Thursday, December 31, 2015

Honu in Longview, WA - Producer/Processor

Producer/Processor: Honu
Location: Longview, WA

Visited: 12/12/2015

Overall: Family. Organized. Growing. Professional. Careful.

I'm super excited to be able to share this awesome brand with you as the final post of the year. As we close out on 2015, I'm reflecting on many changes in life, arduous tasks completed; grand adventures begin. There were immense obstacles overcome and new friends made. It's been a huge year personally and especially for legal, recreational marijuana. We're looking forward to a huge amount of great content including the best in legal and medical marijuana. Goodbye 2015! Happy New Year!

Mrs. the Ent, was with me for the first time on a producer/processor review, which was very appropriate. Honu is a family business run by 4 couples, and they seem to be quite the family! Honu operates in cooperation of Jay, who was my tour guide, his wife Crystal, his two brothers and their wives - John and Katie, Paul and Dani - and parents Gary and Deb. We toured their facility the day before my birthday! Cool gift.

The brothers were raised in a family of caring - they have 5 adopted siblings as well as having many foster siblings. This is a family of hard workers who are growing their business in a variety of directions - applying or acquiring skills to get the best results they can in a fascinating and challenging industry. I'm impressed by their dynamic and results.

Honu is in Longview, WA, in the industrial part of town in a large blue building.  There's quite a bit of space inside of the fenced-in and gated property which is about 30% gravel drive and parking. We parked in a spot left for us right outside the door, which was kind as there was some rain. There are multiple roll-ups and several smaller doors along the blue expanse of the building, and this one was obviously the door.

On entering the facility, there is a spot to sign in - a requirement for all visitors to any producer/processor - and a breakroom for the employees. This is the place all the required Federal and State employee notices hang, as well as a little kitchenette with fridge and microwave.

There are some small offices through a doorway which I ignored. To the left is the main entryway into the packaging and processing area. The entry to this area is actually in the doorway right of center below, right next to the massive clock.

This is a large, open area that has a wide variety of uses, and lots of space to get big work done. There are cleaning stations, the packaging area, multiple workstations with standing desks, phones, and other technologic tools to help run the business.

The massive interior space itself is in progress, as Jay is quick to inform me. It looks like they have room to work with and grow. They're experimenting with what is best for them, and doing all the work themselves. In a family operation that is growing and developing, function comes first.

I was guided down the busy hallway past several rooms with signs of "This room belongs to:" and was a bit inquisitive.  More on those and the unique system of grow-room management being utilized here at Honu later.

The first destination was the primary garden and cloning gardens. This was a well tended, luscious smelling garden with a variety of beautiful growing plants under myriad lighting conditions. Here I met Deb who was very informative and clearly knows her whole garden. She's the matriarch of this big family and has a huge role in mothering these gardens as well.

The story of this family business is pretty amazing. I'm going to convince someone to come tell the tale on the Marijuana Encyclopedia, but the short of it is that at least a dozen people in their big family ended up in Hawaii all at once for a massive family vacation. While sitting around, they realized they needed to come up with a family business and someone mentioned the burgeoning legal, recreational marijuana industry. What started as a brief joke turned quickly serious and they decided to do it. They got the name on that magical Hawaiian vacation when a massive sea turtle came swimming up to them on the beach, clearly greeting them as friends and spending some time with them as they spoke of their plans. They quickly decided on Honu - the Hawaiian name for the majestic green sea turtle. I love their #PurpleTurtle concept. I like turtles and am a lifelong friend of them.

New Garden and Clones

This garden is very new. Every one of the plants in this room had recently been relocated and were all in recovery from this stressful event. You can see it in some of the leaves. That notwithstanding, these were some gorgeous plants and a variety of strains and heritage. While stressed, they're still lovely and the care for these plants can be seen throughout the garden.

New generations of plants are up and coming here, clones growing in a variety of methods. With a company working to success in this competitive and complex industry, there has to be lots of experimentation. Honu is just now coming into their own with new strains and custom hybrids rotating frequently. 

You can see from these photos just how unwieldy the WSLCB seed-to-sale tracking system can be with tiny clones and sproutlings.

Across from the primary garden was a mother room which I got to step in, but it was very dark to inhibit the flower cycle. I did not get any great pictures from that garden. They have a huge variety of non-flowering mothers, it was impressive.

When you first open an i502 producer/processor, there's a brief window of time to bring all your start-up plants in, and what you start with is what you get for the most part. There were a huge variety of strains they brought in, and they're now honing their inventory, ensuring the best strains with the most potent flavors and effects get more growth, as well as working to improve the phenomes of other less well-developed strains and new hybrids.

I was able to swing into another small garden that was progressing through a decent flower stage, although it had been exposed to some stresses but still gorgeous.

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Next was another dark growing room, but I was able to catch a few of this low, bushy flowering garden. I snuck in and snapped these in zero light conditions. The bottoms are heavily pruned and the tops are widespread. This type of bottom-trim coupled with grid-binding is a common practice in marijuana. It appears to be the primary method used here at Honu.  That leads to the low spread of these beautiful plants, and you can see how flowered they are, even though they are short and stubby. That white is the the crystalline young buds reflecting blindingly.

Between these two growing areas was a massive plastic cistern of water - 250 or so gallons size - and it was explained that this is one of several water reclamation tanks. In all the garden rooms, there are condensers and humidity reclamation units. They're working to recover 60%+ of their humidity right now. I looked around and noticed that I'd walked right past another one of these already. For all their massive size, they're not all that obtrusive.

They also have onsite CO2 so that their plants get ideal respiration. This took up a ton of space and clearly it is cold.

They're able to ensure the humidity recovery system and CO2 delivery systems work properly because they're executing the work themselves, building to needs. They've begun to develop grow-room layouts for specific needs, having experimented with dimensions in the existing grow rooms. This sort of deployability will be important for growing, expanding businesses as Oregon and other states develop their recreational marijuana markets, and as Washington expands the available Tier size for Producer/Processors, or allows more location or expanded facilities.

Even though the overall space appears to be somewhat unfinished - see the black plastic, and all the rest - everything works well. They're able to experiment with their buildouts. Several gardens have open ceilings, some have walls to the high warehouse roof. Even so, they're building and expanding with recovery, ecology, and efficiency in mind.

There are several full gardens built in this massive structure as you can see. Each one is overseen by a separate grower. The whole operation is overseen by a Master Grower and a Grow Manager - two very different types of roles.

I really like the idea of having specific growers in charge of small areas of the grow - in this case separate grow rooms. The people are the most important part of any business, and the marijuana industry is no different. This type of system imparts ownership to each individual employee, and has byproducts of being a strict division of labor, among many positive effects that are not only productive, but assuredly lead to a more positive work environment.

The kind of isolated gardening system in use here at Honu leads to strong protections existing between crops, and allows the growth of a wide array of crops at different schedules and duration of growth periods. If one set of plants gets infested with a pest, it's easy to segregate those plants and isolate the pest from spreading. If one bank gets exposed to a pollutant, it can be isolated.

Another benefit is that each grower can use slightly different methods and tactics, and different grow types can be attempted in closed environments. Each grower has some latitude to the strains, methods, and layout of their grow. This is, as stated before, a young, growing company using new ideas in new ways. Sometimes new ideas work out great, often they do not, and you learn from them.

One garden was occupied by a grower who was working hard, and he had no light on. He knew his way from end to end, turning on a few green LEDs for my benefit as I worked through snapping pictures and taking smells.

Another garden, one that will soon hold the most plants of all the current gardens, was just ready for expansion. There were a few plants with buds that were flowering amazingly, nearing harvest time. I'm looking forward to visiting again and seeing this room in flower, with every one of these racks loaded with beautiful plants.

I was delighted to meet John next, the brother who is currently running the expanding concentrate end of the business. He has a background in vacuum, working for industry leaders in the semiconductor industry. He gets to play with awesome vacuum extraction units - referred to as ovens. However, his real passion is in the grow rooms.

He told me about how he was the one who grew weed in high school, and he wanted to get back into it, but right now his expertise in the lab was more valuable, so he worked hard in this part of the business. That's not to say he doesn't love what he's doing now!

Instantly, his passion is clear and he's convinced that Honu is leading the way in producing the cleanest, best, tastiest, most potent marijuana concentrates in the legal recreational market. I believe him! They're on the leading edge, along with other i502 companies, that is going to lead to multiple states legalizing recreational marijuana, followed by a Federal deschedule of marijuana, and lastly general global acceptance and legalization.

This is the stuff that so many generations of stoner conversations are made of - "If only it was legal maaaaan". Well it is, and this is why it's very important to support the taxed legal recreational marijuana. It may mean spending a bit more cash for product than on the black and grey markets, but it leads to the global legalization of marijuana. Three to five years from now, the legal market will drop to under $10 a gram consistently for premium marijuana and maybe double that for premium concentrates, I think.

His lab is clean, organized, and operated with a smooth hum of productivity, even when he stepped away from the workload to guide me, answer questions, and explain the processes a bit to me, the work continued unabated.

He's got a great voice, a caring tone, and excellent presentation skills. Throughout, he described how important family is to him, and everyone at Honu. You can tell familial love goes into everything they do. Although they all work together 6 days a week, they still find time to meet up for a family dinner once a week - this ends up a couple dozen people!  It sounds warm and loving, and I miss my family who all live far away. Hell, my family was never as close as he describes, but I want some of what they've got! I'll have to take it in smokeable form, I guess, as the end result of this family's loving dedication, and work hard to give something similar to my own kids as well.

Having made conversation with 2/3 of the brothers, it's clear that the parents set very strong examples in the lives of these men, and in the business as well. They're hard working, dedicated to kindness, and it seems love infuses everything they do. I can't wait to meet the rest of the family.

Honu is taking concentrates seriously.  They built a massive room, more sturdy and protected than legally required, for butane concentrate processing.  It was tough to coordinate between the WSLCB and the Fire Department, their imbalanced and somewhat conflicting requirements had to be sorted as this came to fruition.  Currently, they have one processing unit, but plan to install another soon.  They run 1500-3000 grams of flower in batches at a time.

You can see that blue light on - it indicates the extraction is in process. I didn't catch any photos of the room or machinery while it was not in process, even tho I got a brief peek right before the light went on. Another good reason to come back for an update, I think!

After the concentrate is processed, it has to have the leftover butane extracted. This is done with a series of ovens. They have 4 of one variety, and one of a larger variety. There was a single, small batch being extracted at the time of my visit. With everything on full bore, they have processed up to about 4kg at a time.  Say that again, 4,000 grams in process at once!

I was shown some testing documentation indicating they were consistently achieving 50 ppm or less of residual butane in their product. This is the lowest measurable unit for this kind of solvent-residual testing, and it's a mere fraction of the maximum allowed. I haven't smoked any yet, but this alone makes me think it's some primo dabs.

After being purged of solvents, the concentrate heads to one of a few places. Some huge amount of it gets processed into the beautiful shatter, crumble, and snap-and-pull that Honu is gaining a name for in legal recreational marijuana. Employees carefully cut, weigh, and wrap the concentrate. I was amused to learn they use cardboard pizza boxes - they look efficient.

They were working some Snow Leopard while I was visiting. I happened to pick up some for just $15/0.5g at the Freedom Market in Kelso, which I'll be reviewing with some other concentrate strains in the New Year!

Honu also uses a large amount of concentrate for their delicious, gourmet edible line. The kitchen gets a jar when it hits 1,000g. That's almost two and a quarter pounds of concentrate. This jar is less than 20% of the way there.

The kitchen is where I met Katie, John's wife. They're turning out some amazing delicious treats. The kitchen itself was quiet, which I'm told almost never happens - it was just a fluke, and not even orchestrated for my visit.

Normally, there are 5-7 people working turning out a wide variety of infused products. They have it stocked like any confectioner's or pastry-chef's pantry, just there are also massive jars of concentrates destined for the mix.

Once cooked and cooled, everything must be individually packaged, labeled and wrapped. There's also the WSLCB Traceability requirements that take time and effort with which to comply.

This clean, professional looking kitchen turns out some spectacular edibles - caramel and pecan Turtles (of course); Honu's premium Cinnamon and (coming soon) Peppermint Turtle mints; some of the best peanut butter cups you'll ever eat; and also delicious chocolate bites. Don't forget the s'mores haystacks, hard candies, and delicious cookie bites too! I picked up a 100mg 10 count of peanut butter cups recently, and can't wait to review them.

They just started supplying a variety pack to i502 retailers, offering up 5 different treats in one package, totaling 50mg of THC in the package. One downside to this type of packaging, is that the WSLCB requires individual labeling and pricing, so in selling these, there must be a sticker for each of the products, with it's individual information and which must be individually scanned at the retail transaction.

This is just one more example of needless complexity created by the WSLCB. It doesn't seem intentionally frustrating, it's just the nearly foreseeable result of a lot of inexperienced and linear thought-processes in the implementation of rules for legal recreational marijuana in Washington by people who frankly have no experience in the production of marijuana. In several more years, after the wrinkles are smoothed out, these type of frustrations will hopefully be behind the industry and Washington can be an ever more deployable example of legal, recreational marijuana that can be used in other states and nations. The current struggles are to the benefit of all, I think.

My visit ended returning to the massive processing and packaging room at the center of the operation. Here I met up with the packaging team. These were several employees working hard to weigh, package, seal, then label all the delicious harvested and cured marijuana. They took up the far right corner of the large work area.

The cured marijuana first needs to be weighed out, then packaged appropriately. This may look like a somewhat rudimentary sorting mechanism, but they clean everything, the whole area is wiped and cleaned before engaging, and everyone maintains cleanliness standards throughout.

After being trimmed and cupped up to weight it's added to a bag with an appropriate strain sticker on front. Next, it's time to go through the heat sealer, which turns plastic mylar-backed zip-top bags into rip-top bags. Lastly, these will get a label and be sorted ready to go into quarantine for 24 hours before it can be transported to the retailers to whom it is being sold. Sadly for me, sampling is so restrictive as to be essentially impossible under current rules. I'll have to wait till these are on the shelves of a reputable retailer before I can get some of these strains!

Overall, Honu is turning out a wide variety of great legal, recreational marijuana products. They've got a massive quality increase with their newest harvests, and I'm looking forward to trying some real premium marijuana from Honu. Their products at all stages look great, some of it exceptional, and all of it is carefully treated. Quality and ecology are equally important to Honu and to customers like me. 

It's clear that love and familial unity is what drives these folks, and they're putting as much passion and care into perfecting their product and their business and their execution as anyone I've ever seen. I'm grateful for the opportunity to come visit and see that they're doing great things.  I simply can't wait to come back and to smoke their marijuana!

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