Every month, we like to highlight cultivators who are really getting it done in a big way. This month we’ve got Anna Wiley, CEO of the four-time award-winning indoor farm California Artisanal Medicine, or CAM, in Sacramento.
In addition to the accolades, she’s been experiencing massive growth lately, and has plans to expand to a new 2,000-light facility in the coming year.
She’s been in the industry for decades and has honed and harnessed that knowledge to create some of the best, tastiest strains around.
They also operate a delivery service that brings the product grown in-house to the greater Sacramento area. You can check them out on IG right here.
Without further ado, here's our Q&A.
[This interview has been lightly condensed and edited for length and clarity.]
AROYA: Hey y'all. Hope that y'all are doing good. Today we are going to be talking with Anna Wiley at CAM about her experience with AROYA and her experience within the cannabis industry. I'm interested to hear how things have changed since last year this time, and how things have changed with the implementation of AROYA.
We’re going to take this time too, to plug our new AROYA 2.0, which is available in California currently, but it's our first spot that we'll be rolling out and it's going to be a great test run for rolling out the rest of the states.
So what that's going to include is more METRC integration, which is going to be great. They're going to be able to weigh and keep track of all of your harvests right there in the app, and then just push that all over to METRC. So no more double data entry, which will be fabulous.
She's been using it for quite a few months now. So we'll hear about her story as well, which will be great. Hey Anna, how are you doing?
Anna Wiley, CEO of California Artisanal Medicine (CAM): I'm good.
AROYA: We'd love to hear about your experience, Anna, and you're in the bay area. Is that right?
ANNA: I'm in Sacramento.
AROYA: Right, of course. So, we'd love to hear how it's been different since the pandemic since this time last year, and then how it's shifted since using AROYA in your facility.
ANNA: Okay. So I've been growing since the early 2000's and started off in Colorado, built up a 900-light facility at two retail locations and then exited out of Colorado and made my way to California in 2018. We operate out of a 500-light facility here.
My first couple months of growing in California were challenging to say the least. It's a completely different environment out here. It's really, really dry in Colorado. I mean, really dry. So the use of dehumidification and humidification and environmental controls, I didn't quite have that down as much as I thought.
I'm a general contractor, so we built the place relatively pretty fast … within six months. The first couple of months I was growing in Hydroton. Extremely old school. I think I've grown in every medium. Hydroton didn't really have much of a control option, and we were always kind of teetering on having issues with heavy metals.
Then we moved to Coco, which was a little more consistent. But for the most part, I still had rooms that did well, and then rooms that didn't do well. I have the most amazing team and we have process and we have great people, but we just couldn't really figure out why there were rooms that, you get certain yields and the rooms would look great, and of course, we'd have air conditioning issues, and all the things that come with growing in a commercial space. But we just couldn't figure out why certain rooms were doing better than others.
That’s when I was introduced to AROYA, and it's been life changing. It's been so amazing for our team to take all of the guessing out of growing cannabis. We're able to feed the streams that we have. We're able to time our dry-backs.
The installation is incredibly easy. I can't say enough wonderful things about AROYA’s staff: Josh, Ramsey, Reid. They take a lot of time to walk you through the process and make sure that you're going to be successful.
I wouldn't say it's the cheapest implementation, but it's definitely not the most expensive, and you're going to recoup your buy within literally one harvest. But then once we moved on to four-inch cubes on slabs ... that transition was a little bit harder, but we had a really good team, and we had a lot of people to advise us along the way.
AROYA: What did you find that was the cause of the inconsistency? Did you find out what that was?
ANNA: Yes. We found in our rooms that, even though we had a consistent environment, we were overfeeding. We were constantly overfeeding or we couldn't time our dry-backs. We didn't know. And I continue to this day to grow anywhere from five to seven strains in a room. Which is a lot, but you know, I don't want to look at the same stuff every day and I'm pretty sure neither do the folks that buy our product. So to keep cycling through each strain and make our process strain-dependent has been such a change for us.
AROYA: I think one of the cool features that we have is being able to track the different strains and different cultivars: what you're doing to them, the recipes, or the dry-back changes, and everything based on the strain so that you can feed it the exact same the next time and treat it the exact same the next time. Have you found that to be helpful in analyzing?
ANNA: Yeah. You create a harvest group, and then you have your recipe. And we have a slab, we call it “slab recipe,” and apply that every time. And so the best thing about the software is that you can make notes right? Now, you don't have to call fifteen people and tell them, "Hey, I gave the zone two extra feeds.”
That’s a lot of communication. It's kind of like slack that all rolled up into one for the cultivation staff. You can put IPM in there. You can. And we have everyone in our cultivation team on AROYA. So it's been a cool learning process for everyone.
You can assign tasks, and that way you can assign tasks throughout the entire growth cycle in a room. So you're going to know when to do the cleanups. You're going to know when we're changing from a vegetative feed to a generative feed or back to a vegetative feed.
Doing all of those things and being able to communicate is especially great because we're currently in the process of building a 2,000-light facility, which is exciting, I'm just hoping it's not going to become the house of mids.
AROYA: That's awesome. And have you seen 2.0 yet?
ANNA: I have. We're excited to try that out and get it integrated. I mean, this is great for anyone that's on that has dealt with METRC and API's, which are challenging to say the least. So we constantly do that on a distribution level too, but it'll be really nice to kind of have everything on one platform.
AROYA: Awesome. Yeah, we're super psyched to have that released. And I know it's been a pain point for so many different facilities to be tracking the data on a spreadsheet that they could have in AROYA.
ANNA: Definitely on a spreadsheet.
AROYA: Yeah. And then have to input it then again into METRC. And it's like you're tripling your workload. This hopefully will really streamline the whole process so you can do it all in one step. Anything that you put into AROYA is going to pour over to METRC, so that you don't have to do the same job three different times. Or four if you write it in a notebook and then put it in a spreadsheet and then put it in all these different places.
ANNA: We find ways to make things easier for the staff and not as competitive. You can consistently come back after, because you know once you harvest a room, there's going to be 11 days of drying, and then depending on how fast, and we have artists here of how fast your trim team is going to get through 150 pounds. You're looking at a 20 day lag of getting to your final weights. Right? It's really nice to be able to go back and say, "oh, what happened in this room?” And then, “this is what happened in that room."
AROYA: Yeah, being able to see that historic data.
ANNA: It also helps in just prepping new leads, new cultivation team members ... "Hey, you've learned how to replant. You're ready to take to the next step and learn about feeding,"
AROYA: Yeah, for sure. I always like to say that, all of these people that we're talking to, you guys have been in the cannabis industry in some sort of form for decades. Y'all know how to grow good cannabis. But when you're trying to scale, you can't go and stick your finger and every single pot and say, "this one's good, this one's not good," and teach that to a bunch of people that haven't been in the industry, that don't have those decades of experience.
ANNA: Even for folks that are dead-set on hand watering and things like that, I've said the same thing to them. I'm like, "I know you know. I know you really know. Absolutely. If you look at your end product, it's amazing. Now, can you make that scale at 50x?" That's a whole different ball game.
AROYA: Yeah, so really being able to put an exact number to that same feeling, stick your finger in and say, "that's it, look at what that data is." And then you can apply it to thousands of plants at five different facilities. You can look on your phone and say, "everything is on track. No problem." Or you can say, "oh, this bench is not looking good in this facility. Four states away, let me go and assign a task real quick."
ANNA: I'm like your biggest advocate here, like a walking commercial. But the main thing I tell folks is they start small, right? Like, if you can only afford one cent a table, or two strains in a room and go that route. So there's a million ways to do it to make it work for your facility, but I just can't stress enough, just by having the data and especially the climate sensors to tell you what happens every day in your rooms at night and how that correlates to the way that your plants are feeding.
Before this, I had many, many different gadgets to track all sorts of things. We had Sensor Push and that would give me a million alerts when my HVAC broke. We'd have all these types of alerts and our next up wouldn't really feed until the next day if I was lucky. But now we have all this combined as one, and it really works and it has been great for us.
AROYA: We’re so happy to hear that. How has your day-to-day changed since the pandemic hit? Has it changed very much or not really?
ANNA: So, it really changed for us. When we first started, we were just kind of getting on our feet. I didn't know many folks here, and we were selling bulk. I didn't want to go into the market with just anything. For me, it's really important: we're kind of like weed for the people, we're not the most expensive brand and we're not the cheapest, but we hope that when people buy our products and go home they’re like, ,"wow, it looks like a lot of care went into the product that went into the jar."
So back [in March 2020] we were just getting into packaging. I was so concerned … there was a line, not that there isn't always a line, but there was a line out the door because people thought that everything was going to close. And I'm like, "Oh my God."
Then, sadly to say, the pandemic was the best thing that ever happened for cannabis in general. I'm totally honest about that. So it has allowed us to grow and we have great retail partners. We've tripled our business since the pandemic started.
AROYA: Wow. I think that there's a lot of people that share that same sentiment. I mean, if you're sitting at home not doing anything, what else are you going to do?
ANNA: And then the other thing that has really changed for us is while that was occurring, that's when we were making the transition. So we were growing as a brand, but we were still, our yields were all over the place. We really had no idea. So when you're talking through like, okay, well, people that want a consistent amount of product, we could not provide that whatsoever. We'd have rooms that did very well. The product was still great, but the yields were not there in many, many, many of the cases.
AROYA: And you said that Josh and Ramsey and everybody, they've been there to help you. Are they pretty responsive and everything if you have a question on how to do something better?
ANNA: Always responsive whenever.
You know, this is new software. I used to be a software developer and I know that you're going to go through life cycles of software. They've just been really not only responsive, but blocked out lots of time for me, and you guys have great Quick Start Guides. You have a lot I can just get on there, or I can get onto the YouTube videos.
In the beginning, if I forgot how to make a harvest group or couldn't get onto the page where I can actually see every dashboard view of my feeds, you were there. Or you’d have an amazing way to see your dry-back. That's actually a mode on the software that you can select from one 12-hour day and you can see your dry-backs, which was really great. The staff walks you through it. They take your floor plan. They build out how many sensors you're going to need, and they never made me feel like I didn't know anything, which was great because I definitely didn't know much when I started doing it. So that was awesome.
AROYA: This is just really affirming all the effort that we've put in as a team. We're a small team at AROYA. We don't have a lot of people. It started off with me, Ramsey and Jason, and a couple of software developers. So, to see where we've come and how y'all really helped us build and guide us towards where we are today: the features that we've added, the time and the guides that we've added, that was all client driven. It was all based on y'all's feedback. Like: "this would be great," or: "I'm really struggling with this. I need this in here."
It takes a partnership with our clients to be successful. Obviously you guys aren't going to use our product if it's not helping you guys immensely. Y'all are keeping us afloat, and I hope that we're keeping y'all afloat too. It's really affirming to hear how helpful it is, because we've really put in a lot of effort and heard a lot of different people's experiences, and it's pulled us in a bunch of different directions and we've had to kind of say, "this would be the most helpful for our clients and looking at this and this and this, I think that this would help the most people." So it's great to hear that we've done a good job at that.
ANNA: Thank you. It's been awesome.
AROYA: Yeah. Do you have anything else that you want to share about your growth or AROYA or anything you want to plug?
ANNA: Yeah. I'd like to obviously plug CAM, and I'd like to plug Wizard of Trees because those guys have really helped me out and they also use AROYA and they're like, "Hey, this is the way." And I want to say thank you to everybody in Cali for supporting CAM this year.
AROYA: Yay, Awesome. Well I hope everybody is staying safe and staying healthy out there. We're doing our best up here as well. And sounds like there's a light at the end of the tunnel here, so maybe we'll fly down and see you sometime, Anna.
ANNA: Sounds good. You're welcome any time.