Dark Heart Nursery is one of the most recognizable brand names in Northern California dispensaries. Discover how this state-of-the-art grow operation is fueling the marijuana industry while helping produce some of the Bay Area’s best pot.
To a marijuana grower healthy plants are everything. In fact, healthy plants keep this entire industry alive. And the starter plants, aka clones, that a grower chooses to use play a critical role in not only the health of their crop, but its ultimate success.
“Unfortunately, it can often take weeks or months before the affects of inferior clones make themselves known, says Dan Grace the owner and operator of Oakland, California’s Dark Heart Nursery who provide clones for sale to growers throughout California. “For example, clones may appear healthy but then succumb to root aphids after several months, or they may simply yield less. In either case, the grower may end up loosing time or yield—so it’s crucial that a grower knows from the get-go that they’re using quality clones.”
Name Brand Marijuana Plants? Who knew?
Branding genetics has always existed. It’s typically associated with strain names like Alien OG, Jillybean or Girl Scout Cookies. However as cannabis use continues to grow more acceptable and more legal nationwide, professional and home growers alike are seeking the accountability and familiarity that comes with a brand. “You know what you are getting,” says Dan. “When growers buy clones from us they know they will be getting a consistent product.”
Like coffee or car tires by branding a product consumers know exactly who produced them and what to expect each time they use them. The same can now be said for pot plants and in this competitive market customer loyalty is king. “When a grower has a series of positive experiences they develop a trust in the brand and that their products will continue to perform,” Dan says. “They know they can expect our clones to perform as they have in the past.” As a result growers have come to trust the quality and consistency of Dark Heart’s products.
Producing High-Performing Plants
How does Dark Heart ensure consistent, top-producing plants? Dan assures us it’s because his company is a “learning organization.” No, it’s not quite a think tank, but over the past seven years Dan and his team have continually thought of new ways to improve their products and processes. This year for example the nursery is instituting a “kanban” system into their operation—a “lean manufacturing” concept that’s helping them dramatically improve inventory and production flow. They also employ an advanced Integrated Pest Management system and six certified pest control professionals to help monitor, prevent and treat pest outbreaks. “This helps ensure that our clones are virtually always pest free upon delivery,” Dan says. “In addition, we have refined our process to produce beautiful, healthy, vigorous plants which grow more quickly and are more healthy than competing products.”
They also employ a painstaking process to make sure no plant is ever mislabeled. This involves tracking and labeling every teen, mom, cutting and clone at every point of production—from seed to sale. Any item in that chain found to be unlabeled—for instance, if a label is lost—is discarded. Staff are also well-trained to identify strains by visual appearance. “With over twenty strains, I’m constantly amazed at how well experienced staff can differentiate between strains in vegetative growth stage by visual appearance and smell alone,” he says.
The Clone Business Is Risky Business
Long ago we made a decision to brand our clones, Dan writes on the newly launched Dark Heart website. “This seems like an obvious move now, but at the time it wasn’t. Growers were under constant threat, and anyone who stuck their head up put themselves in danger.” But Dan and company were proud of the quality of their products and felt that growers deserved to know who made them. So he took a risk, went public and put himself and his reputation on the line.
Today Dark Heart is a thriving business with a conscious. “We expend a great deal of resources promoting the advancement of the cannabis movement, Dan says. “We are active members in the CCIA (California Cannabis Industry Association) and NCIA (National Cannabis Industry Association) that promote cannabis legalization causes in California and across the nation. We are also active in supporting cannabis friendly political candidates and cultivating relationships with them. I believe it’s our responsibility to continue to advance the status of our movement just as activists who came before us have done for decades.”
In addition to helping grow the legalization movement and some of the best starter plants around, Dark Heart nursery prides itself on growing careers. Dan says he is very into promoting staff engagement, education and team-building and he’s always creating new opportunities for staff to grow with the company as it matures. Unlike a lot of small businesses today (or Walmart) Dark Heart offers good pay and comprehensive benefits. “I don’t think it’s fair for a cannabis organization to burden it’s employees with the legal difficulties that come from operating in this industry; so we work to make sure that they are afforded the same benefits and opportunities that they might be entitled to at any company.”
Weed isn’t legal everywhere. Yet. But as legalization grows its healthy plants that will be responsible for the health of an entire new industry. “Drug war or no drug war, we intend to go right on providing our customers with the highest-quality, healthiest plants available anywhere in the industry.” And the industry is counting on it.
*All photos courtesy of Dark Heart Nursery
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