In Washington’s highly competitive cannabis market, carving out a niche and gaining recognition is an uphill battle for many growers. Armed with a vision for craft cannabis and a Swedish name that translates to “harvest,” SKöRD Marijuana has beat the odds and built a dedicated following since its first sales in early 2016. Grower and owner Joshua Andersen talks with Cannabis Business Times contributor Jolene Hansen about what has led SKöRD to this point and what lies ahead.
Jolene Hansen: Tell us about SKöRD and your core team. How did that come together?
Joshua Andersen: We’re a Tier 2 craft cannabis producer. Our [focus] is more on the exotic or boutique strains of weed. We’re growing about 4,600 square feet total right now, indoor. We have 15 employees.
It was an idea of my mother and I, and then basically started as a family operation. It’s run by me, my dad, my uncle, and then we have one partner, Ron Goldman, who is not a family member. That was the core group.
Originally, we were going to build a greenhouse on property that we owned, but that didn’t work [out because of zoning restrictions], so we switched to a location in downtown Vancouver. That was when they were changing the distance you could be from a school, so we lost that location. We ended up buying another piece of property and building a facility from scratch in Battle Ground.
In the process of having to build our own building and buying property, the anticipated investment obviously skyrocketed. It was mostly my parents’ [investment]. They had some commercial property and owned another business, and ended up basically selling off everything to do this.
Hansen: What was the team’s cultivation background?
ANDERSEN: I was an automotive mechanic and just a medical grower for personal use. My parents owned a medical billing company, and then Ron Goldman was a commercial tomato farmer. Hugh Woods, [my uncle], was a plumber.
It was my mom’s and [my] dream. It was mostly my dream as far as the vision of what the brand would look like and the type of cannabis we would grow, but I did have a supportive team. With my dad’s carpentry background and then the plumbing background and farming background, we just had a nice group of people that came together, and we got to put together a really quality facility. We did a lot of the work ourselves.
Hansen: What set you apart from your competitors?
ANDERSEN: There were a lot of challenges, but we had a strain that we brought in called Nightmare Cookies from Sin City Seeds that just was a huge success, and people loved it so much that we couldn’t grow enough of it. It really sustained us for a long time, to get the rest of our strains out and finish building our brand and whatnot. In all honesty, I guess, it was kind of a lucky strain.
All of our [other] strains are developed in house. We have an extensive strain bank, and we pop seeds and pheno-hunt for all of our strains, so they are exclusive to us. Once we find our strains, we grow out mothers and clones. We don’t take outside material in to grow; … that’s not only for strain exclusivity, but also you just take in other people’s problems by taking cuts from other places.
Hansen: How do you describe your approach to cultivation?
ANDERSEN: Our entire philosophy on growing cannabis was: If you provide the right environment, whether in the root zone or around the plant, marijuana grows pretty easily. So that was the focus of the grow, to get a building where we could dial in what we believe was near a perfect environment for cannabis and let the plant just naturally thrive.
We do not use any pesticides. We don’t spray our plants with anything. Our fungicide control is built into the environmental controls. We use beneficial insects for bug problems or preventative maintenance. We custom built a PLC (programmable logic controller) that basically controls nearly the entire building. We were able to automate our watering cycle, which not only allowed us to run lean in the beginning, but frees up a lot of time to spend with the plant, pruning and whatnot, instead of watering.
We’re experimenting with mixed lighting: metal halide lights to get better resin production, higher THC levels, and also HPS (high-pressure sodium) for yields. But we’re trying to get … the quality that people really, really desire and not just yields for us.
Hansen: You hand trim, but do a small amount with machine. What’s that process?
ANDERSEN: Our intention originally was to completely hand trim for that craft aspect. We’ve always thought it was best. In the beginning, we were very lean and tight on money, trying to train people, and we needed help. I met the GreenBroz guys, and we leased a machine from them. So we were just using the machine and then doing a finish trim by hand, and it worked absolutely great for that purpose.
That’s where I would advocate for somebody that is a craft grower that’s trying to grow a significant amount of weed—you can somewhat run it in the machine and not finish it there, and have your trim crew just tighten it up.
We still use it to this day for an initial trim on specific strains. Basically, the decision is based [on] bud structure. Some plants have more of what I would call a Douglas fir, Christmas tree shape. They lend themselves very, very nicely to an initial [machine] trim.
Hansen: From a cultivation perspective, what has been your biggest challenge and accomplishment?
ANDERSEN: There was definitely a learning curve to scale. Both myself and my partner Ron really had no problems, and a lot of success in our medical grows, which were obviously a lot smaller. We couldn’t quite anticipate all the unforeseen issues with growing to this size and the amount of weed that would be there.
At this point, we’ve got yields up and consistency up. I would say consistency was the biggest challenge. In the very beginning, you’d have a great harvest and you’d get all excited, and then the very next one would go south on you. I think it’s just finding that sweet spot where you can duplicate yourself over and over again, and get that consistency. That’s been the biggest success that we’ve had recently.
Hansen: How has Washington’s regulatory structure, with vertical integration prohibited, influenced your growth and success?
ANDERSEN: That was a disadvantage to not be able to [retail] it ourselves. It also put an amazing amount of value on branding and marketing. There are a lot of good growers that I know of in the state who just don’t have the skill at marketing their product, and it puts them at a huge disadvantage.
I think because of the size of our team and some of the expertise we had, that ability to brand our company well and deliver on that promise, and then get the marketing campaign behind it has really been able to set us apart, because we were relatively unknown. So without that, it might be much more difficult.
Hansen: You’ve been recognized with an award for your branding. What’s the background on that?
ANDERSEN: For the branding, we use Blindtiger Design. They are a Seattle-based design company. We actually did this intentionally; we didn’t see a big difference between what we were trying to accomplish and the craft beer industry. So we went with a branding and design company that was from the craft beer industry. We thought that they understood [selling] the differences between a commodity and something unique based around an idea. We think they did a great job. We’re continuing to work with them today.
Hansen: What is your primary production focus now?
ANDERSEN: We say we’re a flower company first, foremost and always will be, and that’s kind of where we’re focusing on growing. I run all the concentrates personally for SKöRD right now, as well as grow. But as we grow the flower, I have less and less time that is allocated for that.
It was also part of our vision to use other extractors in the state and do that co-branding kind of partnership. So we’ve been using Mantis Extracts and Columbia Concentrates here locally, and we do some collaboration with them. That also allows us to hit new customer bases, where those brands have other customers. That was part of the original plan.
Hansen: What do you see ahead for the craft element of the industry and for SKöRD?
ANDERSEN: For craft cannabis, the biggest challenge is probably going to be yields. Then also, this is just speculation that we talk about in the industry, but a lot of the things that are popular terpene-wise and flavor- and smell-wise also are somewhat mold prone. So finding that balance between what people want and being able to actually grow it commercially proves challenging. But we take that challenge on by trying to grow those exotic strains.
Our goal next year is to get a light-dep greenhouse and get greenhouse-grown flower. We would like to bring some of our pesticide-free cannabis and our core values on how cannabis should be grown … to a more affordable market. Obviously, indoor, fully climate-controlled is very expensive, so we’re trying to lower our production costs so we can get product out there cheaper to get to more people.I don’t want to point fingers or say anything derogatory, but with a lot of commercial cultivators, yield and ease of growth are of the highest priority. We’ve chosen just to go a different path to what we think is what people actually want—you know, how their home grower or their black-market grower, they always used to have some Fire. It’s hard to find commercially. We’re trying to stay true to that kind of weed. We’re going to keep trying our best.