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Copperstate Farms: Arizona Gold

Copperstate Farms is slowly but surely reshaping large scale cannabis business here in AZ with their massive cultivation facility located in Snowflake, Arizona. Copperstate is a true sea of green (SOG) style of grow, it is spread across the massive complex of this indoor greenhouse. The compound was once used to grow tomatoes, and before that were cucumbers, with remnant systems of equipment still powering Copperstate today. I have been around the industry for a while, but I entered with no opinions or assumptions about their business. I was eager to see what leadership had adopted for direction since its new ownership came into play. Ethics and groundwork culture were stated as a few of the first core components by Copperstate leadership, Allie Marconi, Director of Marketing, and Steve Hess-Morrone Chief Brand, Quality and Cultural liaison to pioneer that new direction of quality medicine. We are also joined by additional members of the Copperstate Marketing team, Manuel Reyes and Lauren Clemence.

The sunny nature of their company made for a fun trip and entrance into the town of Snowflake, located about 3 hours North-East of Phoenix. A sign advertising employment and announcing the Copperstate presence in Snowflake was at the entrance as we drove in. The large compound had excellent views of the surrounding hills and skies that were full of thunderheads. As we entered the small town, the charm and welcome of the company, was felt as everyone noticed the incoming Cannabis Cactus crew. A grow the size of Copperstate is always; looking ahead, whether that is months to the next harvest, or years to plan the growth of their massive reach. A look into the ecosystem of this company shows that the strong roots of family live here, with everyone noticing every new detail of every new day and communicating. Their growth and movement will depend on that communication for everything from the cultivation to their patients.

Photo by Jamal Gray @_kingjayy

The cultivation operation is amazing to behold, starting with their watering systems, in which a boiler system is working to pump hot or cold water throughout the cultivation. The need for water is based off of the environment overall, which is monitored to keep the cultivation at optimal conditions for the plants to thrive. Using natural light keeps the plants going throughout the day, with light deprivation LEDs spaced out to give ample par for light at night to prevent flower photo cycles without adding heat. Light meters throughout the facility control the LEDs for when it’s needed at night, or even on a cloudy day. Maintaining a certain amount light output is needed for the plants to get what light they need to thrive, which is why the plants are mono-cropped to keep everything growing evenly. As plants are tomato caged, a culling process is put into place for the cultivation to remove plants that are weakened by the root system not anchoring or other issues. We view some mothers being transplanted, and make our way to the clone room. Here, misting systems are keeping the babies cool while providing some much needed refreshment. The cuttings are strong, and this room is overall healthy which means better medicine as time progresses.

Copperstate plays it safe by thinking ahead, due to their size, they can grow whatever they want, whenever they want. To better adjust for variance, they will grow 125% of what they think is needed. The idea behind their thinking being that if they need to pull plants that aren’t growing well, while being able to call out the best plants for more attention, this results in an overall more consistent product. The watering system is running two lines per plant in countless rows arranged by diversity and need for light. The grow is in transition into caging for each 1 ½ to 3 gallon pot depending on the root systems which they pay attention to, indicas into smaller pots to max out root systems quickly to possibly flip the plants to flowering or simply, maximize growth for the root systems of sativas by using larger pots. The plants are well trimmed and arranged by genetics with sativas catching the most sun, hybrids beside them, and the short indicas growing short and wide into their ideal zone. Seeing this pre-flower warehouse was dizzying, but I see the needs for this cultivation and already understand their ideas.

Adrian Ryan | Photo by Jamal Gray @_kingjayy

Copperstate has adopted new ideas that differ from other large greenhouse operations in the state. They are clearly innovating their grow techniques, and what kind of genetics they’re growing to better suit their needs. We’re told that this next room gets the most light, and we feel it as we begin to carefully observe the plants. Copperstate has started while working with DNA Genetics; whom are on the pheno-hunt for new genetics that will thrive in the greenhouse conditions. In a new room of veg, we see their results growing with fervor that will reshape what strains and quality of cannabis come from Copperstate. We also get to look at the new trial for trellising of the plants, that might not sound exciting, but when you see the rail system left in place, it does. Those old systems from the time of tomatoes and cucumbers now come into play as we enter rooms for harvest. The chairs and racks of bins moving around suddenly make sense, as Mikey takes a ride on a chair, and we see workers loading bins onto the rails for the Harvest team at the far end of this new room.

We tour this new room with excitement, we see colas taking shape on the plants, and the smell of good bud overwhelms us as it is being harvested. As we tour, you see the numbers game at play as some of the weaker plants show signs they won’t make it. The majority of the plants in this huge room are healthy and on the verge of seeing the patients soon. It is hard to find the words for the size of the operation and how much was being pulled down, but it will again be bested by another room in the Copperstate compound. We continue the tour to the next area, as we do I see the various methods of pest control at play. In addition to a full organic IPM (integrated pest management) plan, Copperstate has adopted the use of natural control and prevention using traps, natural predators, and natural soil mixtures to keep the cultivation healthy from any environment issues. Following is a thorough flush of the plants with frequent testing and attention to detail to ensure quality.

Photo by Jamal Gray @_kingjayy

We get to travel to the South 20 acres; they are flipping the production in the first room here. This is the most exposed to the elements of any of the rooms that we’ve seen, so much so that the doors seal in between to protect the Northern part of the complex. We see another reservoir of water with irrigation lines being laid down, and as we proceed, the areas are being cleaned. When cleaned, fresh tarps are laid down, and then new pots with soil are set up for the incoming rows of plants. We pass through more processing areas, cleaning stations, and water carts to catch racks of bud that are being prepared to be destroyed as Copperstate would rather take a loss than put out inferior product. Beside this area, we see the next large room of production which is a room of plants that will spend their entire lifecycle in this room. We are easily looking at a 1000ft by 700ft warehouse of plants, who will spend their entire lifecycle in this room; we are invited back in two months to explore this garden as it grows.

The overview of this facility didn’t include their cure, as it wouldn’t have been practical for us during a day trip. Understanding their growth cycle in this habitat, we follow the plants as they’re being moved to the cure, trim, and quality assurance operations. For this and to venture into the core of production here, we have to change into our lab gear. Wearing our clean room attire, we enter first into the trim area where trimming, sorting, and preparing the flower is actively happening. A couple of twister auto-trimmers with conveyor systems make this area a fast paced sorting of flower for the different tiers offered to dispensaries from Copperstate. During this phase, the bud is checked for any problems, then sorted based on size, quality, effect, and yields for pricing. It is also here that they have their inventory teams packaging and also making pre-rolls. As everything is moved along, it eventually ends up in their inventory area where everything is sorted to be available for wholesale.

Photo by Jamal Gray @_kingjayy

As we proceed farther into the heart of Copperstate, we suddenly find ourselves in Chef Teresa Hansen’s kitchen for Good Things Coming, a line of edibles powered by Copperstate. We get to see their kitchen which is cleaned beautifully and stacked with everything a chef needs to make amazing food, which the Chef does. The quality is not lost on those in the kitchen wrapping up their day; they clean to maintain their status as a top kitchen for edibles in Arizona. The chef has some of her cookbooks in the kitchen, clearly gone over thoroughly by everyone involved in the kitchen to further expand upon the awesome knowledge brought by Chef Hansen. As we pass, we are told we are entering the last part of the tour and the brain of the facility. The doors lead us to their extract production area and lab. Another mammoth clean room with a large caged area in the center, with a packaging area in front of us, countless extract machines encircle the other half of the cage, and all around those machines are smaller blast-safe rooms,

We meet team members who were working on some packaging displays for Sol Flower dispensaries. The associates handling cartridge processing tell us about their stations, and the cage in the middle is explained to be the future testing lab. In this lab they’ll be able to test, including all spectrums down to the part per billion. This lab is no small ordeal as analytics and breakdowns will steer Copperstate towards what they’ll produce based on key performance indicators, so the patients really will be deciding what they see from Copperstate. We are then introduced to our lab guide, Alec Shoenberger, Extract Lab Manager, who takes us through the lab on the extraction side. The Co2 and distillation suite, is a sight to behold, a Taos 290 system, two 45L material columns with 15/kg of Co2 displacement per minute. Alec explains that they are using this almost exclusively for high terpene extract pulls to minimize run time, increase output, and quality.

Photo by Jamal Gray @_kingjayy

The distillate is made with an ethanol extractor and process, which is the primary production for cannabinoids that are then turned into the distillate. A Delta Separations – Cup 15 centrifuge platform, produces an un-winterized tincture, they then winterize, filter, carbon scrub, and run through a fond film evaporator. The evaporator covers about 60 gallons per hour, impressive and the machine which they say they love to work with, processes it to come out as winterized hash oil. The oil has a large amount of THC-A which they then activate using their large decarboxylation reactor; now left with raw THC cannabinoids, that they only need to distill using a short path extractor. The lab has been working on their de-gumming reactor to better improve purity of their product. With the short path system mentioned earlier, Alec takes us through the process of turning that fully activated oil into a residue which has been stripped of terpenes and impurities on its first run, then turned into a high concentration THC or CBD distillate on its 2nd pass.

Alec explains that depending on what is needed, Moxie and Copperstate both use this distillate. Moxie uses a proprietary blend of terpenes, which are naturally derived. While Copperstate will create a cart by mixing high terpene extracts to dilute their distillate with, to create a live-cart of sorts. We get our grand finale pictures with the 1000 gram jars of distillate, and suddenly we depart. I was initially so overwhelmed by how much we saw and learned about the production of Copperstate. My witnessing their changes, focus on ethics, and mission to provide great medicine at all levels became evident. On the drive back from Snowflake, I thought about how quickly the industry can change. I am at ease knowing that Copperstate is now here to work for patients, and I’m excited to see their development here in Arizona. I was invited to tour the Copperstate owned dispensaries that have newly opened, Sol Flower Dispensaries. These new additions put Copperstate on the front lines with their own dispensary teams to gather information and feedback.

Photo by Jamal Gray @_kingjayy

The two new dispensaries just opened in Tempe, and Sun City as of the start of August. In Tempe, around the 202 and McClintock, a buzzing dispensary just opened. Sol Flower in Tempe is a simple layout, with your favorite brands like Baked Bros, Item 9, and Dutchie, filling out the inventory. The dispensary itself is simple, touch screen menus, smell jars, and all your favorite concentrates on a lightbox display. An express counter and check out area make this dispensary ideal for a quick pick up while driving home. Talking with some staff, it feels like their teams are integrating rookie and seasoned budtenders very well. I was able to talk to Sid on the sales floor, who has been tending for 3 years, and he has some solid suggestions for strains. His experience is there to compliment Melissa who’d just started at Sol Flower 3 weeks ago, but brings retail experience like making sure I know about cash only, and the best sellers she has seen. Easy to locate, and accessible from Tempe, Phoenix, or Scottsdale makes this a desired destination, which also has great parking including covered in the rear.

The Sol Flower in Sun City, at a large retail area near 99th Avenue and Grand, is a much larger event. It features several differences that make it a must visit for any card holder, or anyone else because of the setup. A café and wellness center sit outside the dispensary all within the same building. This means, like most dispensaries you need a card to enter and purchase medication, but only to enter the dispensary not the whole building. That means anyone can attend a wellness center event or visit the café for something to eat. I looked over the faire offered, and it all looked as good as the prices for a serving size. This is especially handy if visiting family or friends don’t want to wait on you inside the car. A modern dispensary, again with all the amenities and brands featured in Tempe. The allure of this place will be in the classes and education offered by their wellness center already in the capable hands of Jane Fix. The changes and growth about to be taken by Sol Flower for these two locations will help to shape our market in 2020.

Mikey | Photo by Jamal Gray @_kingjayy

My interest in Copperstate and their operations here in Arizona has been satisfied. I feel I have a better idea of what they are, and what their intentions for me as a patient are exactly. The reaffirmation of ethics, better genetics, and opening themselves up to my questions show a level of transparency not often seen in large companies. In my own realization about my unanswered questions and opinions, I found myself appreciating Copperstate for their kindness and effort to provide me with the answers I sought. I have not known companies to be as open and welcoming as they have been, and I encourage patients to engage them whenever possible. The education and new levels of standards being formulated at Copperstate will change our cannabis landscape in time. I hope to reach that time as a patient and influence upon my environment, so that my environment is based upon my needs as a patient. I see Copperstate as a place where I can achieve this goal to be part of the answer, instead of being left with unanswered questions.



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