By Alexa Lewis | Community News Service
As Vermonters stock up on rock salt and firewood ahead of winter, some White River Valley inhabitants are spending their time ducking beneath rows of LED lights and laboring over hydroponic setups as they move their unique farming operations indoors.
Vermont’s recreational cannabis market has taken off this fall in the White River Valley, with more than 25 cultivators licensed by the state Cannabis Control Board in the region and more still pending.
Recreational cannabis’ debut in the state has not come without its difficulties. As reported by Seven Days, Burlington faces an oversaturation of cannabis retailers that officials find concerning. Only a handful of pending retail licenses are scattered throughout the White River Valley, but those entering the market say they still face some administrative problems as officials navigate this uncharted and rapidly growing industry.
“Unfortunately, there’s a bottleneck with testing,” said Adam Sacks, owner and head of cultivation at Green Mountain Kana in Chelsea.
Currently there are only four licensed cannabis testing facilities in the state. These laboratories are meant to ensure the safety of products before they can be sold.
“You want everyone to have a safe product and a really good product,” said Sacks, “but myself and a lot of other people could’ve had products on the shelves earlier. They’re taking so long to roll stuff out.”
Sacks holds what’s called a mixed tier 1 growing license: That allows him to have a max of 1,000-square feet of plant canopy indoors and 125 plants outside. There are three types of cultivator licenses in Vermont: indoor, outdoor, and mixed-use. Each is broken down into different tiers based on the size of the operation.
“I do a hydroponic setup, so I get a fairly large yield every 70 days,” he said, referring to the practice of growing plants with water-based nutrients instead of soil, which is known to conserve water while increasing yields.
Despite regulatory delays, Sacks and other White River Valley growers expressed optimism for the future of Vermont’s recreational cannabis. “I’ve been a black-market grower almost all my life,” Sacks said. “Being able to jump on something like this, I don’t mind paying a tax—it’s a step in the right direction.”
Michelle Shane, owner and operator of Clover Hill Cannabis in South Strafford, said the licensing process for her small organic growing operation was “pretty straightforward.”
“The CCB was really helpful,” she said. “I feel like they did a good job with the initial rollout.”
Shane and her husband, Michael, have always had a passion for growing cannabis, so they decided to go into business together.
“We wanted to take advantage of being able to bring organic flower to the market,” Shane said.
Shane holds a tier 1 indoor cultivator license.
“It’s all done indoors,” she said. “We have really efficient LED lights, and all the plants are grown in living soil. We make all our soil from scratch.”
“Living soil” describes a way of promoting the growth of beneficial microscopic organisms in soil. That way, no added fertilizer is needed.
Green Mountain Kana and Clover Hill Cannabis have both started distributing along with dozens of other area farms of varying sizes. As the Cannabis Control Board gradually rolls out more licenses for growers, retailers, and wholesalers, recreational cannabis will be available to adults over the age of 21 in more and more locations throughout Vermont.
Licensed in Vermont
As of late November, these White River Valley companies were licensed by Vermont’s Cannabis Control Board.
Clover Hill Cannabis in South Strafford; Birdman Inc. in Braintree, Pinnacle Valley Organics in Randolph, Turkey Hollow Cannabis in Barnard, and Tunbridge Roots in Tunbridge were licensed as indoor cultivators.
Sun Road Farms in Barnard, Fine Bud Farms in Randolph, One Love Cannabis Collective in Strafford, Three Barn Farm Cannabis in Bethel, Goat Ridge Cannabis in Vershire, and Casa Guarne Farms in Chelsea were licensed as outdoor cultivators.
Green Mountain Kana in Chelsea, Trombly House of Cannabis in Chelsea, 7 B’s Farm in Tunbridge, The Mad Botonist in South Royalton, Mount Gay Farms in Gaysville, First Branch Cannabis in Chelsea, Trichome Ranch in Rochester, and Mad Hatter Cannabis and Hemp in Granville were each licensed as mixed cultivators.
Rochester’s Trichome is also licensed as a manufacturer. According to the Vermont Cannabis Control Board Registry, no retail businesses have yet been licensed in the White River Valley.
The Community News Service is part of the Reporting and Documentary Storytelling Program at the University of Vermont.