Skagit Valley's, Sugarleaf, is making waves—and it’s not just their solvent-free concentrates or 30-strain selection. They’re the only commercial cannabis grower—ever—to use a method called aquaponics, where they raise fish alongside their plants, and use the tank water as a powerful, all-natural fertilizer. As pioneers in the industry, Sugarleaf has gone through some trial and error, refining the system to produce some of the tastiest, connoisseur-grade herb and extracts you can get.
“Since we’re the first people to do aquaponics [in this industry], there’s really no resources out there or for us to look at, so we’re figuring everything out as we go.” says Mark Brinn, founder of Sugarleaf.
Before Sugarleaf, Mark was a Hollywood motion graphics designer. While working on the film “Pacific Rim,”—which depicted the fall of human civilization—he had an epiphany.
“During the massive amount of research we did for this piece, my eyes were opened to the real life threats that face our civilization today. Ocean acidification, loss of species diversity (the 6th mass extinction), climate change, overpopulation, and peak oil are all very real problems that I became aware of, and wanted to do something about,” he says.
Mark decided to change his life and work toward solving some of these problems. He moved to his home-town of Bellingham, Washington and started Sugarleaf in a barn with 25 grow lights and a few hundred koi and fancy goldfish.
Now, Sugarleaf is massively expanding. Joined by grower-extraordinaire, Jason Flynn, from Colorado, they've moved from the barn to a shiny new 250-light facility, with grow rooms on two floors.
Take the Tour
The first thing you see when you walk in is a row of large, white, cube-shaped tanks, stacked 2-high. On the top are the reservoirs, and on the bottom are the fish tanks. Pipes lead from the tanks up to a row of blue pressure canisters sitting above an opening to a large, aromatic grow room.
This is the “veg” room, where a sea of 6-week-old Lemon OG clones are maturing into hardy young plants. Why clones? Genetic consistency. Mark explains, “These plants aren’t just from the same parents, they’re literally copies of the same plant. There are a lot of benefits to growing from seed, like resistance to pests and molds. So, for outdoor [growing], seeds can have some advantages. But indoors, here, our main focus is to get a super even canopy so we can get the most out of our lights.”
In the veg room, it’s summer all the time. “We keep the lights on for 18 hours per day to keep the plants in constant vegetative growth. When it's time, we bring them upstairs into the bloom room where the conditions imitate fall.”
Walk upstairs, and you ascend to the warm yellow-purple glow of LEDs and Gavitas beaming down from above. They use a mix, because the LEDs deliver the light spectrum the plants love, and bring out more subtle nuanced flavors, while the Gavitas offer the bulk of the power with their high-energy output.
These lights are on for 12 hours hours a day, and trigger the plants’ flower cycle. Maturing plants reach toward the light, and form thick canopies on a grid of grow tables. As a recreational grower, with the ability to grow as many plants as possible, they can actually do better by keeping the plants small and the canopy large, as opposed to fewer, larger plants.
The crop you see here is now available at 2020 Solutions—these are the strains:
Girl Scout Cookies
Seeing this forest of green, you can’t help but wonder, just how much flower they can harvest per plant. But Mark will tell you, it’s better to think of it in terms of ‘per watt.’ The individual plants grow together in thick canopies—and a canopy essentially functions as one cohesive whole. So really, the amount of bud that’s harvested is more a factor of the lights and what they’re putting out, than the number of individual stalks.
This sheds some light on that little factoid from earlier—about their increase from 25 to 250 grow lights!
One enthusiastic plant on the Chunky Diesel table stretches higher than all the rest. Mark reaches out to it to point out how thick and robust it is. “That’s why they call it chunky diesel—I mean, look at that!” he says.
Where do we go from here?
Mark sees a lot of parallels between cannabis and alcohol, and he envisions the day when Sugarleaf can have a ‘tasting room’ like a winery, so they can really talk with the end consumer.
“When it was illegal, it was all just about getting high. Most people didn’t know what strains they were smoking—they just wanted something strong, and that was about it. But now that its legal, people will stop being so concerned about THC content and more concerned with other qualities like the terpenes and different effects that the plant provides. And just appreciating it more. With more knowledge comes greater appreciation.”
If you want a recommendation, Mark’s favorite strain right now is White 99. It’s an amazing hybrid that combines the heavy indica, The White, with the strong sativa, Cinderella 99. As he says, “It has great flavor and doesn’t make you too sleepy. One dab and you’re good.”
Also, you’ll want to check out what else they have to offer—products like:
All-natural, heat-and-pressure-extracted rosin (no solvents!)
Kief and hash, which they produce using a centuries-old mechanical sieving process
‘Golden Nuggets’, which are little ‘popcorn’ buds rolled in rosin and dusted with kief—oh my God!
Now, Mark and his partners are realizing their dream—producing something people truly love and benefit from, while doing it in sustainable, ecologically sound ways that complement mother nature.
One happy surprise in all of this is that Mark can still follow his art dream, but now on his own terms, as his own client. And, he adds “With cannabis, it’s counterculture—people are more open to more creative ideas…” Go to their website and see what I mean—the inspiration and the cannabis truly go hand in hand!