Cannabis is a plant that has been utilized for thousands of years, but the practices of regulated growing are still fairly new. Thankfully, there are people like Cory Carter. Cory is the talent in charge of cultivation operations for Item 9 Labs, and his background as an accomplished, large-scale grower of both cannabis and other plants have ushered in a level of knowledge that has been lacking in the legal cannabis space.
As a cannabis cultivator, Cory has built out operations that are now valued at $250 million in other agricultural sectors and managed 30 facilities while helping train up the next generation of expert growers.
Cory has moved the needle in the industry by shifting the focus from the final harvest to putting more emphasis on the plant itself, which not only improves the bottom line, but makes cultivation operations more environmentally friendly. Read on for Cory’s philosophy, how he got started, and what currently excites him…
BRINGING A LIFELONG PASSION FOR PLANTS TO CANNABIS CULTIVATION
Cory Carter didn’t learn how to grow cannabis as a rebellious teenager. His upbringing was spent learning to grow everything else from his farming family — including his avid gardener mother. As he grew up, his original plans to be a turf grass breeder shifted into a different kind of grass. “I spent some time in California in the early ‘90s. I met up with some folks there and realized they were a planting community, three generations into marijuana. [I thought] ‘That’s just like my family, our farming family.’ It was kind of the same community – people passionate about plants.” His mother fed his love of plants throughout his early life, and taught him that the key to becoming an excellent grower was to accept the perpetual learning process — there is no such thing as a “master grower,” and there is always more to learn. Mastery is a pursuit, not an accomplishment.
DRIVING INNOVATION THROUGH PASSION AND EXPERIENCE
Much of Cory’s success can be attributed to his findings in genetic potential by taking a plant-centric approach to growing. He’s particularly proud of leading the development of Katelyn’s Faith, a 34-to-1 CBD-to-THC ratio hemp strain that has even more CBD than the popular Charlotte’s Web. Named in honor of Katelyn Faith Pauling, who suffered severe seizures stemming from Batten Disease, it sparked a movement to legalize medical cannabis in Minnesota to help patients like Katelyn. Unfortunately, Katelyn passed away a few months before Minnesota’s medical marijuana laws went into effect. These efforts were not in vain, however, and the benefits of this strain will help many with conditions like Katelyn’s.
SEEING THE BIG PICTURE
Cory has worked on making cultivations more environmentally friendly, but notes what’s possible depends heavily on the cultivation site and soil being used. “Large-scale rainwater collection is something that we’ve always done in these systems…both large scale and whenever we have the ability to with greenhouses,” Cory, who’s a certified nutrient management consultant, said. “Cultivators on the East Coast are really passionate about their watersheds. Custom fertilizer blends allow us to be ‘responsible’ and not wasteful with nutrients.
Cory believes there are more innovations to come, especially with lighting, driven by HVAC innovations and control technologies like Raspberry Pi. “We’re buying off-the-shelf and modifying, whereas in the past everything was personally built,” Cory said, noting that typically the person who built and the person who wired a greenhouse were the same. “I love that I don’t have to roll up my sleeves so often anymore — the technologies coming out now give you more ability than ever to control parameters in your grows.”
Expansion is big on Cory’s mind for Item 9 Labs here in Arizona, as he’s excited about the cannabis space as a whole right now. “It’s just such a vibrant industry. The fact that there are constantly new technologies driving innovation, but it still revolves around the plant, has been amazing to be part of,” Cory said. “We’re talking about an industry with momentum — cannabis, right now, is on everybody’s lips.”
USHERING IN THE NEXT GENERATION OF EXPERTS
Cory is grateful he no longer feels like a beginner in the industry. “I feel like a parent – I usually go in and design, build-out, implement, hire and train the team, get everyone running on a calendar, and hopefully, educate along the way. It’s like teaching your kid to ride a bike when you say, ‘All right, training wheels are off. Do you got this?’ And every time that happens, it brings me the same amount of satisfaction, whether it’s a 500,000 square foot facility or a 20,000 square foot facility,” Cory said, noting that growing is a passion that cannot be rushed. “I love getting people passionate about what they’re doing and training them on best practices, always offering the why behind everything. And then, watching them do it on their own. That’s always the greatest sense of accomplishment I feel.”
PLAYING THE LONG-GAME
He cautiously compares the cannabis explosion now to the tech boom at the turn of the century, remembering he wanted no part of it back then. “I lived it. I had friends getting into tech, but I had no interest, I liked turf grass” said Cory. “Now, here I am, in an industry where I can use my passion for plants. I don’t really ever want to retire and am already wishing I had more time in it.”
Cannabis has been his biggest challenge thus far, but his expertise has lent significant weight to the improvement of the industry’s performance. His determination to accomplish what has not yet been done in the regulated cannabis space is not only what attracted him, but what keeps him working to discover new, innovative solutions for the industry.
The plant is a rare crop in which growers care for it from cut to harvest. It takes patience, resilience, and a willingness to be creative to do it well, consistently. After every harvest, a new puzzle and journey emerge, and Cory oversees that expedition every time with renewed vigor to tackle any challenges that present themselves.