Growing green: The art of cannabis cultivation

By Lynne Robinson
Posted 3/12/20

Southwest Wellness operates the largest state-of-the-art, light deprivation, temperature-controlled greenhouse grow in New Mexico, according to the state's medical marijuana program.

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Growing green: The art of cannabis cultivation


Update, Wednesday, March 18: Due to COVID-19, Southwest Wellness in Taos is asking for patients to call the dispensary at  (575) 737-8960 with their order, and then to arrive in their car at the entry, with exact cash, for pickup.

Southwest Wellness operates the largest state-of-the-art, light deprivation, temperature-controlled greenhouse grow in New Mexico, according to the state's medical marijuana program.

Considering legal cannabis is the fastest growing industry in the United States, according to an article in Forbes magazine this past January, the fact that Taos is the location for these greenhouses, tucked discretely off Salazar Road, makes it newsworthy indeed.

Despite a handful of studies saying otherwise, backed by a growing body of scientific research, more progressive cannabis laws and public opinion, cannabis is finally earning a reputation as a health solution. But that alone will not be enough to lift the federal ban on marijuana. Jobs will. Discussions about job growth in the United States tend to focus on industries such as technology and health care. But the biggest boom may be happening in cannabis.

By the end of 2020 the legal cannabis market will have created more than a quarter of a million jobs. This is more than the expected jobs from manufacturing, utilities or even government jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Marijuana is now legal for recreational use in several states, but not yet New Mexico.

In New Mexico licensed producers are granted the right to grow (medical) cannabis. One of these producers is the Crawford family, who are behind Southwest Wellness. Originally from Texas but with a long history here in Taos, Clint Crawford and his wife, Gerry Anderson, once owned the Northside Diner. When a window of opportunity presented itself for the application to grow medical cannabis here in Taos, the couple rallied other family members.

Barbara Crawford, his sister-in-law (and the CEO and chairperson of the organization), talked about initially applying for the license, even before building the stunning facilities. In a recent interview, we sat in an office in the industrial modern space at Southwest Wellness.

White leather Eames office chairs disappeared into the white-washed walls. A chic, articulate and intelligent woman, Crawford has her finger firmly on the pulse of the times, both in terms of trendy "canna" culture, and the visual aesthetic that elevates Southwest Wellness above the ordinary.

"We are the largest producers in the state," she said. "We have 38,000 square feet of (controlled light deprivation), greenhouses. We currently grow several different strains of cannabis," she explained.

Southwest Wellness produces upward of 50 varieties of indica, sativa and hybrid strains. The company has one dispensary here in Taos, but is preparing to open a second location this spring. A Santa Fe location is slated to open at the same time, and Albuquerque presently has four locations. "We hope we will be supplying the entire state eventually," Crawford said.

The building that houses the company has been remodeled to accommodate the different stages of processing the plants once they have been harvested, including the spotless, apothecary-like dispensary. With furnishings designed by local metal artist, Frank Seckler, the space quickly dispels any notion of a hippie head shop one might imagine a cannabis outlet to resemble. The greenhouses themselves are essentially plant hospitals; super clean, sterile environments complete with trays of disinfectant one walks through at each threshold to prevent contamination from the outside.

The plants are not grown under lights, only the sun, and although the business is not certified organic - marketed instead as all natural - chemical pesticides are never used in these greenhouses.

Cannabis growers like the Crawfords increasingly are turning to greenhouses and the sun over artificial lighting to grow their plants. Greenhouses - especially today's high-tech models - however, come with their own costs and challenges. Among the most common: How do cultivators prevent a greenhouse from overheating? Greenhouses, after all, rely on the sun. Its infrared rays can heat the environment to levels that can reduce the quality of the plant, or even damage it.

The greeenhouses  used by Southwest Wellness were designed by Josh Conley of Conley 's Greeenhouses and built by Rough Bros.  Conley's Greenhouses Manufacturing is a $20 million family business in California that primarily caters to big agriculture companies, but its greenhouses aren't only being used to grow fruit and vegetables. After Colorado and Washington legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, Conley's started working on light deprivation technology to accommodate cannabis clients, and soon that technology was bringing in 10 percent of the company's revenue. They launched a new company, NextG3N Greenhouses, to focus exclusively on pot-centric grow systems.

Natural ventilation and evaporative cooling are among strategies greenhouse growers can use to prevent overheating. "In terms of crop quality, much depends on the particular greenhouse, with pricier models producing the best results," Crawford explained. Which is why she says they chose Conley's over other models. "Natural ventilation, light deprivation, as well as the actual design - these greenhouses are sophisticated, complex systems that enable us to cultivate healthy and robust crops," she continued. "Why choose anything less when you have an opportunity to collaborate with nature, instead of battling it?"

Currently cannabis is only available to card-carrying patients but Crawford expects recreational marijuana to be legalized here in New Mexico in the near future. "Oh I think so," she said, "certainly in the next three or four years."

For the moment, Crawford says, it is enough that they are able to help hundreds of patients find relief from a myriad of maladies, as well as enabling others to overcome addiction. "Research indicates that cannabis can help wean people off opioids," she said.

Southwest Wellness also provides job opportunities for several locals, including Taos' former police chief, Dave Weaver, who heads up the company's security team. Taos, with help from the Crawford family, is clearly positioned to be at the forefront of this emerging new economy in New Mexico.

For more information visit Southwest Wellness online


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