Holly Teuscher, Owner of Utokia, is one of hundreds of women growing cannabis in Oregon. She dedicates herself to perfecting her craft and proving a small boutique garden can produce some of the best cannabis in Oregon.
Holly loves gardening. “I’ve always grown vegetables,” she said. “I have pictures of me in the garden as a little kid. I was always planting gardens with my parents growing up. I was obsessed; it was my biggest hobby.”
Raised on a 10-acre “hobby” farm in Vernonia Oregon, she loved growing plants and raising animals. “I’m a second-generation grower of cannabis,” Holly said. “Both parents had medical cards and grew during the early medical days.”
Holly’s cannabis journey didn’t start until 2014 when a horse she was riding slipped through a patch of mud, breaking two bones in her wrist. After surgery, where they had to sever Holly’s carpal tunnel nerve and install a plate with multiple screws, her doctor prescribed Oxycodone. Holly had never been on a narcotic pain killer before, and after three months of taking it as prescribed, she wanted to taper off.
“I hated the way I felt on it [Oxycodone], the withdrawals were unbearable,” she explained. “It introduced me to this world where you can have an accident and be prescribed this painkiller that does not help when your body becomes addicted to it. I went to my doctor, and his solution was to prescribe me more.”
Feeling distraught, Holly was recommended cannabis.
“My parents were both growers, she said. “But I also grew up in the D.A.R.E. generation being told in school that this was a gateway drug. Still, I was desperate for something to help with the way I was feeling.”
Being one-handed and still in a cast, lighting up was an obvious challenge. So Holly tried some edible cookies and tinctures to put in tea. She said the immediate relief was amazing. It helped with the pain, and her appetite returned. It blew her away to see firsthand the medical benefits.
“Since I always had a green thumb, it wasn’t long after that I became interested in learning about cannabis and how to grow it,” she said. “I pretty much immediately began looking for properties where I could start a small medical grow.”
As fate would have it, a nursery, owned by a retired couple who found the property to be too much upkeep went on the market. Holly and her husband bought the 4-acre spot. “The first few years I felt like I was living a double life,” she said. “I commuted to my corporate job in downtown Portland, and on nights and weekends I was tending to my plants.”
Once Holly decided to apply for an OLCC license, she realized how much work was involved in running cannabis at a bigger scale. Bootstrapping all of this herself, Holly finally decided to quit her job and devote her time and resources to getting licensed.
“That’s what I find so fantastic about the cannabis industry, it has really allowed me to live out my dreams. My husband and I always talked about retiring on a farm someday. We had this decision to make, work 9 to 5 at jobs we didn’t enjoy or take a chance. Legalization provided this once in a lifetime opportunity to get out of our office jobs and create something that was ours. Often, we don’t take risks and settle for the comfortable. We figured it was riskier to continue doing something we were unhappy doing,” she said.”
A Small Fish Focused on Quality Cannabis
Utokia is a woman-owned Micro Tier II indoor farm producing well-crafted cannabis. Holly runs the entire operation. “…you have to wear a lot of hats. I had to learn a lot. Everything ranging from electrical, lighting, plumbing, HVAC, irrigation, environmental controls, even before you put the first plant in a pot. You really have to be a problem solver and a mad scientist at the same time,” she joked.
When asked what makes Utokia special Holly said “Even though there are a lot more women in the industry now, you don’t see a lot of female growers or business owners. We are a mom and pop focusing on quality over quantity. Due to our small scale, we are able to do things like glass cure all of our bud which is really difficult to do at larger scales. Glass retains smell and quality longer than the typical bag storage method. Everything is hand trim without any form of machine assistance. I handle every single bud going out there and if it doesn’t meet our standards it gets set aside for processing,” she said.
Many Challenges in the Beginning
Holly mused that everyone thinks it’s easy and fun to start up a cannabis business, but there are many complexities to good quality cannabis at scale. Her biggest lesson so far is to develop a set of rules like only growing two strains at a time and not changing more than one key factor at once.
Her advice to other growers is to stay persistent when problems arise, keep picking yourself up and trying again. Creativity and experimentation are essential. “I go into every day with a plan, and then it can completely change,” Holly said. “I find myself pivoting a lot and being creative to find temporary solutions that also save money. There is never a perfect crop. These are living breathing plants, and some things are just going to be out of your control. I make myself a goal to find one thing I can improve each time.”
Being a Woman in Cannabis
When asked if she perceives any challenges as a woman in cannabis. “Sometimes it can be harder for some to take you seriously but that is something I am seeing less and less of especially as we become more established,” Holly said.
Holly was given some advice by a friend who is a budtender during the time of early sales when she was really nervous and looking for guidance on how to sell her product.
“She said to expect more questions bringing a product into dispensaries than a man would,” Holly said. Holly’s advice to other women entering the cannabis industry is to know your craft inside and out—whether you’re a trimmer, grower, budtender—just be confident. “When you start talking, they will realize you know what you’re talking about. The stigma is something you can very much overcome in your first few minutes.”
Holly is eager to connect with more female growers. She admits that her life has been male-dominated as no other grower she interacts with is a woman.
“I want to do a call out to any other women in this industry looking to network or to share awesome pictures of buds,” Holly said. “I would love to mentor because I have done all of this from start to finish.”
Holly is ready to work with inspiring women, and she knows they are out there.