Seth Gillim of Champlain Valley Dispensary in Vermont talks to us about the composites of his grow, and how his product is guided by principles of sustainability and affordability.
Just like Chris Jones of Cannabis Xpress, Seth Gillim has come a long way in the industry. With 20 years of farming experience under his belt, his story is nothing short of fascinating. Don’t miss this episode!
Also, if you didn’t get the chance to listen to our episode with Chris Jones, we urge you to check it out: Starting up in the Industry (with Chris Jones of Cannabis Xpress)!
Steve Looi 0:07
Hi everybody, this is Steve Looi with the GrowerIQ podcast. Today I have Seth Gillim with me from Champlain Valley Dispensary and Southern Vermont Wellness. Hey there, Seth. How you doing?
Seth Gillim 0:19
Good, how are you?
Steve Looi 0:21
Not too bad. So Seth, can you give give us a little background about yourself at yourself and Champlain Valley Dispensary in Southern Vermont Wellness?
Seth Gillim 0:29
And we could just call it CVD from here on. Awesome.
Steve Looi 0:34
Sure. That’s a little bit easier. Yeah,
Seth Gillim 0:36
that’s a mouthful, for sure. So, my background, um, you know, I started working on my first farm in the year 2000. So I like to say, you know, I’ve got about 20 years of agriculture give or take under my belt.
I worked for one of the largest native plant tree nurseries in the northeast for six years here in Vermont. growing trees for watershed and riparian restoration projects throughout Vermont, in northern New England. And then about three years ago, I started to cast about for something else and want to do something different. So I got a master’s degree in sustainable business from the University of Vermont, which really ignited a fire to me it for, for local, sustainable agriculture, and kind of the future of agriculture. And so I got an interested in controlled environment agriculture, which led me to cannabis. So I’m a bit of a cannabis newbie. I’ve been growing cannabis for a little over two years now commercially. And I’ve been really fortunate to step into this role at CVD, which was Vermont’s very first medical cannabis dispensary. We were licensed in 2012. So we’re growing on eight years strong here.
Steve Looi 1:58
Seth Gillim 1:59
it’s awesome. Just awesome. And we are that we’re the largest medical dispensary in the state of Vermont.
Steve Looi 2:05
The largest and first, is it
Seth Gillim 2:07
Yeah, first and largest.
Steve Looi 2:09
Wow, amazing. Can you tell us a little bit more about CVD?
Seth Gillim 2:13
Sure. So um, you know, but by, in most markets, um, we would be, we might not even register, we’d be considered a small craft grower. So when we say we’re large, we mean for Vermont, you know, a state of just about 600,000 people. But, you know, we’re a mission driven organization, whose main goal is to make sure that our patients have access to quality plant based medicine that they need for any number of ailments that that that plague them, and, frankly, that a contemporary medicine doesn’t help them with. So we, you know, first and foremost, we really believe in providing this plant based medicine and also education, we do a tremendous amount of community outreach and outreach to doctors and healthcare providers to help them understand the benefits of the MediCal program and medical cannabis to the community at
Steve Looi 3:10
Gotcha. And we talked a little bit last week. And you mentioned how much getting the right medicine getting good medicine, clean medicine is to get it to your patients. How does that translate into the methodologies you’ve chosen for growing? And some of your slps?
Seth Gillim 3:29
Well this is great jumping right into it. Um, so on the cultivation front, on the number one thing is on, we don’t put anything on the plants unless it’s absolutely needed. Some dispensary’s out there on they might run a spray program, you know, on day one, you do this on day four, you do this. We’re always adapting and responding to the needs of the plant, and not applying anything to the plant. Unless the plant is saying, hey, I need I need help here. Because growing cannabis indoor, so that you’re getting a clean Certificate of analysis is hard. You’re monocropping in a controlled environment, and it can be difficult, right?
Steve Looi 4:17
So right there, we’re talking about foliar sprays and any treatments you’re putting on top of the actual plant.
Seth Gillim 4:23
That’s exactly right, God because that’s usually first and foremost in people’s mind when they start thinking, What’s in my cannabis. Right? I think I think it’s a it’s a it’s a three part thing, right? What’s being applied to the plant? What’s being fed to the plant, and what’s the what’s the environment where the plant has been grown? So run on the application front, you know, we don’t put anything on the plants that isn’t Omri, or is there Omri listed in Canada?
Steve Looi 4:47
I’m not certain. I think I’ve seen that before. But I don’t know if it was in the US or Canada. Yes. Tell us about it.
Seth Gillim 4:54
It just means organic right. We are really big fans of soft chemistry and if using soft chemistry is the Do things to try and boost the natural immune system of the plant. I’m using bio controls versus chemistries that would might try to attack and kill a predator or something like that.
Steve Looi 5:12
So, okay, when you use the word chemistries, are you talking about? recipes or certain? Yeah, recipes of chemicals of inputs. Yeah, I
Seth Gillim 5:25
mean, everything we know, we work in very close concert with the state of Vermont Department of Agriculture, we’re not allowed to apply anything to our plants at all that hasn’t been approved by them, which means everything we approve has to have an EPA certification label. So we don’t ever do any off label application of anything, either as a food or a full year feed, or as a plants. Yep.
Steve Looi 5:50
Gotcha. Gotcha. And how are you growing in at CVD,
Seth Gillim 5:56
we grow in a 7030.
Steve Looi 6:00
Seth Gillim 6:01
and perlite mix, we found that that particular blend works really well for the hydroponic feed that we give them. So our our IPM program is really based upon organic applications and beneficial insects, bio controls, and our feed program is hydroponic and Omri listed organic cocoa. So we’re, we’re a bit of a hybrid, we’re, you know, we’re not pure organic, um, because of our, our mineral salts that we feed the plants. But we also do try hard to cultivate a living matrix with beneficial organisms in our cocoa.
Steve Looi 6:44
Gotcha. And what led you to that sort of hybrid mix? We talked a little bit about you know, most people, a lot of people do hydro. A lot of people use soil. How come you you decide to go with this hybrid strategy?
Seth Gillim 7:00
Well, the short answer is that allows us to produce good consistent cannabis that’s still in line with our values. And still, we believe is the safest product out there for our patients. I think I might she doesn’t have any trouble with me saying this. My mother is a patient at Champlain Valley dispensary. So that actually makes my job really easy. Because no matter what I do, my question is,
Steve Looi 7:25
you know, right, this might
Seth Gillim 7:27
be a product that my mother consumes So, so am what am I am what I’m doing right now? Is that the absolute best thing for the plant? And for the people using it downstream? Um, but But to answer your to answer your question. The way we arrived at that was, you know, my background is in agriculture was really in organic agriculture worked on organic farms, the nursery worked out was an organic nursery. And so it was a a bit of a change coming into the world of indoor hydroponics. And I knew that I didn’t want to use rock wool, I don’t like it as a product. I don’t like the way it’s manufactured. I don’t like or just ends up in the landfill. And, but I also knew that you could achieve a level of consistency in an indoor situation with good hydroponic mineral salts that can be extremely challenging when you’re growing and at scale with living soil. And so that’s kind of how we arrived at that hybrid approach.
Steve Looi 8:35
Excuse me. Gotcha. Yeah, Rockwell is one of those things that I think along with the explosion of the marijuana industry, or the medical cannabis industry has grown along with the industry. Even though there seems to be some other more viable, more environmentally friendly options out there for starting plants. Do you use GE you don’t use Rockwell right? What do you use instead of that? Is it compressed cocoa then?
Seth Gillim 9:04
No, it’s um, it comes already blended. So it’s this it’s a 7030 cocoa perlite blend.
Steve Looi 9:11
Oh, I see. Yeah. And how do you how do you start your your clones without Rockwell?
Seth Gillim 9:17
Oh, well, that’s a bit of an issue. So I guess I should say we do use Rockwell in that instance if we need to. We also use route riots or the peat that can be
Unknown Speaker 9:29
Seth Gillim 9:30
absolutely be a challenge for sure because you know the the peat plugs also you know there’s a there’s a supply chain challenge there.
Steve Looi 9:39
Seth Gillim 9:39
not not being new to horticulture. I I am familiar with the sort of dirty little secrets of some of our supply chain challenges, you know, the plastic that we use and where a lot of inputs are sourced. So that’s something that I write industry wide as we continue to gain acceptance and as consumers become savvy or and smarter and It’s there’s going to be a tremendous pressure on growers by consumers to say, what are your inputs? What are you buying? What, you know, what has been grown? And where does your water come from? What’s it look like coming out of your facility? And so I think it’s great that you’re asking these questions, and he’s been keeping me and us others honest about it. Because I think that it’s really kind of the future of cannabis cultivation. Right. And
Steve Looi 10:25
last time, we talked about it, I was asking, you know, sometimes or the the thought is doing something organic, or, you know, environmentally responsible can be costly. And so, you know, that sort of privilege, I don’t know if that’s the right word or not, but that sort of privilege is relegated to the upper end of the market, quite often, in almost any industry, like, you can see something like that. Right. But for you guys, I mean, you guys are, when I asked you if that was how you marketed your products. for you guys. It’s not you’re making it available to everybody at a, you know, an average price point, which is really cool to see. Yeah,
Seth Gillim 11:07
that’s that’s exactly right. You know, it’s, it’s really part and parcel of my, my education I got during my doing my sustainable MBA, which was, you know, if your game plan is that you’re going to grow organically and charge more, there’s a really limited segment of the population that’s actually willing to pay more for something that’s organically grown. But if you can figure out a way to do something that’s as close to possible close to that as possible, or ideally completely organic, and use that as an opportunity to lower cost or improve yield, then it’s a no brainer, right? So it’s a, it’s a constant evolving process, where we’re just trying to figure out how to make our all of our inputs as green as possible without compromising on quality compromising on yield, or adding to costs. And that’s tricky. But I definitely think you know, organics, and important shorthand, it’s, I think organic cannabis is, is is it’s important that that’s an option for consumers. But it can be a shorthand that I don’t always think results in a superior process or superior flower.
Steve Looi 12:12
This podcast is brought to you by grower IQ, a compliant cannabis seed to sale and cultivation management platform. The first platform to integrate all facility systems like sensors, controls to Ms and E RP, all into a single interface grow, right? You change the way cultivators use software, transforming a regulatory requirement into a platform to learn, analyze, and improve performance. You mentioned that your background, your education, help you form that strategy. And grounded you in the organics. We also talked about others being hired from similar backgrounds, as opposed to the guys that were, you know, previously in this market, because they had some familiarity, which were the underground guys. But nowadays, you’re saying you can you can hire actually, you know, academically trained horticulturalists for your, your grow. Can you tell us a little bit about how that’s changed the the operations and how things have improved because of that?
Seth Gillim 13:19
Yeah. And what’s amazing is, you know, I, I consider myself a newbie in the world of commercial cannabis. Um, but you know, you know, cannabis years are like dog years, like, it’s just right. It’s sort of like 10 years ago, when the solar energy industry blew up, like everything is happening and changing so quickly. So even just in the couple years that I’ve been there, we’ve moved in transition from a workforce which was predominantly, you know, traditional market or gray market growers as we like to refer to them to a more professionalized workforce. And I think, you know, number one, that’s just due to the increased acceptance of cannabis as a viable career path for people with All right, well, background is you can do, um, and I think really where that’s benefited us is for everything that they did to really build this industry, and we owe traditional growers a tremendous debt of gratitude. My experience has been some of those softer skills, teamwork and cooperation on learning how to make sure everyone’s following the same processes, regardless of what your individual impulses are. Those things can be challenging for people that have spent a long time frankly, growing it on their own and growing it in a highly secretive environment. So now we’re kind of in this world where we’ve got people that are talented growers, but they have some of those transferable skills that they might have picked up in another professional setting. And that is helping the industry to mature and helping CBD to grow. You know, really, really, you know, top drawer cannabis with the talented team.
Steve Looi 15:01
Yeah, no, that’s that’s a that’s a one of the best things I think that’s happening to the to the industry, as it grows is that we’re getting professionalization of the industry, of the folks that are in it. And with that, I mean, comes better operations, but also, you know, carries everything forward, including the information on this plant, what we know about it. And so previously, we’re going with a lot of anecdotal information, nobody was allowed to do any research on it legally. But now, as cannabis industry is getting more mainstream, it seems like we’re getting better information. We’re getting more information and more and better quality information. Is that something you’re seeing as well?
Seth Gillim 15:44
Yes, definitely. So, you know, in the US, it’s, it’s still a narcotic. So universities are remissed to jeopardize their federal funding by doing research on medical cannabis. But there is increasingly peer reviewed research on hemp, because of hemp is now legal in the United States, because the farm bill, and so I’m starting to see more and more good research that as I’m understanding the physiology of the plant, morphology of the plant, understanding integrated pest management, and especially things that are happening during propagation and the vegetative growth are very, very beneficial. And, you know, and speaking of that professionalization of the workforce, increasingly I have a team of growers, who is able to say, you know, I read this great, this great bit of research and the recent cannabis Business Times, you know, which is, you know, good scientific research from North Carolina State, and kind of bringing that to the team and saying, What if we tried to index? So it’s, it’s happening, I think, full legalization in the US, will, among other things, it will unleash a torrent of really university level research, which is desperately needed.
Steve Looi 17:01
Right, right. And we’re recording this on election day. And it looks like a lot of the ballots for cannabis have gone through. And so hopefully, that helps accelerate that change.
Seth Gillim 17:09
Yeah, I mean, it’s just it’s so universally widespread, you know, Mississippi.
Steve Looi 17:15
Seth Gillim 17:16
past medical cannabis, which, you know, in the US, Mississippi isn’t always synonymous with progressive values. But I think I think this isn’t, you know, I think people have a value of, of personal choice. And and they recognize, everyone, most most voters recognize, on some level the wisdom of plants to write very simply, and that that transcends party lines. So I think we’re, we’re really starting to see a sea change in terms of that behavior.
Steve Looi 17:45
Yeah, which is excellent to hear you want you want to see a modern country like the US moving towards that, even though they aren’t, though, that poses a problem? Because, you know, it’s not fully legal in the US. And that’s why I say they aren’t yet. The states are moving forward, which is great. But you have countries like Canada, like Israel, that are have a legal framework at the top, federally. And so are, you know, I think the actors there, this, the industry stakeholders can move with a bit more freedom and stability. Do you think, um, American companies that are doing the research and other sort of tertiary things for the industry? Are they disadvantaged perhaps by that, like, and are you seeing that? So is are you seeing a lot of information, good research, maybe even products coming out of overseas companies? Yes, more than you are?
Seth Gillim 18:45
Actually Israel, especially Israel. I mean, we have, we have zoom calls with vendors from Israel all the time. Interesting, amazing cutting edge technology, and I can’t help but think we’re losing market share, you know, and and, and, you know, the development of a global industry doesn’t need to be a zero sum game. You know, if there’s smart entrepreneur, I know who can market a product and make it work good for them. But it is unfortunate that there are people with entrepreneurial talents in the US who are really not able to put that fully to work. It’s a missed opportunity in my mind.
Steve Looi 19:19
Yeah, Yeah, me too, especially in those parts of the industry. I think there’s parts that the US is way ahead on, and especially on the consumer side. Genetics seems to be one that you know, the the strains that come out of California are quite often globally renowned. But those sort of tertiary more, I don’t know infrastructure based industries. You seem to be losing, losing out a bid to those other countries.
Seth Gillim 19:51
Yeah. My you know, we used to joke when I was farming, you know, the way you make money in agriculture is you sell products to dumb farmers, you know, right. So excellent shovel. Yeah, exactly. I mean, that’s exactly. And so, you know not to I’m a cultivator myself, so not to belittle the contributions of growers, but the way you grow an industry is by having a viable supply chain. And I think, you know, it’s there, there’s ultimately going to be a limited market and a limited capacity of growers and breeders to supply with needed, but I think there’s always going to be a wonderful opportunity for people on the on the supply chain and to continue to advance products and services that are out there.
Steve Looi 20:35
Right, right. And on the supply chain side, where it’s plant touching, I mean, having state barriers when you go to trade clones or genetics or something like that must be such a pain in the butt for you. Yes, yes, absolutely. Yep. Right. A very simple answer on that one, because it is
Seth Gillim 20:54
very, it’s very powerful. I mean, one of the wisdoms of the Vermont State Legislature and was the why we’re lucky at CBD to have a truly dedicated patient base as they allow patients to gift genetics back to the dispensary’s.
Steve Looi 21:09
And so interesting.
Seth Gillim 21:10
Yeah, so some of our most successful cultivars have been gifts from patients that say, a grown this at home, it’s does wonders for my, you know, insert element here. Would you guys like to grow it? And the answer often is, yeah, you know, we’ll give that a try. We’ve got a small space within our production facility, which is dedicated to trialing and bringing the genetics online. And we have a dedicated team that helps work with a tester patients to help them on trial and provide good feedback about the genetics that we’re putting out there. And so that has really been instrumental to our success. It’s been grassroots on that level. And that was one of the smartest things that Vermont did when they created the MediCal program.
Steve Looi 21:55
Man, that is amazing. That is so cool. And so I mean, you’ve had some success stories out of that, I imagine. Absolutely. Yeah. Hands down. Yeah, that’s really incredible. So a patient that has a strain that has, you know, whatever, that can somehow express the molecules that hit their ailment perfectly. They can get you to go grow and replicate.
Seth Gillim 22:19
Yeah, one of the things that’s so wonderful about that is it’s easy as a grower to get caught and chasing THC. You know, what I CLA on this product? What’s the percent that it’s not more than 20%? Is it viable as a as medicine, and THC is just, it’s just one part of what the plant offers us, you know, the with the terpenes and the, you know, CBD and CBG.
Steve Looi 22:44
The minor cannabinoids Yeah,
Seth Gillim 22:46
ever and everyone’s endocannabinoid system is different. And so when you have your patients on a grassroots level, doing that work, and passing along that information to you, it allows you to frame it in a really different way versus you know, here’s this is a 26% strain, give it a try.
Steve Looi 23:05
Right, yeah, I mean, that doesn’t tell you a whole lot except there’s a lot of THC, I saw a really interesting study out of Israel where doctors had a an autistic child that they were treating with cannabis. And the child had very aggressive outbursts. And so they were they found success treating it with a certain strain of cannabis which had you know, typical THC and CBD numbers. And then they went to replace it because they ran out of it. They went to replace it with the with something that had the exact same CBD and THC profile, but but did not match the rest of it. And when they switched over, they saw the symptoms were not abated anymore, because what they realized was there’s some combination, there’s some other molecule, some other minor cannabinoids, maybe it was a terpene, or something, or a group of them that were interacting in such a way that was leaving a levy ating the symptoms but now moving to this other strain, just having the same THC and CBD it didn’t do it.
Seth Gillim 24:06
Absolutely. I mean, I think that’s why, you know, some people claim that CBD doesn’t help them the way it’s marketed is doing. And, you know, maybe those people need a particular combination of cannabinoids to get the relief that they’re looking for.
Steve Looi 24:24
Right, right. I mean, just more to the point that we really don’t understand the plant just yet. No more, more needs to be done. Um, so another question I wanted to ask you was with COVID I mean, it’s changed everything. How has that changed the slps and and things you do at at your grow?
Seth Gillim 24:45
Right? Um, you know, I’m gonna move in patting myself on the back here. One of the things that I am extremely proud of is that you can’t have a good cultivation facility and we’re vertically integrate facility. So we also do, right, all of our trimming and all of our extraction. And we have an in house kitchen with an incredible crew, that handcrafts all of our edibles. So we do everything under one roof. And doing that so that there’s no cross contamination for that the product is remaining clean and safe, is incredibly challenging. I mean, there, there is a rigorous focus on sanitation, and safety. And so COVID hit and so all these things like using foot baths and making sure that only certain people can go in certain places and wearing, you know, scrubs and sanitizing your hands. It’s just stuff that we do all day, every day. Um, so I think, you know, the biggest change is wearing masks. Um, but right. But, you know, when we when we were working with the state who was deciding, you know, what businesses are essential and what’s not? And do they have the slps in place to be able to send their employees safely to work, you know, that it for them was like, Oh, yeah, you guys, this is great. You’ve already you’ve already been doing this all along. So I feel really grateful for having all those processes in place. Right. And, you know, we have a great, a great quality control manager who’s really keeps us honest, and make sure that we’re on everyone’s, I’m following and doing everything that needs to be done.
Steve Looi 26:20
Right, yeah. So I guess the, the, you know, the best practices that you put in place to keep germs out, or keeping germs out?
Seth Gillim 26:26
Absolutely, you know, and I think that’s one of the challenges of, of running this kind of businesses, you really have to have those kind of practices in place before you need them. We didn’t know there was going to be a global pen
Steve Looi 26:37
Seth Gillim 26:38
that there was some sort of risk out there that we needed to have slps to deal with. Um, and so and that takes time, and it takes money, and it takes focus and discipline. And I think if you’re a small craft grower who wants to break into the market, understanding that and having the resources and the time to do that can be very, very challenging.
Steve Looi 26:59
Right? Have you had any HR issues? Because of COVID people not being able to come to work or I don’t know, being able to distance and all that?
Seth Gillim 27:10
No, we haven’t had any issues. You know, we’re lucky up here in Vermont, where we have been very, very safe. And the COVID numbers have been very low. So we haven’t had any challenges, you know, any employees that were not essential to day to day production, I’ve been able to work from home. So I would say that, you know, the building feels a little bit emptier at lunchtime. But but other than right, other than that, no, we really haven’t had any HR staffing challenges. If anything, you know, people are feel really grateful that they’re not at home, and they have somewhere to go to work today.
Steve Looi 27:40
All right, yeah, that’s where
Seth Gillim 27:42
it’s been kind of a blessing for many.
Steve Looi 27:46
That’s very, very cool to hear. So this is the grower IQ podcast. And so I wanted to ask you at CVG, what kind of growth management software are you using?
Seth Gillim 27:58
Does Microsoft Excel count?
Steve Looi 28:02
I think it does. And I and I would venture to guess that you are not alone. And there’s quite a few others out there using Excel.
Seth Gillim 28:09
Yeah, Microsoft Excel and whiteboards. And when the two don’t sync up, that’s where problems start to happen. So, you know, the big picture of that is his growth management software is a is a big investment. In not just financially but in terms of you really want to have something that’s going to align with your processes and your goals. And when you live in a state of uncertainty, Vermont, just past tax and regulate cannabis, a month ago. And so we’ve been in this environment of uncertainty of are we going to grow? How much are we going to grow? What’s the opportunity out there? And kind of in this holding pattern of, you know, doing what, what investments do we make strategically as a company. And you know, our focus, first and foremost, is always on growing good quality cannabis, and putting our resources there. So now that there’s this opportunity out there to move into a potentially larger market. You know, I think role management software is going to become critical to our processes and to our ability to function effectively. But we’re not there yet. We’re just not there yet.
Steve Looi 29:22
Gotcha. And so the Excel whiteboard stuff that that handles it for now. It sounds like once Vermont makes its decision while it has I guess, once things come into fruition on terms of the rec side, you’ll you’ll be in the market. And maybe I can ask you when you do get into the market for growth management software, is there a feature that you would be looking for in particular, something that I don’t know you would really help in the management of the of the growth.
Seth Gillim 30:03
So that is a really, really good question. Um, you know, this is perhaps not the most earth shattering answer, but, you know, commercial cannabis cultivation, there’s a million variables, it’s so hard to point one finger towards what causes success and what causes failure, what produces a certain yield or a certain outcome. And, um, you know, I think that’s the thing, we’re having years of experience in the same grow, you know, I’m, I’m getting into my third year now, and I feel like I’m just starting to get kind of my feet underneath me. Um, so I think a good software package would take all those separate pieces of information, integrate, you know, yield with variations and climate with terpene profile, you know, because right now, it’s, you’re really looking through all these different reports and looking back on these schedules, and then there’ll be some way of reporting that to you in real time, so that you can anticipate how a crop is going to perform, rather than always looking back and then trying to kind of reframe that in the you know, in your own mind looking forward,
Steve Looi 31:10
if that makes sense. Yeah, yeah. No, that does. And so that’s really interesting. Your you would love to see real time sort of stats on the grow. That’s really interesting. And they’re one of the things that I’ve heard as well is similar, like, the the some folks want to focus on certain things. So they want to have, you know, real time grow number growth data coming at them. Some people want to have integration with their quality processes and documentation, etc. And there’s a few packages out there, it seems that kind of integrate all those things. So I think you have some choices out there.
Seth Gillim 31:53
Steve Looi 31:54
Yeah. So Seth, thank you so much for being here today. That brings us to the end of our time. Best of luck for when you guys make the move into a bigger rec space and hopefully we chat again when you go to change that software.
Seth Gillim 32:12
Great. Thanks so much
Steve Looi 32:14
for doing it. No problem. Take it easy set then again, thanks a lot. Okay. Be well
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