Desert Bloom | RQS

Desert Bloom


What's that old saying? Oh, yeah: If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. The same can be said for a growroom, especially if it's located in Palm Springs, CA, where the temperature reaches triple digits for 100-plus days of the year. And if your growroom serves over 4,000 patients in this region, heat is more than a frequent concern—it's an omnipresent threat. Stacy Hochanadel knows all about heat. He's the owner/director of the Cannahelp Collective in Palm Springs, the leading medical-marijuana dispensary in the Coachella Valley region. Cannahelp houses a massive growroom of 10,000 square feet Amnesia Haze. Keeping a warehouse of 01. plants cool in this furnace-like climate means that the topic of heat is never far from Stacy's thoughts. His journey to this desert mega-garden was an arduous one Stacy's a Palm Springs native with mots going back four generations. In 1995, he was 17 years old and nearing graduation—a 285-pound star lineman in football with a full scholarship to the University of Colorado. But life doesn't always correspond to our dreams. While visiting Lake Havasu in Arizona, he was infected by a parasite that brought him to the brink of death. After a year and a half at the UCLA Medical Center, he was discharged and forced to start life all over again. His large intestine had been removed, his magnificent body had been wrecked, and he now had a drug problem that was slowly killing him. He'd been living in nearby Laguna Beach while receiving treatment. Now on his own, Stacy says his life was reduced to a cave-like existence: "Windows closed, TV always on, and me, living my life as a slave to the cycles of my pain and my medication." Medical experts agree that stomach pain is the most debilitating. "It pulls your ,center down and attacks the central. nervous system," Stacy explains. The heavy regimen of pharmaceuticals was slowly killing him. A good friend, a pharmacist's aide, advised him of exactly that. The year was 1996, and Stacy's friend suggested pot instead. Ready to try anything, Stacy bought his first eighth and a Graffix bong. Life immediately changed.

"!t was miraculous," he recalls. "It eased my pain considerably. You have to understand: never smoked pot in my life. I'd been a tough football player, and I wouldn't take anything." The next day, Stacy visited a hydroponics store and joined the state's army of medical growers. A few weeks later, California passed Proposition 215, making medical marijuana legal statewide. For the next 10 years, Stacy was able to provide medicine for himself. But in 2005, now married with children and living in Palm Springs, he decided to stop growing and acquire his medicine through dispensaries. Unfortunately, the closest facility was

two hours away in Los Angeles. "I was working construction. Our family has worked in construction for years," Stacy says. But in order to get my medicine, I'd have to Leave work, He to my dad. My wife would be pissed because I'd be gone for five hours to get this product; it cost a lot of money and would only last two weeks. I was living this secret Life just to get my medication. I got pissed off one day and decided to see what I could do about opening a dispensary." There were no collectives of any kind and no medical scene to speak of in Coachella Valley. Also, this is a part of the country rife with conservative voters. But Stacy was undeterred: He found a location in Palm Desert, about 20 miles east of Palm Springs, acquired a business license and opened his doors. A different kind of heat soon ensued. Multiple attempts were made to shut Cannahelp down. The city challenged the legitimacy of his business license. Search and arrest warrants were issued. Stacy remained defiant—until the day that Palm Desert established a safety commission. As one might expect, its first order of business was to declare Cannahelp unsafe. After two years of fighting, Cannahelp closed down. Stacy returned to construction in Palm Springs, but the work was harder on him now. In my family, you gotta work on the job!" he laughs. "Forty hours a week with no intestine, no absorption of water in the summer's 120-degree heat—I couldn't work summers. I started to get depressed." But not for long. "In sorne ways," he muses, "I feel this is what I was meant to do. I do want to change this world for my four kids." Stacy decided to reopen Cannahelp in Palm Springs. He obtained a business license, worked closely with city managers and attorneys—and when California issued fresh guidelines in August 2008 for medical-marijuana patients and dispensaries, Stacy announced that he would open Cannahelp's doors again within a few weeks. When the city dragged its feet on writing a municipal ordinance for medical-marijuana dispensaries, Stacy stirred the pot a touch more by calling the media and announcing that he was opening anyway. Still, hoping to maintain a good relationship with city officials, he acquiesced to their wishes and closed down a few days later. But while awaiting a green light from the city, he built the infrastructure of Cannahelp on a sprawling industrial property. So when he finally got the go-ahead, he was ready. There have been speed bumps along the way—such as the complete overhaul required of the facility to make sure it strictly complied with fire codes—but today, Cannahelp is a fully licensed and valued member of the Local business community. Its headquarters is a former print shop that closed down, Leaving its employees—some with 20 years of service—hung out to dry. Stacy added them to his staff as maintenance and security personnel. Nine employees now make up theCannahelp staff, including two budtenders and five

growroom workers. Cara Pellegrino serves as the company's general manager and oversees the financing of this massive operation. "People hear about our 10,000-square-foot growroom and figure that we're making tons of money," she says. But in order to operate legally, there are attorneys, taxes, insurance, not to mention our own huge debt that we must finance-and we have to be strictly compliant with all city codes. We're held to a higher level of expectations than most other businesses, and we're not afraid to meet higher standards. We just think they should be the same for everyone."

Palm Springs has Licensed only three dispensaries, but there are 32 operating at present. Cara says, "We operate honestly and openly. We want everyone to know that we are Lawful and fully compliant." Realistically, the operation of an indoor garden this size—especially when it's situated in America's blast furnace—allows Little time for Cannahelp to worry about competing collectives. The growroom is housed in the same facility as the reception area and company offices. Upon entry into the growroom, a visitor is greeted by aisles of Luxuriant cannabis greenery ensconced in drain-to-waste tables. (Many growers prefer drain-to-waste systems because they provide better control over the plants and help prevent diseases.) We use either four-by-four or four-by-eight- foot drain-to-waste tables," Stacy explains. When we first plant the clones in the garden, we water every four to five days. As the plants get bigger, we have to increase watering to every two to three days. We have a 2,600-gallon RO [reverse-osmosis] tank that feeds the 550-gallon reservoir in which we mix the nutrients. We use every drop of our 550-gallon reservoir each time we water. Stacy has been a fan of Advanced Nutrients products for years, especially Senn Grow and Connoisseur. Lately, however, he has developed a great deal of admiration for the products of Aurora Innovations, such as their Roots Organics and Soul Synthetics Lines. ,We've noticed that other growers, who are growing in the same environment as we are, are getting better yields, better taste and better crystal formations in their plants with these products, he says. "Advanced Nutrients has changed their Line a bit where you now have to mix your nutes more. I can't do that. 1 can't go back to zero—I can't put my operation at risk because they changed their formula. We're already spending $6,000 a month on nutrients." .More Like $7,500,, corrects Cara. "All of our waste notes get used in the Landscape planters around our building," Stacy adds. We reuse and donate our soil for local vegetable gardens as much as possible, since it's full of perlite and super-high quality. "We also use a good dose of beneficial bacteria Like Tarantula, Piranha, Actinovate and Microbe-Lift. Every two weeks or so, we water with beneficial nematodes to help control insects at the Larva

stage. We don't really have that problem, but we do it anyway." The real key to success in the desert, obviously, is beating the heat. There are 75,000 watts of light showering down on Cannahelp's gardens. As Stacy Lays out his tactics in the endless battle of heat versus cooling, A/C specialists are doing maintenance on the system.

"It never ends," Stacy sighs. "Our energy bill tops $12,000 a month. We've installed a lot of extra venting for all of our rooms, and we have extra-heavy-duty A/C units. We also require a Lot of dehumidifiers, since the moisture levels can get really high. Humidity can put you in danger for powdery mildew; it also slows down the cure time during harvest. When temperatures top 120 during the summer, we have to be prepared for anything." The garden is laced throughout with trelliswork, which is especially necessary to support the taller, Lankier sativas. Heavy buds can weigh down plants, which require support—after all, the last thing a grower needs is broken stalks. Stacy explains that Cannahelp's trellises are constructed out of PVC and usually have two or three tiers of netting. "We even net the sides of the tables to give the plants extra support," he says. But before we flip into flower and change the lights to 12 and 12, we try to give the plants a more lollipop shape: We strip all the bottoms off the plants and remove excess growth. There's no sense leaving a bunch of growth on the bottom of the plant that won't get good light and will only produce small, larfy nugs. It also allows for much better air flow and light distribution." But all of the effort in creating this immaculately appointed grow op is worth it. Cannahelp currently has 30 strains available to the medical-marijuana public. All are tested for potency by Steep Hill Lab of Oakland, CA. Their Kush strains continue to be the most popular, but Green Crack—with a whopping 24 percent THC—has been attracting attention as well. Palm Springs Diesel is a truly great strain, as is their rendition of Martian Mean Green. Old-school strains are on the menu, too-----classics like Northern Lights. Although the desert heat will always require "ne- gotiation," as Stacy puts it, the-political heat started Ito ebb once Cannahelp's importance to the local community became clear. "We think we're a unique cooperative in many ways," Stacy says. "We work with the Desert AIDS project. The patients we serve need us, and we need them. We have needy patients who donate their time, doing things like cleaning windows and pulling weeds in exchange for medicine. We work with patient volunteers only to trim the crop during harvest—they, too, donate their time in exchange for medication. Some patient volunteers work in the garden. We're encouraging a warm, family-like community here."

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