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In the weeds

Growing cannabis in downtown Tulsa’s secret garden

Higher Plains Farm is owned and operated by Laurie Keeley, Susan Rhodes and Ali Pearcy.

Greg Bollinger

Higher Plains isn’t exactly what one would expect from an Oklahoma farm. For one, they’re located in downtown Tulsa. Second, they’re entirely female owned and operated. Lastly, they produce one crop: cannabis.

Higher Plains Farm is Laurie Keeley, Susan Rhodes and Ali Pearcy. Their secret garden is tucked away from prying eyes— and noses. The farm uses aeroponic tables to grow their cannabis indoors, without soil or natural sunlight. Their facility represents the cutting-edges of the local cannabis industry and modern farming technology.

Pearcy and Keeley both have backgrounds in horticulture, and Rhodes had a career in the oil and gas business before they started the farm.

For Rhodes, the excitement of a brand-new market was irresistible. “This is the ideal thing for me,” she says. “I can take three things that I love: a business, cannabis, and the opportunity to create better health around me and create a company around that.”

“As soon as the law passed, I cried,” Pearcy says laughing. “I was so proud.” She knew right off the bat that she wanted to put her skills to use growing the kind herb. She discussed the idea last summer with Keeley and the seed of Higher Plains was planted.

The inner workings of aeroponic growing tables are complex, but essentially the plants sit in small baskets with their roots exposed. Hundred second bursts of nutrient-enriched water are misted onto the roots at 400-second intervals. The system is mostly automated, and Pearcy and Keeley can make adjustments to the system through an app on their phones. Healthy plants develop long white roots, what Keeley calls “Santa beard roots.”

The aeroponic system allows the growers much finer control over their product’s environment. It also allows them to grow more and harvest more often. They also avoid the use of pesticides, instead relying on beneficial insects as a natural form of pest control.

“It’s actually the same way they grow plants and products in space,” Rhodes says. “Most people take three to four months to grow their plants. We can do it on an eight-week schedule, so we get six harvests a year.”

Higher Plains just had its first harvest. This time they grew two different strains, Vanilla Ice and Frozen Lassi. About 20 plants hang upside-down for drying as a worker takes them down one at a time and trims the buds off. The leaves are kept and later processed into concentrates, topicals and edibles.

Higher Plains practices cloning. This ensures the quality and consistency that consumers and patients need. They select the healthiest specimens from their harvest and grow new plants from cuttings. A single plant can produce 900 clones every two weeks.

The farm has already outgrown the garage it started in, spreading into a space a few doors down. This is where they keep their cloner, a specialized aeroponic table that allows even finer control of the plants’ environment as they develop.

Oklahoma’s cannabis industry is in its infancy, resulting in something not unlike like the land-grab of last century. “It’s completely the free market,” says Rhodes. “All you need are $2500, a background check, and an address and you’re pretty good to go.” A crowded market means lots of competition and a high failure rate, but most people don’t have the experience in business or horticulture that Pearcy, Keeley and Rhodes do. Their cannabis will be available at Lovelight Cannabis Co Dispensary at 3618 E. Admiral Place, and they are planning to expand.

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