May 11, 2023
The team at Vital Garden Supply continues to prove cultivating organic cannabis is very much possible at scale.
As mega gardens have become more prominent and significant in the wake of Prop 64’s passing seven years ago, people wanted more shortcuts to go with the scale of their operation. Many didn’t care much what was in it if it passed testing and made their lives easier. Much of the time because they weren’t smoking it themselves.
Brian Malin from Vital Garden Supply is the exact opposite of that ethos. Since 2006, Vital Garden Supply has provided California gardeners of all kinds with the means to grow things organically. But, of course, the company holds a special place in the hearts of cannabis farmers, to the extent that when the state said it was time to create a mechanism to certify organic cannabis farming in California, they called Malin in to help write the rules for the OCal program.
This week we got to visit Pacific Reserve’s farm in Salinas. The garden was founded by Andy Demico, Billy Tomlinson, Brook Eagle, Bryce Heart, and Malin. Most of the founders met in Grass Valley or Santa Cruz using Malin’s products.
Malin is deeply connected to the farm. Not only does it serve as the largest visible example of what’s possible organically with his products, but his son spent the last few years climbing the ranks through compliance and processing to become cultivation director.
Malin went on to note there are other big farms using his products, but the Pacific Reserve facility is currently going the hardest with them. Many people use Vital’s cocoa and other baseline nutrients to build out their own programs that may not be totally organic.
“But Pacific Reserve is 100% on the program; we have other full sun ones that are maybe a couple of acres that are probably similar,” Malin told L.A. Weekly at the farm.
We asked Malin when a company like Vital went from serving smaller-scale operations to the mega-farms of the modern era, too.
“Well, it was a slow and steady climb from 2006, that was the first year,” Malin said. “Here we are 17 years later, I’d say the last 10 we’ve been handling some pretty good scale stuff. I think the first really big customers were when these guys first had the place across the street and Crockett’s place. That was like 2,000 yards of soil. It was sweet.”
Malin was never thinking in terms of 10,000-square-foot greenhouses when he started. It was more like he felt he needed to start it to help supplement his own grows and more on a local scale.
“So I definitely didn’t think of it turning into what it did. It’s pretty crazy,” Malin said. “People are using it now, using around not necessarily the whole world, but definitely all over the U.S. and the Caribbean on the islands. And it’s all clean and organic. So it helps me sleep well at night, knowing I’m like teaching good practices and cutting down on the use of other products that aren’t as good for the planet.”
We asked Malin how he balances growing the company and putting in the work in the garden that’s helped get it this far. He pointed to a combination of intuition and urgency, then laughed, noting it was basically whichever seemed the more important of the two on a given day.
Recently Pacific Reserve’s parent company Kolaboration Ventures Corporation (KVC) bought Massive Creations and brought on breeder Shiloh Massive as its new head breeder.
“Shiloh will use the large cultivation and nursery footprint of KVC as the backbone to breed, select these unique cultivars and bring them to market in a wide variety of consumer products,” the company noted when announcing the deal earlier this week.
Massive joined us in Salinas for the day and explained that his original dealings with Malin saw him first visit the farm in 2016. Originally he gave them some cuts to mom out so he would have plants to back his work as Massive Creations continues to expand.
“So it was like kind of a no-brainer to let these guys have some proprietary genetics to run,” Massive told L.A. Weekly. “And then I could tap out and get some like clones from them to entertain other parties.”
It went well. The relationship continued to grow, the farm wanted to run more of his great, and eventually, it got to the point where they acquired Massive Creations and brought Shiloh in-house.
“It was a long way, but a short time,” Massive said. “It just kind of happened almost overnight toward the end.”
Massive went on to note how fitting the whole thing was given his long history with Vital.
“I worked in the Vital warehouse. I drove the forklift. I loaded trucks. All the seeds I’ve ever made have been made with Vital since it was ever a product, so it was just a natural fit,” Massive said. “Brian and I have been friends for a long time.”
Since coming on board, Massive has watched the rooms begin to be transitioned to a fully organic program, room by room. Each of those rooms is the size of a small aircraft hangar, so it’s a delicate process so as not to screw up any production runs.
That being said, the team swears by the recent results.
“Everyone is amazed because the last salt run didn’t look too good,” Massive said. “And now the first organic runs are looking amazing. So it just kind of proves what we thought all along that organic cannabis was, I don’t want to say superior, but it’s just a great option for any kind of farming.”
Salinas is a much different environment than where Massive did most of his breeding work in the Emerald Triangle. Right now they are working through his library to figure out what works best.
“Not every strain is hitting a home run. So now that we got a plan and we’re going to do more pheno hunting, we can do on-site pheno hunting and have a clone garden that kind of feeds this seasonally and we know which strains do better and which season,” Massive explained. “So we’re just in the infancy of it all. And we’re just tapping into the potential, but it’s really exciting to be along for the ride and to actually get a place to start playing with everything I’ve done.”
And it should be worth noting there is plenty of heat growing twice. Some of Pacific Reserve’s neighbors have won The Emerald Cup before. We’ll have the results from this year’s cup next week.
Published initially on LA WEEKLY