Steven Porter is a farmer in what sometimes feels like an alternate reality.As a master grower at Hells Canyon Cannabis Company in Clarkston, Porter oversees the production of cannabis from planted seed to packaged product.
“It’s surreal for anyone over 32,” Porter said about legalization and the changes it has brought.
Hells Canyon Cannabis began production last year in a nondescript building at the Port of Clarkston’s Turning Pointe Business Park. Inland 360 toured the indoor operation for a behind-the-scenes look at growing cannabis.
One of the things that sets Hells Canyon Cannabis apart is that it is one of a handful of producers in the state that eschews chemicals and pesticides and instead relies on live organic farm techniques, Porter said.
“We grind instead of spray,” he said about the labor-intensive and costly process of growing organic cannabis.
For this reason, the building was designed to perfectly control the environment inside. A computer system monitors and reacts to all the variables — from heat, light and humidity to carbon dioxide and oxygen levels. Porter can go back three weeks and see how much carbon dioxide there was at 5 a.m. on a certain day. It’s important because if one thing is off, an entire crop can be lost to problems like mildew or disease, he said.
Hells Canyon Cannabis harvests a crop every other day. Porter and the company’s other master grower, Stephanie Reno, hand-tend and trim 2,500 plants. From outside there’s no evidence of what’s inside; that includes any smell. A specialized exhaust system removes the pungent odors of the multiple strains that are perpetually growing and curing.
“What we do here is not something that the neighbors have to deal with,” Porter said. “Although, we have had requests to pipe the smell to certain homes,” he adds with a laugh.
Porter said he has always been a cannabis smoker. He learned to grow by reading books and studying. He took a “High Times” botany class, but mostly he has learned by trial and error.
“You don’t know cannabis until you’ve been beat up by everything,” he said.
He begins by pheno hunting, the process of identifying cannabis strains with dominant traits that he wants to develop. These plants, with names like Shangri-La and Jillybean, grow in soil custom-made with ingredients like bat guano, volcanic ash and oyster shell meal, to name a few.
“We’re trying to copy mother nature,” Porter said. “She’s the boss.”
Regular tap water, with added chlorine and fluoride, won’t do. Instead they use a double-reverse osmosis water system to remove any contaminants.
As plants mature, they proceed through a series of other rooms. In one, they’re nurtured by purple LED grow lights, reflective walls and fans sweeping from side to side. After harvest, they dry on trays in a dark, closet-like room. From there, they go into a barrell to cure and be “burped” twice a day for two weeks. This involves dumping buds out of a barrel and stirring them around by hand to slowly remove moisture. The process leaves them squishy, instead of dry and brittle. After that they are packaged as buds, pre-rolled joints and other products and sent to local retailers (Canna4Life in Clarkston and Floyd’s Cannabis Company in Pullman) and elsewhere around the state. Porter said they plan to add an area to make edible products in the future.
While producing cannabis organically is labor-intensive, Porter believes it’s the right thing to do for people’s health and the environment. At the bottom of a smoked bowl, chemically treated cannabis will leave black ash, he said, Organic cannabis will leave white.
“People are starting to understand there’s a difference between organic and others. I want no poison on my cannabis.”
A Cannabis Primer
It’s been five years since Washington legalized cannabis. After decades of misinformation and stigma, the general public is moving beyond stereotypes and understanding more about the plant and its effects. As the market for the product expands, growers and researchers also are learning more.
If what you know about cannabis is limited to words like “pot,” “stoner” and “getting high,” here are some words to expand your mind.
Cannabinoids: Chemical compounds secreted by cannabis flowers that produce a wide range of effects in the human body. The most well-known and abundant cannabinoids are THC and CBD, but there are dozens of others. Scientists continue to isolate them and identify their effects.
THC: Short for tetrahydrocannabinol, a psychoactive cannabinoid known for its intoxifying effects. It imparts a “high” or sense of euphoria. Legally purchased cannabis will include a label with the THC percentage, which can range from less than 1 percent to more than 25 percent.
CBD: Short for cannabidiol, a cannabinoid that is not psychoactive and does not intoxicate an individual. Scientific research is still limited, but touted benefits include analgesic, anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety properties. There are many products sold that contain CBD and little to no THC.
Terpenes: Organic molecules present in plants and other organisms that provide flavor and aroma; think of the distinct smell and taste of rosemary or basil. Terpenes are why wines have complex taste profiles. The same goes for cannabis. Cannabis terpenes vary widely and are thought to act with and enhance the effects of cannabinoids in a process called the “entourage effect.”