October 2023 Grower of the Month

The thing I love most about AROYA is no matter what's going on, it's got your back.

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 Roger Henrichs, Director of Cultivation with AMAZE Cannabis in Missouri. Though Roger has been with the brand since its 2021 inception, love for the plant took root when he was just a teen – leading him to try one indoor grow after another to mostly disastrous results. But Roger kept nurturing his skills, cultivating in Mexico and markets across the country before ultimately landing in Missouri.


These days, Roger and his lean cultivation team are overseeing 16,000 square feet of canopy in a new market that’s already breaking records. We sat down with Roger to hear his origin story, learn how the AMAZE team uses crop steering techniques with living soil, and get the scoop on how their cultivation benefits from greater data transparency through AROYA.


Keep tabs on AMAZE Cannabis by checking out their website and following their Instagram.


This article has been edited for length and clarity.


AROYA: How long have you been with AMAZE?


Roger Henrichs, Director of Cultivation, AMAZE Cannabis: Since before it started. We were getting things set up before we had a name when the building was still being constructed from conceptualization with our CEO Jay Patel. We got the building set up and then we gave it the name AMAZE a few months later before we started operating.


AROYA: Let's go back in time: how long have you been cultivating? 


Roger: I've been very, very obsessed with cannabis since I was a teenager like a lot of us – since I was about 15, smoking at 16. I tried growing some plants in high school and killed them if that counts. Put them in a little wooden toy chest that I had growing up, I put foil all along the inside and put a light in my closet and I almost burnt my house down. They didn't get ventilation, so they just popped seedlings and died. That doesn't count, but that was the first. And then I went out to California, Lake Tahoe, my buddy was leaving to go back to Venezuela so he left me with a couple of plants, and I didn't know what to do with those either so I killed those as well. I didn't understand ventilation, so I put them under some really bright lights in a closet again and cooked them up.


I continued traveling to different places and ended up in Mexico. I was hanging out there and I met one of my better friends, from British Columbia. We smoked and bonded pretty heavily; he invited me up there to go check out their grow and trim, and I didn't really believe half the stuff he was saying. Eventually, I'm like, okay, I'm gonna go up there and check out what's going on, and worst case scenario I’ll pick fruit or do something else. I showed up and it was amazing. They had really big zones out in the forest and hundreds of plants and we had all summer to catch up on growing techniques and pruning and all that stuff. I end up trimming with those guys and really absorbing a lot of the techniques and culture. They were all organic outdoor living soil growers, their parents had taught them. 


I went back down to Mexico and I would just produce my own from there on out in the backyard – kind of a unique start, getting my hands dirty from scratching that way. I didn't really have a whole lot of support with the Internet or any of that; I'm picking out the males, picking out the herms, and learning how to do all that the hard way. I was down in Mexico until about 2012-2013. In 2014 I got a job with Revolution in Illinois. They’re a pretty big company, they were one of 11 or 12 people who got their licenses in 2015 in the Illinois pilot program. So I was their first hire, their first grower; I brought their plants in, I set up all their lights, and got a nice start in the commercial market back in Illinois. That was a major blessing. I had a lot of autonomy, and a big brand-new building to learn in, I got to learn quite a bit about numbers and scalability and running a crew, as well as starting to do some breeding work.


I was with them for almost seven years, then dipped out and linked up with Jay. He and his family did all the capital, they did all the work, Jay designed the building, he's a mechanical engineer, and he was very involved with the construction. I found that very refreshing so I didn't hesitate to join up with him and the AMAZE crew. When I came over here, my experience back in Illinois really came in handy because we were able to avoid a lot of the pitfalls that are common, streamline a few other things, and make some really good last-minute choices to the construction that helped out a lot, and then starting with a really strong culture of biosecurity and a few of the hard lessons I had learned in the last place. I've been here a couple years and the easy part’s already done. Now Jay's about to stretch the last five or ten percent, and AROYA’s been really helpful with that.


AROYA: What was it about growing that spoke to you?


Roger: I'm not ashamed to say it, I've always been obsessed with cannabis. It’s always been my favorite thing since I was 15 years old, back when it was super inconvenient to be your favorite thing; you lost friends and family and job opportunities and girlfriends because of it. [Cannabis is] my ally, it always had my back. It really helped my chain of thought and I always felt like it gave me balance. It was a natural progression to produce it, you can't just always rely on other people for it. You also go broke doing that! It was a natural thing, my curiosity led to the next step. You can't just buy a bag; you have to dig in a little bit and start scratching away and seeing what it's all about. Cultivation is a big world, it's simple but profound at the same time, and you can do it so many ways.


AROYA: What an experience to have grown outdoors in Mexico!


Roger: And that was a cool start because like I said, you can get simple or profound. I started simple, I would just put [the plants] in pots in my backyard and figure out, oh, this light’s interfering with that, or that's a male pollen sack, or the importance of which seeds you pick and all these basic lessons. I was really lucky to get those without being distracted with the [online] forums. If you start with that stuff it'll kind of – not contaminate, but it'll influence your path. I was lucky to start from the basics with my nose on the ground and that contributed to a lot of my perspective with growing cannabis. I didn't have internet, you’d go to the internet cafe to get on for an hour for a dollar and it was super slow. So I just figured it out and a lot of it was the hard way. The more you pay attention the luckier you’d get, then when you could overcome certain obstacles, you’d have a couple of ounces of good flower which was always a bonus!  


There's a lot of really cool lessons built into [cultivating], mostly they have to do with patience. What we want today and right now doesn't matter, there's nothing you do about it, you just have to wait quietly. A lot of chain links are all attached that'll get you to the final part of it, but if any of those links is affected, you feel it. So it teaches you patience, it teaches you how everything is so interconnected from the beginning. The more you dig in the more profound it can get, the more you want to take it to the next level. Or you can be happy putting a couple plants in your backyard and smoking it – it's however much you want to take out of it. But if you like the smells of the plants you get free aromatherapy all day long. They're breathing in your face and then they're sucking up our CO2. They love us, we love them. And if you go in with a bad mood and you prune a couple of tables, you're no longer in a bad mood. You've grounded everything, everything's gone away. It’s like free therapy when they're alive, not to mention the medicine that comes from them.


AROYA: Tell us about Missouri’s cannabis culture. What’s going on out there?


Roger: It's a super cool state to be a part of, but competition’s number one. It's called the Show Me State, which is very appropriate: you talk all you want, you can come in with all these grand plans, and what matters is what you put on the table, what you have on the shelf. I really like the competition in Missouri, I think it’s really driven a lot of innovation. It’s not a huge population for as many cultivation centers there are, so we have to win our consumers over. You have to do that with quality with price, and if you don't then it's not happening. They were a later state to come into the market, so I think they're paying attention to other states and there's a little bit of expectation, I think, for a lot of these cultivators. I think that's great because you see states with limited competition or limited amounts of companies, and that's really a bad situation for the patients – they get overpriced medicine and they don't really have a whole lot of say, and that's really unfortunate. So Missouri in my opinion is a really good balance between a state like Oklahoma and a state like Illinois: you do have options.

They love Blueberry Muffin here in Missouri. They love Star Wars strains, like Skywalker. Some of the GMO crosses have been doing really well here, but people will try to err on the side of careful spending I think. We've surprised them with some stuff that they didn't know about that they really liked, and so I think if you have a good product at a good price and give it a little bit of time, it'll pick up some steam.


AROYA: Tell us your philosophies on growing.


Roger: Number one: biosecurity. Keep the facility clean; keep your workers, your growers, and everybody near the plants respectful and mindful about the potential of bringing in pests or pathogens that might affect our operations. If we can prevent all these bad things from happening, that'll really help us stay on our toes. So biosecurity is number one, which is inconvenient for a lot of the growers. We don't go outside and smoke cigarettes, we stay in so we don't bring any bugs, pollen, mold spores, viruses, or anything like that. 


Two, we try very closely to respect the plant's metabolism in all parts of cultivation from beginning to end. And that means we understand all the interlocking aspects of the plant’s metabolism, how they’re all related to each other, and how that affects our actions. So understanding the plant’s metabolism and reacting in certain ways - AROYA has definitely come in handy with that. 


And then three: we like to stay very close to our biological soil. We like to keep a lot of the benefits of nature involved with our plants. We stay away from inert media because it's a living plant; I trust nature, and I trust the balance and the protection that comes with it. The plant’s rhizosphere, once you go inert and sterile you're really playing with fire because all it takes is one little hiccup and [pests and pathogens] have an all-you-can-eat buffet with no guardians. So we use nature not only to create tastier medicine, but also to protect our plants from a lot of the bad stuff that can take off in a commercial facility exponentially. We inoculate them with fungus, bacteria, and microbes and then we pay really close attention, we feed all of those nonstop and re-inoculate because we're always competing with our nutrients. We're always trying to get the best of both worlds, where we can do a commercial facility with high-metabolism plants by feeding them everything they need, and then we're keeping the biome intact. 


All parts of the chain of life that happen in the soil are beneficial to the plants at one point or another. And even if it's not while they're alive, when they die they become an available source of nitrate. If you have a population of things in your soil, the plant will definitely reap the benefits and you're very likely, if you're inoculating with good stuff, to be able to more likely avoid the bad stuff. So that's a lot of our culture,


AROYA: What are some of the challenges of crop steering in living soil?


Roger: Most people use Rockwool and coco, which is great for crop steering – all you're dealing with is moisture and drydowns. Soil slows down our drydowns quite a bit. It lowers our saturation capacity quite a bit, which is a challenge but it's not something we can't overcome. We've still been able to achieve drydowns, we've still been able to closely monitor our EC in the soil, and we just look at it in that context with a different perspective. We’re taking a lot of that information available for Rockwooll and coco and putting into the context of soil, and even that’s been super beneficial to increase our quality. 


We don't take the rules of crop steering as dogmatically because we're not in Rockwool or coco. Our trends right now look lower because our water saturation is a little bit lower. Some of the drydowns look a little bit less, but I'm putting that in the context of the soil, so these trends work for us. It just narrows our context a bit to where we don't freak out if it doesn't look exactly like a Rockwool or a coco drydown. It's given us our own context to look at it within, and that's still been extremely beneficial.


The thing I love most about AROYA is no matter what's going on, it's got your back. You can always pull up your charts and make sure things are okay. Before I had it, it was closing your eyes and watering like, “I think they got enough!”. But now you with AROYA you're like, “Yep, they got enough.” It gives you this second sense, it gives you another [set of] eyes and ears onto things that we used to be blind to. Ninety percent of my time I grew like that. Now I’m used to AROYA. 


AROYA: Tell us about your facility. What’s your setup like?


Roger: Right now we're at about 18,000 square feet - 16,000 of that's going to canopy and then we're building a double expansion currently. They just started, so we'll be at 30 [thousand square feet of] canopy in probably about a year or less. We're attempting to do tissue culture to give us some protection from hop latent viroid risk, and possibly preserve some of our genetics for longer-term storage. But also to regenerate a lot of our genetics that have been passed around for quite a bit just to make sure they don't have any underlying health issues and kind of give them a refresh, and we've been able to do that on a couple of our plants so far.


We're known for some of our proprietary strains like AMAZE Orange, Cookie Dos, Florida Purple. People love Triple Burger, we didn't breed that. We crossed Blueberry Muffin into quite a few of our favorites and we're hunting some of those right now, so we should have some Blueberry Muffin crosses on the horizon if it goes well - I don’t want to jinx them!


AROYA: No, of course! So going back to your day-to-day – you've been with the company since the beginning. How did y'all hear about AROYA? Was it in place before you were brought on?


Roger: It was brought in around halfway through our first production here. We've been harvesting for a little over one year now, so we've only had about a year's worth of harvests. The first half of that was without AROYA and the second half was with AROYA, and it's really helped us dial in the facility a lot. It's really caught a lot of problems for us in real-time that if we had found out the next morning would have been very detrimental. AROYA has already paid for itself several times.


I pull up the dashboard and I'll scan through it on my phone and on my computer as a safeguard at work between processes. When I've got a lot on my plate and I still want to make sure the grow’s good, I'll just glance at the dashboard and I know water’s fine, EC’s fine for now, there's no alarms, VPD’s in check, everything's good. 


AROYA: How big is your team?


Roger: Our cultivation is pretty lean right now. We have six other growers, and then we have a harvest team that's pretty sizable – we're merging those to get some of the harvesters a little more involved with the grow and get a few more growers on our team as well. But we normally would be around 10 [growers], right now we have about five or six and a couple of them have specialized tasks. We are looking to beef up our numbers and that's a little bit more of a challenge than the plants. Good people who are passionate, really care and are able to stay in the garden for eight hours and crush – that's a pretty unique skillset. It’s nice when that passion translates over from, “I love cannabis” to “I love being with cannabis for eight hours, sweating”. It's a lot of work.


AROYA: What other results have you seen from AROYA?


Roger: Our quality is going up. Our yields have definitely gone up since we've been pushing a little bit more generative crop steering. We're gonna start using the task management feature in AROYA, get some of our growers really involved with giving and receiving tasks, marking them off as checked to keep track. We're gonna try to use that as an exercise to scale up and double our facility, so I think the AROYA task feature is gonna be super huge in our day-to-day operations and keeping everybody cohesive, cooperative, and synchronized. And then eventually hopefully in more buildings and more states.


AROYA: Yeah, let's talk about the future. What‘s next for AMAZE, what can we look forward to? 


Roger: I'd really like to cement our position in Missouri as one of the top companies, and I want the patients to say that, not us – I want to hear it from the people. Once we've done that, then we know we can prove ourselves in other states and I'm looking forward to that a lot. But my heart's here in Missouri for now, I think we've got a long journey to win people's hearts over here. We want to produce the best cannabis possible, and we've got some pretty special tools on our side like AROYA and our CEO Jay Patel. He's a super special dude, he's very involved with this stuff. He's kind of like AROYA, he can crunch numbers and produce the results really fast and he's very, very data-driven. All of his decisions come from data, so he really likes AROYA and the ability to use some of that information to make our decisions. 


I'm gonna stick close to Jay for a long time. He's a very special person. I really appreciate that he's humble, down to earth, he's very, very hard-working, genius. I'd like to keep pushing some really powerful genetics and then provide genetics to other companies as well throughout the nation. I'd like to make AMAZE a leader in the Midwest and hopefully in some other states, help out with our scalability. Start a genetics division where we could start supplying genetics to people in seed and cutting forms, curate menus for people, and just help out wherever I'm needed. 


AROYA: Our industry has been through a lot in the last few years. What advice do you have for folks?


Roger: So it's like a law of the universe, it's not even my opinion, that you get out what you put in. There's no shortcut. The only thing you can do is show up every single day on time ready to rock, and get your 10,000 hours in. Find your happiness in the day-to-day work. Keep your mind aware of the final destination for a lot of your work, because across the board people reach for medicine for a reason – recreationally or medically, they're getting the same exact benefit: they're trying to feel better. That's a tremendous, noble responsibility that we have and it's not very easy. If it were easy everybody would be doing it. The difficulty is the filter, and if you can clear that then your results will show for it. So just respect the hard work, embrace it. It's gonna make you stronger, it’s going to make you a better grower, it's gonna make a better product. Be wary of shortcuts that compromise quality, because compromising quality and complacency are super close to each other. Hard work, luck, and opportunity are generated with good intentions and massive toil. There's really not a whole lot of other ways to get there.


AROYA: What a great conversation, so great to speak with you Roger!