A Better Farm: Inside Alter Farms

We all love great flower, and there's no one better than Jodi Haines, CEO and Director of Operations at Alter Farms, to tell us what makes the best stuff. We chatted with Jodi about her journey in the cannabis industry, what makes Oregon’s cannabis culture unique, and what’s next for one of Chalice’s fantastic partners. Every strain is special, so let’s hear from one of the industry leaders in genetics and craft cannabis.

JODI HAINES -CEO and Director of Operations Jodi Haines is the CEO of Alter Farms. She is based in Southern Oregon where she has been researching and growing craft cannabis for over 20 years. Jodi is actively involved with community education and outreach, and is a committed advocate for sustainable business and farming practices. A foodie at heart, Jodi is the owner of the highly acclaimed Ma Mosa’s, a from-scratch, farm to table restaurant in Grants Pass. When Jodi is not tending her plants, animals, or businesses, you may find her rafting down the Rogue River enjoying her sungrown.

CF: What brought you to the cannabis industry?

JODI HAINES: I was born and raised in Wisconsin and moved to Oregon when I was 19. I was able to be an early participant in the medical marijuana program here due to a list of medical needs stemming from cancer early in life. I’ve been cultivating for over 20 years now, but that’s what got me into it. Now it’s evolved from growing a few plants in my backyard to an entire farm!

CF: Tell us about your career path leading to Alter Farms.

JH: When I moved to Oregon I fell in love with river rafting and farming. Growing up in Wisconsin, the growing season is much shorter, so southern Oregon felt like a piece of heaven. I was already a massage therapist, and went on to become a Rolfer (structural integration massage). Living in Grants Pass, where the Motto is, “It's the climate,” I was disappointed that you could not find local veggies or wares being served anywhere. My solution was opening Ma Mosa’s, a from-scratch kitchen, which I’ve been running and operating since 2012. Our mission is to support local and organic producers, embracing our community with food you can feel good about eating. We’ll be celebrating our tenth year in May! With my passion for farming, food, and health, cannabis was a natural evolution. I started with personal medical plants and transitioned to medical sales, and finally the recreational farm in 2016.

CF: What does it mean to you to be a woman in cannabis?

JH: When I began growing cannabis it was pretty dangerous and there weren’t many female growers. Most of the women I knew in the industry were more involved in the trimming and processing aspect of cultivation. It's joyous to see this shift and to witness more and more women embracing this as a career. The big cannabis space is still male dominated, but recently I moderated a panel of women growers, a great sign of the changing times. My journey in cannabis has been tough at times, but I’m a strong woman with a big personality and have not allowed myself to feel underqualified or less than. You’ve got to enter a room and know your gender doesn’t matter. Both the restaurant industry and the cannabis industry are male dominated, I guess I haven’t let that be a huge hurdle for me. I may have butted heads when necessary, but in truth I’ve been really blessed with my partners. They’re amazing, and we’ve created a space where all voices have equal footing, it’s all of us together, all equal parts. I hope that some of us women who are standing proud have paved the way for others to confidently enter the space. Keep in mind, I’ve been working with this plant for over 20 years, and have been here before legalization made everything easier. I wanted to get my hands in the soil and be actively working with the plants. I wanted to grow, to create strains that were good for my ailments and had my desired effect.

CF: How is the cannabis industry in Oregon unique? 

JH: The cannabis industry here is unique for a multitude of reasons. The culture and the experience that exists in the state is profound and runs deep. Why? We’ve been growing for decades. That inherently brings a different level of knowledge around how to cultivate consistent, quality cannabis. There’s also a strong cannabis community and support for fellow farmers. There are many smaller family farms here, and with the state only licensing 40,000 sq. ft. or less, it has created a diverse offering of flowers and genetics. That sets us apart, along with our climate. Oregon has the climate for growing great sungrown, which means weed grown outside, under the sun. With diverse micro-climates, we have the opportunity to join the terroir conversation. We are involved in a research project with Portland State University that seeks to illuminate the relationship between terroir and cannabis, focusing specifically on the influence of soil and cannabis in Southern Oregon. We took six different soil types from around the valley and grew the same strain separately in the six native soils. Our aim is to isolate the effects of the soil on plant chemistry and cannabinoid content. I’m excited to share what we learned from the last two years' trials soon. Oregon also has a strong buy local, support local, sustainable culture. I think Oregon as a whole has a passion for awesome craft weed without compromise, and that is a beautiful thing. I hope the sentiment is contagious!

CF: What has surprised you about operating a farm? About the industry?

JH: There haven't been many surprises, just the need to adapt to the ongoing changes. I’ve definitely felt more frustrations than surprises. The industry is still in its infancy, and with that comes many unique challenges and hurdles. In the last 18 months the market has seen substantial instability. This has been really difficult for farmers. Many crops, including cannabis, are commodities, which means that their shares can be bought and sold, and they fluctuate in the same manner that the stock market does. That instability has been a huge hurdle, but we knew to be prepared for that going in.

CF: What makes quality soil? What is the soil testing process like?

JH: Some of the factors that relate to a good, healthy soil are soil formation, sufficient minerals, organic matter, and good drainage. Here at Alter Farms we grow in our native soil. It’s our job as farmers to be stewards of our land, we want to leave it better than when we arrived. We focus on practices that improve our soil and the life within, rotating cover crops, composting, mulching, and proper soil testing to determine our nutritional program. Several times throughout the year we take a soil probe to our field, pulling core samples for analysis at the lab. Once we have that information we have different formulas that we use to get our desired nutrient levels. We are not force-feeding our plants, we are working to create mineral balanced soil so that everything the plant wants is readily available.

CF: What makes Alter Farms unique in the cannabis industry?

JH: Our experience, plants, soil, palate, and passion! As farmers it's very import-ant to select varietals that thrive in your environment. We breed and grow mostly our own creations. We have been stock-piling and collecting genetics for years, and select and hunt not only for potency, taste, smell and effect, but for pest resistance and plant performance in our micro-climate as well. We pay attention to the details and nuances, constantly evolving and learning from the plant and our environment. We’re meticulous and pay great attention to ensure the best quality possible from seed to sale. We have very specific procedures and protocols for harvest, post harvest handling and storage. Our processing is clean and our quality control is strict. In the end, it’s our product that truly sets us apart, we have won or placed in every competition we’ve entered, subjective and analytical. I take such pride in what I do, it's a huge honor to receive these accolades. We have plants with very unique terpene profiles. We like to say when you smoke Alter, you exhale Oregon.

CF: If you were to explain your typical day at Alter Farms, what does that look like?

JH: Days look very different from one to the next, but generally all our team arrives at 6 or 7 in the morning. We have a short meeting to line out the day, and after that I could be in the processing room working with the crew or going through genetics and strategizing. We do a lot of research here on what strains and genetics work well and that’s a big part of what I do, assessing all that, testing, etc. Unfortunately an increase in industry regulation has led to increased paper-work and data entry, which takes a lot of man hours. It’s not complicated, just time consuming, and is done at the expense of hands-on time with the plants and flower. We are a small farm with few employees, I do a little of everything. Some days are less flower and more sales. Then there’s always Ma Mosa’s tasks to throw a few hurdles in the day.

CF: What are your goals for Alter Farms? What's next?

JH: Alter wants to be a flagship for craft, sungrown cannabis. I want to show that sungrown cannabis is better than indoor if grown and handled correctly. Outdoor farming allows for variance in expression due to the specific terroir in which the plant is grown, yielding different expressions from the plant and finished flower from one grower and one location to the next. This rewards farmers the ability to be known for flower specific to their farm. Every plant is so unique and everybody’s cannabinoid system is so different. I’m really excited to see the evolution of the industry as it goes national. The more it continues to be deregulated, the more research potential opens up and the more we can learn. The industry is in a tough place right now. The market is experiencing one of many ebbs and flows. Alter Farms is focused on premium flower and genetic development, and continues to stand out in that regard. I ultimately want to show-case what we do and who we are on the national stage. In the interim, we’ll keep working on great flower and great products with industry partners. I don’t see us getting much larger, I just want a brand to showcase who we are and what we do. I want to keep sungrown craft cannabis alive and flourishing.

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