The mystery and magic of the cannabis plant will take you on an incredible journey in this industry. This simple statement speaks volumes into what Tom Scoble, his family, and his dedicated team have experienced at Mother Magnolia Medicinals.
Tom did not grow up in Oregon, even though their operation is just north of Eugene in the Willamette Valley. His wife was raised in Oregon and they moved back to her family farm in 2015 when a series of life events converged. It made sense as the place to raise their family and a grow flourishing business operation.
Although cannabis farming was a new adventure for the Scoble family, Tom did have 15 years of experience in landscape construction in Southern California, previously working with plants and cultivation in a different capacity that included some large-scale construction projects.
“Working with plants has been second nature to me,” Tom said. “Growing up, gardening was part of what we did as a family. I was always surrounded by big vegetable gardens with my hands in the dirt.”
When he stepped foot on the family farm in Oregon in 2015, everything Tom had done in his life seemed to fall into place.
“Building out the barn and the logistics of putting together a grow plan was right in my wheelhouse,” he said. “Everything I had done in the past just started to fit together.”
Tom credits his background in construction, running crews, and doing business in a transactional market as part of the reason for his team’s early success.
“I hear over and over again that part of the reason people really like working with me is their trust that I have my I’s dotted and my T’s crossed,” Tom said. “I am bottom-line driven and focused on making smart decisions about how we execute each step of the way.”
Converting a Sheep Farm to Grow Cannabis with Mother Magnolia Medicinals
Prior to Tom arriving, his wife’s family had used their Oregon farm to raise sheep, and the big barn they ended up converting for an indoor grow housed livestock. While it had been an excellent way to use the land and the barn, sheep don’t really pay the bills.
“There was purpose on the land, but not much profit,” Tom said. “Which is why it made sense for us to come in and launch a grow operation.”
As most business owners do in the beginning, the Scoble family kicked a few other farming ideas around like growing blueberries or lavender, but nothing came close to the profitability of cannabis—especially in leveraging the 7,000 square feet of indoor space provided by the existing barn.
“The barn was this shell that needed massive adjustments to get it ready to function as a grow operation, but the bones were there,” he said. “It was just this massive asset waiting to be explored.”
Tom also credits the environmental control offered by an indoor grow as a leading factor in choosing this path.
“It removes the variables that Mother Nature can throw at you,” he said. “The resiliency of indoor flower over outdoor just seemed to be a safer bet, so we launched with an indoor program and brought in our first harvest in 2016.”
If you ask him, has it worked? Well, despite adding two greenhouses in the second year and expanding indoor operations into another barn this year, they still hustle to produce enough flower for the demand—not the worst problem to have as a business owner, admitted Tom.
A Soil Farmer More Than a Cannabis Farmer
Feed the soil, not the plant is the team mantra at Mother Magnolia Medicinals. According to Tom, that’s because there is a vast relationship between the plant and the soil that is truly magical.
“Our focus is on soil,” he said. “We understand how the plant communicates through the biology of the soil. Millions of organisms in the dirt receive communication from the plant to make bio-available the calcium, magnesium, nitrogen, and other nutrients that the plant needs.”
That’s why his team relies on specific compost teas to stoke that biological system, and has also used the same soil for well over a year since committing to the notion of developing and nurturing a biosphere.
“We send soil samples out to lab testing every flower cycle or about every nine weeks,” he said. “This gives us a glimpse into our biology and an indication of our micronutrient levels.”
Biggest Hurdles in the Beginning for Mother Magnolia Medicinals
Tom said it took the Mother Magnolia Medicinals team quite a while to understand the exact conditions for their space, grow program, genetics, dehumidifiers, and HVAC. Getting to that sweet spot was the biggest challenge when they began, yet three specific issues did come to mind for him.
The first was Photosynthetic Photon Density, in layman’s terms, it is how bright the lights are and how many photons are hitting the plants. The farm runs an all-LED light program with very powerful wattage that took some getting used to while navigating the light spectrum. Another hurdle was perfecting the environment. Vapor Pressure Deficit (VPD) is the balance between room humidity and temperature, which needs to be precise. Air circulation was another huge issue. Tom stressed that you can’t have enough airflow in your facility, which took them a long time to appreciate fully.
“We’ve got a team together that is a strong unit that has been together for years,” Tom said. “Everyone is firing on all cylinders, from the people working in the rooms gardening every day to the team in post-production trimming and making pre-rolls.”
Cultivation Classic Win Proves their Concept
In 2018, Mother Magnolia Medicinals won for outstanding Terpene Diversity at the Cultivation Classic held yearly in Oregon. Their particular award reflects the wide array of potent terpenes found in the strain they submitted, meaning the judges found their cultivars had an eclectic flavor profile that had five or six other terpenes present (in addition to the typical Myrcene found in most plants) to create a diverse flavor profile.
“This win was a big surprise,” Tom said. “It gave our brand the added merit in the marketplace that put us on the cannabis map.”
Despite all of the unique ways that they farm, Tom attributes this win to genetics, saying that gene expression can be dramatically improved through best practices or shunted when conditions are not favorable, but it always starts with the genetics.
Keeping the Organic Craft in Growing Cannabis
Businesses understand that it is increasingly important for their customers to know where and how the things they ingest are grown. In a few years, when there is full legalization on a national stage, will cannabis cultivation become no different from alcohol production? Maybe, but Tom also believes there will be room for craft, organic cannabis even when we have the Bud Light version of cannabis too.
“I think you can make a safe comparison with viticulture and microbreweries,” he said. “Look at any small boutique vintners, and you know what grapes they are using to make their wine. You look at the microbreweries and you know exactly what the ingredients are in their beer. Small, craft, transparency is out there. And then you can also buy the mass-produced beers that don’t have much clarity around how they are made.”
Working with other farmers in this industry is an important key to transparency, but Tom has found that process to be less fulfilling than he would like to report.
“I think that there is a lot of guarded behavior in this industry around processes and operating procedures,” Tom said. “My general approach is towards transparency and openness. I love having folks over to the facility to tour and discuss how we operate. I don’t feel the need for secrecy when it comes to farming. I think sharing is the secret towards evolution.”
No One Knows What the Future Holds
Tom is prone to be waiting for the bad news to land on any given day, as he said most farmers tend to do. It’s not about complacency or resting on your laurels; it’s just about acknowledging that with farming, you never really know what might happen, so you’d be wise to accept the potential for disaster.
“The real challenge is just to chop wood and carry water,” he concluded. “We take things one day at a time, and we remain mindful, present and humble while we do it.”
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