that at all. Dialing in each strain to produce good quality is top of my list. I’m finding the balance of quality and quantity.
Hitting 3 [pounds] a light in a HPS single tier setting is easier in my opinion than short LED double stacks. I’m currently relying on AROYA to guide me in that direction. With AROYA, we can control the stretch and that's critical to this location. I still keep a notebook with me and also upload to AROYA so I can look back. AROYA is the app I check daily and before I go to sleep. I set up minimum and maximum target ranges for water content, humidity, and temperature so that I can be informed when I’m not on the app.
I love to look at the data in my spare time. There's gonna be microclimates in the room, so I'm always looking back at information and anything that I log, like high temperature due to the AC going out. That's definitely helped me learn from it room by room. Also looking back at the journal section – I log everything just for the future – and understanding this strain works best in this room and in this section, I made sure that I put that strain exactly there. I make those notes in AROYA too.
When it comes to taking cuts I'm very specific. I'm logging into AROYA, putting pictures in there, and documenting the plant height; I'll also look at the inner node spacing. I'll look at these measurements while also recording that I lowered the light intensity to X amount, I'm using my par meter for the micromoles and recording everything I can for the next time so I can repeat that.
As I'm using AROYA and I'm really understanding everything, I'm hitting pretty much the same amount for revenue. We know exactly what we're gonna hit.
AROYA: What are the top-performing genetics over there at Tradecraft?
Aisha: We brought back Biscotti, that's timeless. Same thing with Gelato, we brought it back and we're also growing more Gelato 41 here. Lemon Cherry Gelato is very sensitive here, but I figured out how to grow it to its full potential. We're also testing newer strains here. I think in every single room it's important to have a tester table, to switch up the genetics from time to time. So every run, we basically test out new strains.
AROYA: What can we look forward to seeing from you and Tradecraft in 2023?
Aisha: They're working on an indoor location in Lancaster right now, so that’s in the works. With their Lancaster location there's like over 80 like hoop houses. Then there's another location coming out in Maine. And then obviously a little bit more growth from this location as well, so definitely expanding. And then bringing in some newer strains – I can't reveal what strains, but we're testing for a reason. Stay tuned for Reels and cannabis photography by Aisha! I have some creative ideas and concepts to showcase from my POV. I send pictures of my plants to my family as if these are babies….but they actually are my babies.
AROYA: It's been kind of a challenging couple of years for cannabis cultivators. Any words of wisdom to share with folks out there to keep 'em going?
Aisha: My advice for growers is to keep in touch with growers and technicians in the industry. I have many Instagram friends who I’ve never met, but we share how our facilities are doing and what strains we are growing. It’s nice to bond over our passion for growing and offer or even ask for advice. I’m not afraid to ask questions and gain more insight, especially from our AC technicians. I try to learn as much as I can! Also, being consistent in the grow, looking at strain performance, and being able to learn from runs are important to success. It’s just a matter of data collection that AROYA provides and is a staple for Tradecraft Farms.
Our conversation with cannabis cultivator Joshua Anderson, Co-founder & President of SKöRD
Our January AROYA grower of the month is actually a team of cultivators, Zach Schopp and Ryan Miller from Seed of Life Labs.
Our conversation with Jake Shockey, General Manager with Peninsula Gardens.