Budding business: Holistic Industries a key player in western Mass. cannabis boom

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  • Max Rapoport takes cuttings from mature plants to grow more plants at the Holistic Industries cannabis cultivation and manufacture facility in Monson on Friday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A flowering cannabis plant, about one week from being harvested, growing in the Holistic Industries cannabis cultivation and manufacture facility in Monson on Friday, April 16, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Holistic Industries lead grower Matt Iarussi looks over mature Limefire Skunk cannabis cultivars, some with flower stalks 18 inches tall, at the company’s Massachusetts facility in Monson on Friday, April 16, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Trays of cannabis cuttings grow at the Holistic Industries cannabis cultivation and manufacture facility in Monson on Friday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Max Rapoport takes cuttings from mature plants to grow more plants at the Holistic Industries cannabis cultivation and manufacture facility in Monson on Friday, April 16, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • There are some 20,000 cannabis plants growing at any one time under the 15,000 square feet of indoor canopy at the Holistic Industries cannabis cultivation and manufacture facility, Photographed in Monson on Friday, April 16, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Flowering cannabis plants, about one week from being harvested, grow in the Holistic Industries cannabis cultivation and manufacture facility in Monson on Friday, April 16, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A worker tends plants at the Holistic Industries cannabis cultivation and manufacture facility in Monson on Friday, April 16, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Sean Pennington portions out cannibis buds into packages in the post harvest room of the Holistic Industries cannabis cultivation and manufacture facility in Monson on Friday, April 16, 2021. Behind him is a string of dancing, or marching, bear figures associated with the Grateful Dead. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Sean Pennington doles out cannibis buds into packages in the post harvest room of the Holistic Industries cultivation and manufacture facility in Monson on Friday, April 16, 2021. In foreground are samples of the three varieties of the company's new line, Garcia Hand Picked: hybird, left, sativa and indica. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A display sample of Tropicanna Haze, the sativa-derived offering in the line of three strains of Garcia Hand Picked cannabis products. Photographed during a tour of the Holistic Industries' Massachusetts cultivation and manufacture facility in Monson on Friday, April 16, 2021. The other two varieties are the indica-derived Shiskaberry Mango and Limefire Skunk, a hybrid of sativa and indica. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Ryan McCartney trims leaves from maturing cannabis plants about a week before harvesting at the Holistic Industries cannabis cultivation and manufacture facility in Monson on Friday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Dried cannabis flowers, or buds, wait to be processed in the post harvest room of the Holistic Industries cannabis cultivation and manufacture facility in Monson on Friday, April 16, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • From left, Dennis Galvin, Julia Molloy and Addie Checheta fill trays with a mix for edible gummies in the shape of guitar picks in the kitchen of the Holistic Industries cannabis cultivation and manufacture facility in Monson on Friday, April 16, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Holistic Industries Chief Scientific Officer Adam Kavalier talks about a THC distillation machine in the laboratory of the company's cannabis cultivation and manufacture facility in Monson on Friday, April 16, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Bertha, a custom Airstream fitted out with a sound system and merchandise, is parked outside of the Holistic Industries cannabis cultivation and manufacture facility in Monson on Friday, April 16, 2021, after making the 2,500 mile trip from the West Coast. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

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    Rachel Genderson gives a tour of Bertha, a custom Airstream that is now touring the East Coast promoting a new "celebrity" line of cannabis products, Garcia Hand Picked, and selling the associated merchandise. Photographed outside the Holistic Industries cannabis cultivation and manufacture facility in Monson on Friday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

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    The door to Bertha, a custom Airstream touring the country to promote a line of cannabis products named for former Grateful Dead frontman, Jerry Garcia, bears a COVID-era caution tailored to "Deadheads" with lyrics by Robert Hunter from the song "Casey Jones". The trailer was parked outside of the Holistic Industries cannabis cultivation and manufacture facility in Monson on Friday, April 16, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 4/18/2021 7:45:57 PM

MONSON — The roar of ventilation fans filled a massive, brightly lit grow room on Friday as Matt Iarussi walked down a narrow path, pungent plants with names like Tropicanna Haze and Limefire Skunk surrounding him.

“Consistency is the key,” Iarussi said, stepping over hoses that run drip-irrigation for the cannabis plants that workers meticulously care for to ensure they’re all the same height and producing big, potent flowers. Pointing to a Shiskaberry plant — a strain the company is using in a newly branded product line with the family of late Grateful Dead frontman Jerry Garcia — he remarked on its height and blooming buds.

“Just a beautiful cultivar,” he said.

Iarussi was part of a team providing the Gazette with a tour of the massive marijuana cultivation and product-manufacturing plant that the company Holistic Industries opened in Monson in 2018. One of the largest marijuana companies in the country, Holistic has three dispensaries — including one in Easthampton — and Chief Marketing Officer Kyle Barich said the company sells wholesale to a majority of the state’s marijuana retailers.

Holistic’s facility is part of a burgeoning industry in western Massachusetts, where companies have been buying up unused mill buildings and other properties to turn them into indoor-grow operations.

In Holyoke, large marijuana companies have purchased at least four mill buildings in a string of industrial real estate deals that has the Paper City betting on a new economic identity as “Rolling Paper City.” And other cities and towns have followed suit, leading the website Green Market Report to describe a “cannabis real estate boom” in the Northeast.

In Hampshire County and Holyoke alone, the state has granted five final licenses for product manufacturers and two for marijuana cultivators. The state has granted 13 provisional licenses for manufacturers and cultivators in Holyoke, three in Northampton, two in Ware, and one each in Hatfield, Belchertown and Cummington.

Those facilities will have to compete with Holistic, which has one of the largest such operations in the state, with cultivation and manufacturing happening together under one roof.

A thousand a week

The 56,000-square-foot manufacturing plant contains around 15,000 square feet of “canopy” — in other words, some 20,000 plants in various stages of growth. The operation works on a “weekly cadence,” with 1,000 plants harvested every week as plants move through the cycle from seed to finished, packaged product.

“It’s a giant machine that just keeps moving,” explained Jerry Degon, the company’s facilities operation manager.

The facility employs some 80 people, Barich said, adding that the company brings in many employees from the Monson area. However, he said he was “not comfortable sharing” how much the company pays as a starting wage. An offer letter for a “post harvest associate” position, which the Gazette obtained in 2018, noted that the position paid $13 an hour at that time.

With a full lab and kitchen on site, the facility makes as many as 60 different products: from bud to capsules, cartridges to concentrates, tinctures to chocolate bars. The company is now launching a “Garcia Hand Picked” brand of weed.

The collection of products and merchandise is being billed as “one of the first celebrity cannabis brands” in the state. The company is launching a tour of its dispensaries, including Saturday at Liberty Easthampton, where a customized Airstream bus planned to introduce the new brand to customers.

The marketing and PR push is another big part of the industry, Barich explained.

“The business of cannabis, definitely, is brands,” he said.

In a statement, Garcia’s daughter, Trixie Garcia, said the Garcia family wanted to create cannabis that would “honor the legacy of Jerry Garcia, delight the fans and benefit humanity.”

“We found a partner in Holistic Industries, after years of searching, who shares our values and priorities, is able to make a national brand and continues to deliver on their promise of authenticity in every aspect of the Garcia Hand Picked brand,” she said.

Holistic’s facility has a Willy Wonka vibe, with employees harvesting plants, trimming buds, rolling joints, cooking gummies and chocolates, and packaging products in sleek containers across the vast building. The place even has a full laboratory, where esoteric machines and employees turn plants into pure THC and other necessary ingredients for concentrates, tinctures and other methods of consuming marijuana.

“This is the closest thing to a liquid flower,” Director of Kitchens and Laboratories Mallory Paul explained, showing off a clear liquid that emerged from a Dr. Seussian machine.

In addition to Massachusetts, Holistic has licenses in Washington, D.C., Maryland, Michigan, California and soon Missouri, West Virginia and other states, Barich said. The reason: those states have limited licences, meaning demand outstrips supply, he added.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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