Cultivation centers for medical cannabis are usually tucked into industrial neighborhoods where their anonymity is revealed only by the slight smell of vegetation. At the Evergreen Organix site about a mile west of the Las Vegas Strip, there is a slight, not unpleasant, odor. It is, though, subtly different.
Along with the smell of the vegetation maturing somewhere inside, there is something else. A sweet smell. Could it be…the aroma of something baking? A pastry, perhaps a cookie?
It is indeed evidence of something tasty and edible. We have arrived at the twinned cultivation and production facility of Evergreen Organix, which is distributing edible medical cannabis-based products throughout Nevada. Kurt Barrick, chief executive officer of the VonDank Group and chief cultivator for Evergreen, says the goal of Evergreen is to marry science and aesthetics, purity of ingredients and a philosophy that puts patients first.
“We’ve tried to take an organic approach from the beginning,” he says of the effort, which this year saw the first flowering of its cultivation.
Barrick, who says he’s not related to the Las Vegas family of Barricks, brings three decades of experience in cultivation to Evergreen’s operation. In addition, the VonDank group has pioneered clean-room cultivation in Colorado and Arizona before partnering with investors in Nevada’s embryonic medical marijuana industry.
Evergreen produces cookies, yes, but does not take a cookie-cutter approach to production of the edibles. To make it work for patients, Barrick explains, Evergreen has to have a range of products.
“No matter what, we want to be flexible,” he says. “We have three different style chefs, a diabetic menu, we are health conscious, non-GMO (genetically modified organism-based ingredients), 100 percent organic ingredients. We have to be able to meet all the needs of different patients. It’s not just one product.
“It’s a lot of different processes, a lot of different styles for our customers.”
One element that is consistent throughout both the cultivation and production sides is an absolute emphasis on cleanliness. That’s not just a buzzword for Evergreen, but it is an essential element for a company that is trying to avoid the use of any kind of sprays or treatments – even organic – in the cultivation side, an issue that has reached media recently because of the detection of pesticides or fungicides from cannabis produced in Oregon and other states.
The cultivation and production sides of the operation appear very clean indeed – 30,000 square feet of laboratory clean.
Barrick says that Evergreen has taken “an organic approach,” but he doesn’t call it “organic,” a term that only the U.S. Department of Agriculture can use to bless products. Since cannabis products, medicinal and otherwise, are still illegal under federal law, the term organic is for now, in terms of cannabis, undefined. That doesn’t stop Evergreen Organix from applying the methods that would bring such a certification, if it existed, or when it is available.
The focus is on keeping any and all kinds of contamination from the plants and, ultimately, the products. In practice, going into Evergreen’s Las Vegas center means wearing a full bodysuit, hairnet and shoe coverings to keep stray elements from outside from contaminating the cultivation and production sides of the operation. Workers who come into contact with the medicinal product have to take showers once arriving at work.
Evergreen is using a carbon dioxide extraction method – training was ongoing through early February – which produces no byproducts and is, Barrick believes, perhaps the cleanest process to produce THC and CBD available.
“We’re trying to mitigate any kind of issue,” he says of unwanted chemical or byproducts. “It’s one step towards a cleaner medicine for the patients.”
Evergreen has only been in operation for a few months – licensed in November, the first flowering and harvesting of its cloned strains ongoing by early February. Jillian Nelson, Evergreen’s operations manager, says the company has a license for 1,960 plants, and had about 200 ready for harvest as of the end of January.
A staff of 30 is keeping the cultivation and production process humming.
She gives us a look at the 4,000-square-foot production kitchen, where brownies, four kinds of cookies and biscotti are on the menu. Topicals such as lip balm, hand cream and bath bombs will soon be available, along with several kinds of infused candies. And there will be cannabis butter for those who want to cook at home. The goal, Nelson says, is to reach “as many demographics as possible.”
Evergreen is now supplying edibles to nine dispensaries in Southern Nevada, two in the Reno area and two more are expected to join them soon, she says.
So far, the reaction has been good, Nelson says, but all comments are considered as the company moves forward. “We’re very big on getting feedback from patients. We’re taking everything into consideration.”
One member of the team is Jamie Lockwood, a production supervisor. What that title means in practice is that Lockwood is a head chef, developing recipes, infusing cannabis into butter and then baking cookies, pastries and other edibles. It’s a job that marries chemistry and cooking skills.
“I did my culinary training at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts in Boston,” Lockwood says. “I then worked in American- and French-style bakeries learning to make all kinds of pastries. I really enjoy making the most delicious version of each dessert that I can.”
According to Nelson, the recipes start with small test batches, then larger efforts without medicinal cannabis products, with volunteers tasting the products. (Elevate tried one cannabis-free product, a peanut-butter cookie. It was, indeed, delicious.)
Lockwood says they appreciate and depend on feedback from end-users. Again, the focus throughout production is on having a safe, quality medicine that patients can count on for both taste and to be exactly what it promises in terms of content.
“The ‘Classix’ line of products is my homemade recipes that have been multiplied into much larger batches using high-quality ingredients,” Lockwood says. “I’m very lucky to be working in such a beautiful and clean facility with top-of-the-line equipment and an amazing team. With every batch going out to a lab for testing, we know the exact THC and CBD content of everything we create. All these factors set us up for success in the kitchen and make sure that we are providing only the highest quality of products for patients.”