08 Jun Commercial Cultivation
By Matt Walstatter
For the last couple of months, I have been designing Pure Green’s new commercial cannabis cultivation facility. With 12,000 square feet and more than 100,000 watts of flowering lights, this is by far the largest indoor grow in which I have participated.
To say this has been a learning experience would be an all-time, epic understatement. In fact, I have learned more about cannabis cultivation in the last few months than I had in the last few years — and we haven’t even started building our grow yet.
With that in mind, here are a handful of lessons from the design phase:
- The whole Is more than the sum of its parts
Building a 100 light grow is not as simple as building a bigger version of a 10 light grow. This may seem obvious, but it can have significant repercussions.
Some technologies can be hard to scale up. Take feeding and watering, for example. Hand watering a smaller garden is a manageable task for one person. In a 100-light garden it’s a much larger task, and one you may want to consider tackling with a drip feeding system.
As you scale up, new technologies that wouldn’t work in a smaller, residential situation become viable. For example, options like three-phase power are only available in a larger, commercial grow. Running two flower rooms at opposite hours allows you to bring in half as much power, but this option is only available if you have two or more flowering rooms.
- Triple check everything
One of the challenges of scaling up is that the bigger your facility, the more small problems are magnified. This means that little nuisances quickly scale up to large, expensive problems.
Let’s say you are setting up a small grow with only one light. Now, let’s say that you measured wrong when you placed the electrical outlet for that light and the lamp cord doesn’t reach. Well that’s annoying, but it shouldn’t take too long to move an outlet. But what if it were 100 outlets? Or 1,000?
You will make mistakes no matter what you do, but by double and triple checking everything you do, you can reduce the number of mistakes and mitigate their impact.
- Surrender to the flow
A large cultivation facility can resemble a factory in many ways. This means that we can borrow ideas from modern, industrial design to make our facilities more efficient. In designing our building, we thought a lot about flow. That is, we focused on how people, plants and supplies move through the building.
The goal was to make that movement as efficient as possible. For example, we looked at how plants would move from the clone room, through the different stages of veg and into a flower room.
We sought to eliminate inefficiencies, both large and small, because a grow of this size will magnify inefficiencies. It may not seem like a big deal if it takes four minutes instead of two minutes to walk from the veg room to the flower room, but imagine five or 10 employees making that walk literally thousands of times a year. Now remember that you are paying them by the minute for thousands of extra minutes of walking.
- It takes a village
When designing a commercial cultivation facility, even the most experienced operators will make mistakes and oversights. It’s part of being human. You can minimize these errors by showing your design to as many people as possible.
I was fortunate to have several friends with facilities of a similar size and scale to mine. It helped that I was able to run design ideas by them and talk through problems when I got stuck.
Tap into your network to get as much feedback as possible. Talk to the tradespeople with whom you will be working. They can be an excellent resource.
If you don’t have friends and colleagues to help you, consider hiring a consultant. Yes, consultants can be expensive, charging anywhere from $10,000-$100,000 or more, although you should be able to get the assistance you need for a low five figure sum. This might seem like a lot, but not when you see it in the context of a $1 million construction budget. If you choose wisely, you will definitely get your money’s worth many times over.
Be careful when dealing with cultivation consultants, because there are many out there happy to take thousands of your dollars in return for little or no value.
Designing a commercial cultivation facility can be a massive undertaking, requiring the integration of numerous moving parts. You can make the job easier by understanding economies of scale and how they can work for you.
Double and triple check everything, so that small mistakes don’t become huge expenses. Optimize the flow of people and objects and take advantage of friends, colleagues and other experts.
By following these simple steps, you will set yourself up for a successful build out, which will lead in turn to a profitable grow.
Matt Walstatter and his wife, Meghan, are the owners of Pure Green, a patient owned and operated dispensary in Portland, Oregon. They have jointly owned and operated cultivation centers since 2001. Their dispensary opened in 2013. Matt can be reached at (971) 242-8561 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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