Sitting Down With Maine Craft Cannabis

Periodically, we like to slow down & get to know the folks behind the cannabis we consume. Even though we are always excited to shine a light on individuals and businesses doing interesting, ground breaking, or even just noteworthy things, sometimes fitting all that into a single update can be challenging. Which is why we are especially excited to kick off our Industry Spotlight series.

In our first industry Spotlight, we visited with Emily Nodine and Mike Wilson, from Maine Craft Cannabis. This husband a wife duo, out of Maine, are doing high quality work with their organic products. These two engineers, turned cultivators are proof that if you have a passion for something, you can create fantastic products without sacrificing your standards. Continue reading to learn more.

The term ‘craft’ can have different meanings (based on context). However, most folks would interpret it in the manner of ‘craft beer’ or ‘artisanal’ production. Did you purposively pick this term in that light when naming Maine Craft Cannabis? Can you speak to what the term 'craft' means to you?

When we started MCC our goal was to produce the absolute best quality cannabis medicine that we could, and we knew that what it was going to take to make that happen was attention to, and respect for, every single detail in the process. To us the term “craft” represents not only supreme quality, but also a genuine passion for the process and the product, and that’s certainly something that resonated with us and that we wanted to contribute to Maine’s cannabis landscape. We grow completely organically and in small batches, with the goal of producing the cleanest and most delicious product possible.

Technically, legally, you are a cannabis caregiver, no? It seems as though Maine has both embraced cannabis legalization as well as enacted a number of regulatory oddities along the way. How has this changing landscape effected MCC and how has it helped/hindered?

Yes, Maine currently has both recreational and medical cannabis programs, and we are licensed under the medical program, which requires patients to have a medical card to buy our products.

The benefit to being part of Maine’s medical program is that, thanks to the hard work done by local cannabis activists in this state, the barriers to entry into the medical market are very low compared to some other states, and the regulations do a much better job of accommodating small businesses. This has created amazing opportunities for Maine residents to start cannabis businesses with low overhead, and the result has been a small-batch, locally owned cannabis market with an incredible variety of super high-quality products. What is going on in Maine’s cannabis market is truly special, and we’re honored to be part of it.

The story is not over, of course, as cannabis politics continue to evolve here and in other states, but the grassroots cannabis activism movement going on in Maine has been a game changer in terms of creating opportunities for businesses like ours, and for increasing the quality of the product in the medical market. We’re grateful for the work that came before us, and we’ve been honored to help support this movement.

You are a young company, what are some of the challenges you faced getting into the cannabis space and how have those challenges impacted your thinking today? (Not simply from a regulatory standpoint)

Something about the cannabis industry that we didn’t fully appreciate from the outside looking in is the lack of support and good information available to cannabis businesses. Want to put together a cost model for getting your business off the ground? You may as well just guess because there’s very little reliable info available. Want to troubleshoot a pest problem in your garden? Have fun researching that on the internet and getting a lot of blatantly inaccurate information. We even found fundamental scientific errors in some of the popular cannabis text books we turned to early on. Much of the information available is based on anecdotal experience (aka “bro science”), and we realized early on that we would need to figure most things from scratch to meet our specific goals.

Our approach to this has been to augment the conventional cannabis wisdom with information from professionals in more established fields that are adjacent to cannabis, like organic agriculture and soil biology. While the information we can get from these sources is rarely a perfect fit, it is often times more scientifically supported than the cannabis industry conventional wisdom.

You grow solely in soil and NOT in some form of hydroponics. Why? Isn't this a much hard medium to work within? What challenges does that present, and what benefits does in afford? Odd question, but do you have a soil farmer that you source from? I would imagine having an organic source that is guaranteed to be free from PFAS would be paramount for MCC.

That’s correct, we grow in very large containers that hold “living soil”, which is a soil that has an active ecosystem in it, just like it does in nature. It’s quite common to grow cannabis in soil if you’re growing outside, but it’s much less common when growing inside because of the logistics of bringing large amounts of soil indoors. The biggest difference between what we are doing and conventional cannabis cultivation is that we don’t have direct control over what nutrients the plants uptake and when, and you can’t easily correct for mistakes along the way. With living soil cultivation, the game is really to nurture and replenish your soil and its ecosystem to make sure that it has enough of everything the plants will need. It’s like setting up a little plant buffet, which allows them to uptake anything they need, whenever they need it!

When we started MCC we decided to grow in soil because it made intuitive sense to us that growing cannabis in a diverse, rich active ecosystem could produce a better, more medicinally viable product than feeding the plants with bottled nutrients (as is done with hydroponics). Compare the flavor and nutrient value of a fresh-picked, organic farm stand tomato to a commercially grown tomato and you’ll understand what we we’re going for. There is excellent hydroponically grown cannabis on the market, and it is certainly possible to product an effective, clean, and beautiful product using this growing method. But at the end of the day, we prefer to smoke organically grown cannabis, so that’s the kind of product we set out to produce.

We also believe that in the legal cannabis market patients and customers deserve to have a choice, and to have transparency into how their cannabis is cultivated. Offering a transparently cultivated product seemed like it would be a good fit for a marketplace where consumers have more options, want more information, and are getting more and more picky. The days when you’ll take whatever is in the bag the “your guy” hands you are officially over, and consumers are making up for lost time.

The French have a saying, "goût de terroir" (which is sometimes shortened to "de terroir"). Literally it means "taste of the soil" but has a figurative translation that connotates a sense of place and its impact on both the inhabitants as well as the agriculture. It seems as though MCC has embraced this concept (in spirit at least if not practice). Thoughts?

Absolutely! The most common feedback we get about how our cannabis flower is different from others on the market is the flavor. Consumers can truly taste the difference between organics and traditionally cultivated cannabis, and many don’t know they prefer it until they try it. Be careful about developing a preference for good organic cannabis if you don’t have a regular source for it, because you may find you get spoiled quickly .

As a craft grower I see that you put an emphasis on hand trimming your products. What are the benefits of hand trimming vs. machine trimming?

In our opinion, hand trimming is not optional for a craft cannabis product.

Cannabis buds are flowers that are coated in tiny, oil filled crystals called trichomes which contain the cannabinoids (e.g. THC, CBD, etc.) and most of the other medicinal compounds in the plant. Trimming is the process of cleaning up the buds to remove extra plant matter, leaving only the part of the bud that has the highest concentration of trichomes. The problem, however, is that the trichomes are attached to the buds with tiny little stems and they fall off fairly easily if the buds are not handled gently. Our goal is to put product into the patient’s hands in the most pristine condition possible, and we think that the best way to do that is to carefully hand trim the buds, snipping off the extra leaves without disturbing or touching any part of the flower that doesn’t need grooming. Machine trimmers work by rolling the bud around to knock off the extra plant matter, but this also removes trichomes and mashes up the buds in the process.

We frankly just can’t see the logic in working hard to grow a premium product, and then tumbling it around in a bud masher before putting it in the jar. In addition to preserving the quality of the product, hand trimming produces a really beautiful result that improves bag appeal.

The downside to hand trimming is that it is incredibly labor intensive and it’s a skilled role, making it logistically difficult to pull off at a larger scale. This is why most large cannabis brands lean on machine trimming. Overall, trimming is a huge pain-point in our industry, and if somebody can find an automated solution that can match the performance of a human trimmer, they would be an industry disruptor.

You are upfront and honest about the challenges you've had getting into the cannabis space. Often times being incredibly candid about challenges you've faced. (Here we are thinking about your social media posts about aphid infestation.) How do you feel this level of candor has benefited MCC? Has it hurt?

Our level of candor is more reflective of who we are as people and how we approach life than it is any sort of marketing strategy, but I do believe it has benefitted us. As I mentioned before, the history of the cannabis industry did not prioritize transparency, and I think that has made our approach stand out more than it otherwise would have. I think the strong positive response to our transparency (for example, making a detailed video about the time we almost lost our business to the cannabis aphid and how we ultimately eradicated it) just shows how hungry both customers and others working in the cannabis industry are for a transparent exchange of information about what goes on behind the scenes. If we all share and learn from each other, we’ll all get better and consumers respond… isn’t that what it’s all about?

Most folks would think a journey from engineering to cannabis improbable if not incomprehensible. Given that engineering at its core is problem solving, how has your formal training impacted your thinking about cannabis - especially in regards to the stigmas around cannabis and how to provide a counter-narrative to the "all illicit drugs are bad" & "weed is a gateway drug".

It seems like an odd transition but frankly, there is so much transfer of skills that we find it hard to believe that anybody does this job WITHOUT an engineering background! Engineering is a platform for problem solving and creative expression, both of which come into play in a big way in organic cannabis cultivation. We use engineering every single day to find ways to improve our workflow and to optimize the final product. One our employees said to us recently after a failed attempt at creating a new drainage system for our rolling beds “it’s a good thing you guys have a positive relationship with failure”. That pretty much sums it up… getting this business off the ground has been one long string of engineering projects, many of which were dead ends but ultimately lead us to solutions that did work.

My (Emily’s) engineering background focused on usability and human centered design, and this is something I personally feel passionate about bringing to the cannabis industry. For cannabis medicine to work well it needs to be customized and usually requires a bit of experimentation to find just the right solution, which can intimidate people. I do my best to streamline the interface between our products and the patient by providing a lot of information as well as guidelines for how to use them and how to optimize dosage.

It seems as though US society is finally waking up to the realization that cannabis usage is not simply a dichotomy between medical usage & recreational use. Wellness - especially mental health - seems to be increasingly important in our society. How can cannabis benefit wellness? How can the concept of Wellness be better served through cannabis?

One of the coolest things about cannabis is how diversely it can be used. It’s a potent medicine for many types of illness, it’s a lot of fun, and it’s everything in between. Unfortunately, I think the fact that cannabis is so enjoyable is one of the reasons that our society struggles to give it the respect it really deserves as a medicine.

But I digress… yes! There is a huge grey area that lies between medicinal and recreational use of cannabis and there are many ways patients can use cannabis to improve their wellbeing that are not explicitly “medical”. Sleep support is a great example. Using cannabis in social situations as a means of decreasing alcohol intake is another. I’ve even heard people tout the benefits of using cannabis to help face difficult emotions as a means of supporting emotional healing. It’s the year 2022 and cannabis is legal… smoking a joint to make folding the laundry less boring is a perfectly legitimate thing to do. At the end of the day cannabis is an incredibly versatile tool and the outcome depends primarily on the intention of the user and what they want to get out of the experience.

What are you most passionate about bringing to the cannabis industry?

That’s easy… the advancement of organic cultivation! When we first started our business people discouraged us from committing to organics in a commercial grow because of the difficulty in producing a top quality product repeatably. But we and a few of our other colleagues in the space are doing it, and we are all learning and getting better and better each harvest. With time this growing style is catching on and more and more we see customers seeking out, and gaining an appreciation for organics. It makes us really happy to be part of bringing more awareness to this cultivation style.