Puffin Farm: A Mom-and-Pop Grow Op

My trip to Puffin Farm started out very much like many of my visits to Washington State. I landed at Sea-Tac on a cold, drizzly morning and was met at the airport by my nephew-in-law. But this time, instead of heading into Seattle, we drove two-plus hours in the rain to my niece’s pot farm.

My niece, Jade Stefano, had invited me to stay with her and her husband, Ben Short, at their farm in Ellensburg to photograph the annual harvest, something I had wanted to do ever since they started the farm in 2014. On this trip, the plan was for me to be completely entrenched at the estate for the duration of the harvest. Additionally, I would make several field trips to Puffin’s processing facilities in Seattle.

The Organic Terroir of Puffin Farm

Jade Stefano holds a package of Remedy, one of Puffin Farm’s most popular medical CBD strains; David Goodman/ High Times

As we drove farther from the city, we passed through some of the most beautiful countryside I have ever seen, with gorgeous rolling hills, streams and lush foliage. We arrived in the early afternoon at the farm, which is situated right alongside the Yakima River. As we approached, I couldn’t actually see any cannabis; the only thing visible was an eight-foot fence surrounding the entire grow area, which is mandated by state law to block the view of the plants from outside. We parked and I grabbed my camera bag and went right into the growing field, as the harvest was already in progress.

The first thing I noticed when entering the Puffin Farm’s grow area was the intense floral fragrance of many different varieties of living, breathing cannabis plants all coming together to make a heady aroma that instantly perked up my senses. I arrived just a day after the harvest began, and the Puffin staff was fully into the swing of it. The farmworkers were set up in pairs, one person holding a plant and the other cutting it at the base with a lopper.

The Organic Terroir of Puffin Farm

Afghani Kush 47 is ready to harvest; David Goodman/ High Times

Several other workers lined up to fill their wheelbarrows with the freshly cut plants, then wheeled their loads directly to the drying rooms to be weighed, catalogued, and hung upside down; they’d then head right back out to the field for more. Stefano and Short were giving an interview and photo session in the middle of the field with Northwest Leaf, a regional cannabis-industry publication. Over these past few years, the pair have emerged as two of the most sought-after experts in sustainable cannabis farming. They claim it was their destiny.

If Puffin Farm looks like a classic mom-and-pop enterprise, you couldn’t find a couple more perfectly suited to this situation than Stefano and Short. Short’s organic-farming expertise started with his studying sustainable agriculture at Evergreen College, while Stefano’s a naturopathic physician with a doctorate from Bastyr University. Together, they practiced their organic-farming techniques growing gourmet mushrooms in California in the early 2000s.

I asked Stefano how she got into pot farming. “We’ve always loved cannabis and started growing it as soon as we were able,” she said. “When cannabis was legalized in Washington State, we were already growing it medically. We realized we couldn’t live in Washington and have this historic thing happen and just watch it go by and not be a part of it, so it was either move forward with the new system or just stop doing it and be left behind. So we just decided to go for it.”

And since launching in 2014, Puffin Farm has developed a reputation for producing the finest organically grown cannabis utilizing very strict standards of sustainable farming. Short runs the farm and is the head grower, while Stefano is the CEO and heads up operations management and product development. Their simple philosophy is to produce the most organically pure flower possible.

Stefano explained: “We want to grow cannabis that we actually want to smoke! We’re super-picky and we want everything to be organic and natural with no chemicals.” “And not just organic,” Short added, “but we grow vegetarian organic, meaning we avoid products derived from factory-farmed animals such as bonemeal, blood meal or fish meal. All these things are commonly used organic fertilizers, but we don’t use them.”

Instead, Stefano and Short chose to use organic inputs like biochar, rock dust, bat guano and worm castings. The duo has found that over time this has created what they call a “living soil.” Stefano elaborated: “Our soil is a sandy loam river-bottom soil, so we’re starting out with the best type of soil you can get. And we have supplemented it over the last four years with bio char, truckloads of worm castings, alfalfa and guanos. We make aerated compost tea to increase the biodiversity in the soil and help make nutrients available, so less fertilizer is needed. All these things help create and maintain a healthy microbiome, and a living, biologically active soil is what makes for healthy and happy plants.”

Stefano and Short said they started out with 1 percent organic matter three years ago, and now they’re up to almost 5 percent organic matter—and it’s just going to keep growing from there. “We’re building the soil,” Stefano said. “We’re not eroding it the way most conventional farms do. This is important not only for the long-term productivity of the farm, but also to help in the battle against climate change.”

Stefano explained: “Increased organic matter in soil serves as a carbon sink, which keeps carbon stable and sequestered in the soil instead of releasing it into the atmosphere as CO2. Organic farms that increase carbon in their soil can get closer to a carbon-negative status and actually offset a good deal of their carbon emissions generated by electricity and fuel use. That’s a really important principle in our farming technique: building soil and nurturing soil and growing soil. By feeding your soil, you are feeding your plants, And that’s what it’s all about.”

The Organic Terroir of Puffin Farm

Puffin farmer Jeremy Haines loading up his wheelbarrow; David Goodman/ High Times

Out vs. In

When the subject of indoor hydroponic growing came up, Stefano expressed a very strong philosophy. “This is really important, and it’s becoming more and more of an issue,” she said. “Marijuana was illegal for many years—since 1937. And due to that, people couldn’t grow cannabis out in the open, so where did they grow it? In the basement, or in a closet, because that’s the only place that they could hide it. To do that, they had to use artificial lights, and they developed some really good techniques to get really strong, flavorful cannabis that looked great and had high yields.”

But cannabis is a plant and it loves sunshine, nature and soil, and it thrives outdoors. Stefano told me that when cannabis is grown outside correctly, it produces very high-grade terpenes and cannabinoid-rich flowers. “Now that it’s legal in many states, it doesn’t have to be grown indoors anymore,” she said. “But because of the history, many people learned how to grow indoors and they got very good at it, and they didn’t want to take the risk to go outdoors.”

And, according to Stefano, it’s a misconception that outdoor cultivation comes with higher risks and big unknowns. The fears of pests and inclement weather damaging crops have kept many growers cultivating indoors in factory warehouses. And growing in these indoor facilities comes with a great cost. “In Washington, there are 30,000-square-foot factories that are using hundreds of thousands of watts of electricity, and the carbon footprint is obscenely high,” Stefano said. It’s been estimated 1 percent of the country’s grid power is being used to grow cannabis—and the percentage in Washington State is even higher.

“Cannabis is a plant that thrives when grown outside in the right environment!” Stefano said. “It produces an amazing array terpenes and flavors and beautiful flowers. It’s happy and healthy, and you don’t need pesticides because nature provides you with a natural protective system.” Natural predators feast on insects, she said, and the wind provides airflow and prevents fungus from attacking the crop.

Indoor growers, on the other hand, have to meticulously control the environment to prevent fungal infections from taking hold, and insect populations can explode without natural predators around to devour them. This can often lead to the widespread and sometimes illegal use of chemical pesticides.

The Organic Terroir of Puffin Farm

A row of Dancehall (left), a CBD-rich medical strain, growing right alongside a row of Death Star, a THC-rich recreational strain; David Goodman/ High Times

Terroir, Terroir, Terroir

Stefano and Short also attribute the high quality of their weed to the very first decision they made when they decided to start Puffin Farm: its Yakima River location. “Terroir is a really important concept that people are just starting to consider when it comes to cannabis. It’s what gives wines produced on different estates from the same genetic stock their unique characteristics,” Stefano said. “Terroir is a combination of all the environmental factors that contribute to a crop. It includes things such as elevation, air quality, the UV light that comes to your location, geography, local microclimate, soil characteristics, mineral composition and cultivation practices.

“If you’re next to a river or if there are hills by the farm, that will affect the final character of your crop,” Stefano continues. “Terroir affects what flavors are expressed, the concentrations of cannabinoids and, to some extent, the ratios. We have a stellar terroir that includes a dry, hot summer, a good elevation and river frontage. We get a lot of wind, which is a battle sometimes, but it certainly adds something to the phenotypic expression we see in our crop. We have a great terroir here in Ellensburg, and it is definitely helping to create aromatic and tasty flower.”

The Organic Terroir of Puffin Farm

Puffin Purple: Afghani x G-13 x Seattle Purple (75% Indica/ 25% Sativa). Flowering time: 9-10 weeks. 17.1% THC, 0.23% CBD; David Goodman/ High Times

Organic Equivalency

Although most everything Stefano and Short do on the farm is “organic,” Washington State has no official organic designation for cannabis. As a matter of fact, farms are not actually allowed to call their weed organic regardless of farming practices. “Washington State has explicitly created rules that say you cannot call your cannabis organic,” said Stefano. Nevertheless, she adds, “We grow to organic standards using organically certified amendments. We’ve chosen the Clean Green Certified [Program], which is the largest cannabis organic-equivalent certifier in the country, to vet our farm’s practices. They inspect our farm and look at all the amendments. They take samples for pesticide testing, and make sure there are no synthetic chemicals being used. We believe in the importance of third-party certification because on the market you’ll see many products claiming to be pesticide-free and organic, but there’s nobody verifying that.”

The Organic Terroir of Puffin Farm

During the harvest season, the greenhouses are converted into huge drying rooms; David Goodman/ High Times

The Post-Harvest Cure

As rigid as Stefano and Short’s approach is to pure organic farming, so is their methodology in post-processing. “Growing terpene-rich, cannabinoid-rich plants is one thing—and that takes a lot of effort and the use of the right ingredients—but there’s all kinds of ways that stuff can go wrong after harvest, so we take post-harvest care and processing very seriously,” Stefano said.

At Puffin Farm, the plants are harvested at their peak, and are quickly brought into climate-controlled rooms in which they’re hung upside down with most of their fan leaves and stalks intact. The leaves protect the fragile trichomes from damage as the plants are slowly dried for 14-18 days at a temperature of 70°F or less.

After drying, the curing process begins, which can take anywhere from one to six months, depending on the strain. “Some strains reach their peak after six months or more of proper curing,” Stefano said. “We have cannabis from last year. It’s over a year old and it still smells and tastes amazing, and in fact is better than it was a month after harvest. Its flavor becomes smoother and more mature the way a fine wine would. So curing and storage are really important, and temperature and humidity must be carefully controlled.”

The cannabis is stored throughout the year in climate-controlled rooms, between 50° and 60°F. With time, flavors improve, the product becomes smoother and terpenes are maintained. “It’s like wine in that it will degrade with excess heat and light,” Stefano said. “It needs to be handled with care and conscientiousness.”

The Organic Terroir of Puffin Farm

Hindu Kush: Clone-only landrace indica. Flowering time: 8-9 weeks, 21% THC, 0.13% CBD, 3.1% terpene total; David Goodman/ High Times

In Terpenes We Trust

Puffin Farm has developed a reputation for producing recreational varieties treasured for their rich and intoxicating aromas and flavors. “We grow the highest quality with the most flavor,” Short stated. “We’re not necessarily driven by the highest THC content or the biggest yield or the commercially easy strains. It’s more about the terpenes. ‘In Terpenes We Trust’ is our motto.”

He’s not kidding. Puffin Farm recently took 11 top awards at Terpestival, a terpene festival and competition. But in addition to Tangerine, Lemon OG and Puffin’s coveted Hindu Kush—among many other recreational strains—the farm has also made a lot of headway in coming up with several very effective medicinal CBD varieties. Stefano explained: “We had been on a strain hunt for CBD, which we had been learning a lot about, and realized there was a real need for CBD cannabis in the market. So we started growing seeds out from a bunch of different CBD-rich cultivars and testing the flower and searching for strong CBD phenotypes. In that process, we came across three or four amazing ones that we have kept growing and they’re truly wonderful!”

And the medicinal efficacy of Puffin Farm’s cannabis is self-evident. “There’s a patient in Washington State who has intractable seizures and who was having multiple seizures a day that were not being controlled with pharmaceutical drugs,” Stefano explained. “The patient found one of the cultivars that we grow, the Remedy, in our clients’ retail stores in Seattle. It is one of only two strains that completely stopped the seizures.

“I hear stories like this about our CBD strains and I’m humbled,” Stefano continued. “I get emails all the time from patients about another strain we grow called Dancehall. It’s a 20:1 CBD to THC as well. These people may have anxiety and pain and are suffering terribly, and they find this strain and it changes their lives and makes them functional again. Stories like this about our CBD products just blow my mind.”

The conversation lightened up as Stefano hit the kitchen to whip up a huge salad and a big pot of pasta with home-made marinara sauce, her own version of her family’s traditional recipe. She often prepares an impromptu lunch for everyone on the farm. As she cooked, she mused: “You know, it’s gratifying to know that our customers appreciate quality as much as we do. It’s funny… We’ve run some numbers and so far we’ve gotten over a million people high—and counting.”

Article excerpted from the forthcoming book A Year in the Life of Puffin Farm, by David Goodman.

This feature was published in the August 2018 issue of High Times magazine. Subscribe right here.

The post The Organic Terroir of Puffin Farm appeared first on High Times.

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1. What is CBD? What is CBD Oil?

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a naturally occurring constituent of industrial hemp/cannabis. Its formula is C21H30O2 and it has a molecular mass of 314.4636. It is the most abundant non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis, and is being scientifically investigated for various reasons.

CBD oil is a cannabis oil (whether derived from marijuana or industrial hemp, as the word cannabis is the latin genus name for both) that has significant amounts of cannabidiol (CBD) contained within it. Our CBD products and extracts are derived from industrial hemp, so they could be considered CBD-rich hemp oil, hemp derived CBD oil, CBD-rich cannabis oil, or plainly “hemp extracts” since they typically contain much more than just CBD. Again, cannabis doesn’t mean marijuana, but is the genus name, and general umbrella term which all forms of marijuana and hemp fall under. The form of cannabis we use for our CBD and hemp extracts is industrial hemp; we do not sell marijuana.

2. If a hemp extract is 40% cannabinoids, what’s the other 60%? What’s in your hemp extracts besides the naturally occurring cannabinoids?

Our Kentucky hemp extracts contain over 80 different phyto-cannabinoids such as cannabidiol (CBD), CBC, CBG, CBN, etc.. In addition to the cannabinoids naturally present in our agricultural hemp extracts, there are also many other types of natural molecules and phyto-chemical compounds such as amino acids, carbohydrates, vitamins (including B1, B2, B6, D), fatty acids (including omega 3 & 6), trace minerals (including iron, zinc, calcium, magnesium, potassium), beta-carotene, chlorophyll, flavanoids, ketones, nitrogenous compounds, alkanes, glycosides, pigments, water, and terpenes. The most common terpenes in our hemp extracts are Myrcene, Beta-caryophyllene, Terpinolene, Linalool, alpha-Pinene, beta-Pinene, Nerolidol og Phytol, trans-alpha-Bergamotene, Limonene/ beta-Phellandrene (Co-elution), and alpha-Humulene.

3. What’s the difference between Hemp and Marijuana?

Scientifically, industrial Hemp and Marijuana are the same plant, with a genus and species name of Cannabis Sativa. They have a drastically different genetic profile though. Industrial Hemp is always a strain of Cannabis sativa, while marijuana can be Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, or Cannabis ruderalis. The major difference is how industrial hemp has been bred compared to a marijuana form of Cannabis sativa. organic hemp seedsTypically speaking, industrial hemp is very fibrous, with long strong stalks, and barely has any flowering buds, while a marijuana strain of Cannabis sativa will be smaller, bushier, and full of flowering buds. However, newer industrial hemp varieties in the USA are being bred to have more flowers and higher yields of cannabinoids and terpenes, such as our Kentucky hemp we’re now using!

99% of the time marijuana has a high amount of THC and only a very low amount of CBD. Hemp, on the other hand, naturally has a very high amount of CBD in most instances, and only a trace amount of THC. Fortunately, the cannabinoid profile of hemp is ideal for people looking for benefits from cannabis without the ‘high.’ Hemp is used for making herbal supplements, food, fiber, rope, paper, bricks, oil, natural plastic, and so much more, whereas marijuana is usually used just recreationally, spiritually, and medicinally. The term cannabis oil can refer to either a marijuana or hemp derived oil, since marijuana and hemp are two different forms of cannabis.

In the USA the legal definition of “industrial hemp,” per Section 7606 of the Agricultural Appropriations Act of 2014, is “INDUSTRIAL HEMP — The term ‘‘industrial hemp’’ means the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of such plant, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.”

4. Are hemp derived cannabinoids such as CBD as good as CBD from marijuana?

The short answer is yes. CBD is CBD, whether from marijuana or hemp. Most marijuana has a very low non-psychoactive cannabinoid profile (like CBD, CBC, CBG), so most of the time hemp would be much more preferable for anything besides THC. Marijuana is usually very high in THC (gives people the high) but usually very low in other non-psychoactive cannabinoids.

Nowadays in the USA, many farmers are growing industrial hemp flowers that are just as beautiful, odor-producing, and terpene rich as the best marijuana strains, such as our partnered farmers in Kentucky.

5. Why don’t you source your Hemp and CBD from within Colorado?

colorado growing operationWe feel that the hemp program in Kentucky is more well suited for our company in regards to growing hemp, and that because it’s 100% compliant with Section 7606 of the 2014 Farm Bill (and the 2016 Agricultural Appropriations Act), procuring it from there is perfectly legal at the federal level. Kentucky’s ecology is perfect for hemp just as it is for tobacco. The growing season is longer than in Colorado, and the soil is richer, so the quality of the hemp and the yields are better.

6. What’s the percentage of cannabinoids and CBD in your product?

Our raw extracts have varying percentages of cannabinoid and cannabidiol (CBD) content, the range being 10%-99%. Each product has a unique formulation and uses varying ratios of our extract types. Our CBD Isolate is over 99% pure CBD.

7. What is the best method of use?

For our dietary supplements we can only recommend them for internal consumption. Our CBD isolate is for research purposes only. If you don’t like the flavor of the oil supplements, you can mix with something sweet like apple sauce or honey to cut through the flavor.

8. What’s the ideal serving size for me, and how often should I take it?

There is no easy answer to this. Our starting recommended serving size is 15 drops but we generally recommend experimenting to see what feels best to you. Some prefer 5 drops, some prefer over 50 drops per day.

9. What is the safety of your hemp extracts? Are there negative side effects?

Hemp is considered by many to be generally safe. We’ve never seen or heard of any significant or negative CBD Oil Extractside effects in our years in the industry. That said, we can’t rule them out. Please consult with your physician before using any dietary supplement including Hemp extract supplements.

10. Which of your CBD and hemp products should I get?

As a company who sells various dietary and food supplements, we can’t suggest any of our products for the prevention, treatment or cure of any disease or ailment.

When considering our different dietary hemp products, know that they all come in two strengths. Our Original Hemp blends (Classic Hemp Blend, Hemp Complete, Brainpower oil, & Signature Blend) all have 250+mg of cannabinoids per fluid ounce, and our concentrated blends have 1,500+mg per fluid ounce, six times the potency of our traditional oils. We’ve found that sometimes less is more, but nevertheless, some people like to take very large serving sizes of our hemp extracts.

The main difference between the four Original Blends is the additional herbal ingredients besides hemp. We suggest you research the separate components of each blend to determine which product may be most appealing to add to your dietary regimen. If you know it’s solely the hemp extract that you are looking for, with no additional ingredients, then Classic Hemp Blend or Classic Hemp 6x is what you’re looking for.

For dabbing and vaporizing or for research you can try our CBD Isolate.


11. Why do people use Hemp Extracts and CBD? What are the benefits and uses of CBD?

In accordance with federal regulations we cannot make health claims regarding our dietary supplement products. We can only recommend our products for general wellness.

12. Is a standard hemp seed oil the same as a high-CBD hemp extract?

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Absolutely not. Standard hemp oil, which can be found very cheaply at a grocery store, is a much different product than our CO2 hemp extracts (not from seed). Standard hemp oil is produced by cold pressing the seeds, whereas our hemp extract is a supercritical CO2 extraction of the hemp plant itself, not the seeds. Hemp seed oil is considered to be a great nutritive food, but it doesn’t have the naturally occurring terpenes, cannabinoids and other components that our extracts do have.

13. Do I need to move to Colorado to get your Hemp Extracts and CBD? Where do you ship?

No. We actually source our hemp from Kentucky, as it’s legal to ship across state lines. Many people are under the impression that the only way to acquire hemp extracts and CBD for themselves or a loved one is to move to Colorado or another cannabis-friendly state. Many major news outlets are misinformed and are unfortunately spreading the idea that you can only get CBD oil in the states where medical marijuana has been legalized. This is simply not the case though. Because our extracts comes from hemp instead of marijuana, we can and do ship to all fifty states, and no medical marijuana card is needed. There are some exceptions, like with Indiana, Missouri and South Dakota we can’t sell our concentrated products due to state legislation.

We also ship to Japan, Australia, the EU, Switzerland, and Brazil. For all EU orders contact our exclusive distributor thereCannawell.

14. Is your Hemp Extract Oil similar to Rick Simpson Hemp Oil?

Not quite. Ours are from hemp and RSHO is usually using marijuana, a different form of cannabis than industrial hemp. Our industrial hemp extracts are more standardized and will usually have a much higher content of non-psychoactive cannabinoids like CBD than one produced through the Rick Simpson method. And oils produced through his method will usually have a much higher THC content, as it’s typically marijuana that is used for RSHO.†

Generally speaking, most marijuana producers and sellers (especially on the black market) don’t test for contaminants (metals, pesticides, bacteria, etc.). Rick Simpson Hemp Oil is actually more a method of extraction than it is a specific product. People use the Rick Simpson method with hundreds of different strains of marijuana, so the THC, CBD and other cannabinoid content of the final oil is always varying greatly, depending on the cannabis the consumers are acquiring. Usually what’s used for Rick Simpson oil is a strain with an inferior CBD content (and high THC), because that’s what the vast amount of marijuana is nowadays.

15. Where do you source your hemp and CBD from?

We have partners in Kentucky who grew a dedicated plot for us this year (2016) which is being used in our products now. mjna message boardWe also currently source from Europe but we’ll be changing that soon.

16. What kind of testing/analysis is performed on your products?

We have an industry leading quality control system, and we have third party laboratories analyze all of our hemp extracts and our final products for cannabinoid potency, heavy metals, bacterial and microbial life, mycotoxins (fungus), and pesticides.

17. What is CO2 extraction? What’s the difference between subcritical and supercritical CO2 extractions?

CO2 extraction is an extraction process that uses pressurized carbon dioxide to extract phyto-chemicals (such as CBD, CBG, or terpenes, flavonoids, etc.) from a plant. CO2 at certain temperatures and pressures acts like a solvent, without the dangers of actually being one. It is the most expensive extraction method, and is widely considered the most effective and safest plant extraction method in the world.

Many hemp and CBD companies boast about their supercritical CO2 extractions, but that’s actually only one (and perhaps an inferior) method of using a CO2 extraction machine. There are also subcritical CO2 extractions, and ‘mid-critical’, a general range between subcritical and supercritical. Subcritical (low temp, low pressure) CO2 extractions take more time and produce smaller yields than super-critical, but they retain the essential oils, terpenes, and other sensitive chemicals within the plant. Supercritical, on the other hand, is a high pressure and high temperature process that damages most terpenes and heat sensitive chemicals, but can extract much larger molecules such as lipids (omega 3 and 6), chlorophyll, and waxes. A truly full-spectrum CO2 extract includes first performing a subcritical extraction, separating the extracted oil, and then extracting the same plant material using supercritical pressure, and then homogenizing both oil extracts into one. In the essential oil industry, an extract made using this specific process is referred to as a CO2 Total.

18. What is the endocannabinoid system (ECS)?

“The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a group of endogenous cannabinoid receptors located in the mammalian brain and throughout the central and peripheral nervous systems, consisting of neuromodulatory lipids and their receptors.” Wikipedia

There are two main types of receptors in the ECS, CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors are primarily located in the central nervous system and brains of mammals, and CB2 are generally found in the peripheral nervous system. There are two main cannabinoids mammals produce- 2AG and Anandamide (named after the Sanskrit term “ananda” which translates to “peace”).

For hundreds of millions of years every vertebrate on Earth has been equipped with this ECS, a crucial system in the body, and it has been known about in the scientific and medical communities since the 1980’s. However, it’s still not taught about in most medical schools.