by James Bridges | Herbage Magazine
Once, when I was very young, my little sister, brother, and I went on a canoe trip with my grandparents. Some of my most cherished memories come from the adventure road trips with them. One day it was a different kind of an adventure.
We found ourselves in a bit of a pickle. On one end we had my 100lb sopping wet grandmother clinging to a tree with her other hand holding onto a quickly sinking and non-user-friendly vessel as her grandchildren dog paddle to safety. Meanwhile, Gramps is swimming and trying to collect all our valuables. To say the least…it was by far one the most dramatic things to ever happen to a group of children and their grandparents while on vacation. Ever. According to the audio tapes of those children involved telling the story once they got home to mom and dad. Seriously, the tapes exist…
Now on this wonderful day I can revisit an area that has been imprinted into my head as a danger zone.
Today on this beautiful mountain, overlooking the winding and always intriguing Illinois river, I was able to witness this chaos of survival. I was able to witness the survival mode of something positive and uplifting. I was able to bury that danger brand I associated with the Illinois river and replace that danger association, with something positive.
Green Mountain Farms in Tahlequah, OK was founded in 2018 by Mark Turner and has been pesticide-free since day one. They consider themselves pioneers in irrigation theory. What I walked into was an automation system that blew my mind.
“I can go back 2 years and tell you what happened every week with battling humidity and weather conditions outside versus what is going on inside of the building. Our state-of-the-art monitoring systems help me predict what I need to do, no matter what conditions are occurring. For example, if you have a storm coming and it is going to surround your building, it could bring a hundred percent humidity for the next 6 days and you just put a new crop in the Cure room even though we have three inches of rain already. Mother nature. She comes right in with you”
Mark took a moment to shift his thoughts to vapor pressure deficit.
“This is the key number I watch right here.” As he pointed at one of his many graphs on a screen, “This is the VPD, that’s what determines how stomata on the back of a marijuana leaf will open and contract based on the ambient conditions in the room.” He was teaching me something.
“I am sure you have been in grow rooms where the plants look like they are praying and look happy. They are not happy. They are trying to expose the back of their leaves to as much of the atmosphere as possible and capture some CO2. She either has too much light, too much food, or not enough CO2 for her to absorb the food she is getting. VPD allows me to monitor these and find the ideal leaf temperature and humidity to grow thriving plants.”
“If you can maintain the temperature within 2° plus or negative, or the humidity 2% plus or negative, you can actually watch the stomata of the plant constrict or expand on a microscope. So, I know to watch the VPD closely, this way I keep those stomata cranked wide open all the time, maximizing growth. Manipulating the watering frequency makes them believe they are going into drought, causing them to uptake more nutrients. Then if you maintain a specific moisture content, voilá, magic.”
I felt like I was talking to a baseball team manager at some point and other points I was listening to a Ted Talk hosted by Einstein himself. I noticed the intricacy of this new-found technology that Green Mountain Farms uses to produce some of the top-quality products in the state.
“Everybody here is very passionate with good souls,” Mark said to me.
“I’ve got my own fishbowl here and everybody here is a different kind of fish, swimming around trying to make it better for all the other fish in the bowl. We all work well together and they bring a passion to work every day, I love it. We soak it up and we are learning together. There ain’t like no secret deal here. When everything works together, it’s fire right?” Mark is correct.
Brent Sullivan, who is a key player for Green Mountain, met Mark while he was selling vehicles at a local dealership. “Being in the car industry, I saw a lot of people that claimed they were growers. Mark came in and there was just something different about him.” Brent was recalling as if it were a memory from childhood. “Mark bought several cars from me for his people at the grow. He talked about his grow and the technology that he was working with, and I was intrigued. I was so inspired by his passion. I asked Mark right from the get-go if I could invest, he told me no.” Brent laughed out loud. “He said no, no, I’m good.”
“Mark came back and bought a few more cars. I would ask how it was going and again I would be inspired. Of course I asked about investing again. Again, Mark said he was good. I attempted this several times.” Brent = Determination.
“I got a phone call from Mark about three weeks later and he finally said he needed help.”
Forced by growth in the company, Mark could no longer keep up. He was directed by the universe to bring on a team of outstanding individuals that bring their own set of talents to make the well-oiled machine I see before me today at Green Mountain Farms.
Cecilia came onboard in January 2020 as a trimmer. “At that time we were just selling flower as fast as we could get it trimmed. Mark did a great job teaching us by giving us hands-on experience with the flower from the very first. He had us working one-on-one with the plants.”
Cecilia has an interesting background to wind up in cannabis, but now that I give it a thought, it completely makes sense as to why she is so good for the brand. She has a degree in fine art and worked at The Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas before moving to Tahlequah.
“There are many duties at the grow that I do or oversee, along with a team of people.
“Kadin, Justace and I make sure all of the orders go out correctly. We build routes and schedules deliveries. Most of all, we work hard to be good stewards of our cannabis.
Once the products come out of the cure room to be handtrimmed, that is when my work begins. I work with other team members to make sure everything in the cure room is organized, labeled correctly, and properly tested. I oversee our cured flower until it goes out the doors, bound for one of our dispensary partners. I also communicate with the dispensaries to make sure they have everything they need from us, including in-depth information on each strain to pass along to budtenders. It’s a lot of hats, but a
lot of fun.” Cecilia continued to show her smile.
Come to find out, Mark does have some inspiration. Some of it from a completely different industry.
“Up in Pryor, Oklahoma they have a Google facility. I did some research and found that the HVAC needs of a building full of super computers is similar in technology to what is needed to control humidity in grow rooms in respect to painting the line, control-wise. So, we ordered those exact units except we doubled their dehumidification capability. This turned out to be a wise choice!”
Mark is obviously an indoor hydro/irrigation expert. I asked him his thoughts on those that are getting into the outdoor grow industry in Oklahoma.
“Oh my,” Mark shrugged. “Everyone says ‘I want to do an outdoor grow.’ I want to say to friends of mine, you are a gust of wind full of mold spores away from losing the whole entire crop. I considered spending $250,000.00 on a RF (radio frequency) machine to remove yeast, mold and all other contaminants, just to have some peace of mind. We even had some of our product treated in this manner for research and development. I wanted to see how the RF equipment affected our product. If it worked, we would also grow outdoors. I want to grow the best medicine, but also have some insurance if the Oklahoma
weather did not cooperate, so we tested. The terps were gone. THC might have stayed consistent, but the soul of the plant was gone.”
Even the best of us make calculated and sometimes very hard to live down mistakes. But the great ones learn from them and carry on, like Mark. “I bought two 200 acre lots across the road, on top of the hill right, before testing the RF treatment. I was in on the whole outdoor grow idea. Growing indoor is always challenging and my roots are sun-grown so I considered heavily taking the risk of an outdoor crop. In the end, I had to opt out.”
Mark pointed out, “Improvement is exactly what we’re striving for and creating here. For the same reason ferns grew 20 ft tall back in prehistoric days, they had the perfect ambient conditions, that is what I am trying to create at Green Mountain Farms. We are not reinventing cannabis; we are merely finding better ways to grow it.”