When asked if he's aware of any other facilities growing cannabis in the same manner that Vera Cultivation does, Park responds, "None to the level that we're operating at. But I'm not omniscient."
He may not be "omniscient," but Park is certainly eco-conscious and scientifically-minded when it comes to his company's operations. He thinks Vera's cannabis stands out as a result of both the facility where it's grown as well as the specific hydroponics. A motto on the company's website reads, "The Future of Cannabis Cultivation."
Vera operates a "hybrid-greenhouse system" in eastern Boulder. Natural light pours down on hundreds of plants, but the illumination can also be supplemented, when needed, using the facility's 320 grow lights. "On an annual basis 70 percent of our light comes from natural sun, 30 percent artificial [lighting]," says Park. As opposed to using grow lights only -- as is the case within warehouse-style indoor operations -- the use of sunlight "enhances the cannabinoid profiles" and "the terpene profiles" of the plants, which ultimately makes the resulting cannabis more appealing to connoisseur consumers.
Vera's greenhouse is sealed, so minimal odor escapes. Furthermore, being sealed allows the company to control "the level of humidity, temperature, and CO2" in a manner similar to an indoor grow facility.
After getting their start in Rockwool cubes, the plants' roots spread out and dangle down into a recirculating and "hyper-oxygenated" nutrient-rich water stream, which feeds all the plants. This allows the growers "to deliver, at every second of plant growth, exactly what the plant needs" in terms of nutrients and temperature control. Trellising helps support the plants as they grow upwards from within their hydroponic vessels, which contain no soil or other types of traditional grow media. Additional proprietary technologies ensure that pathogens are mitigated within the water stream. And water is also recaptured, recycled, and recirculated within the system -- without any effluents like nitrates and phosphates entering the sewer system or draining into a leach field.
Vera's 22,000-square-foot facility has received the Boulder County Carbon Conscious Certification, which recognizes growers who are "working towards carbon neutral cannabis production." Park says his company achieves those goals through "quality infrastructural design, efficient cultivation practice, and innovative HVAC control strategies to limit the amount of energy expenditure."
After seeing its first products enter the market in 2018, Vera's cannabis is now available at about 30 dispensaries in Colorado. Sometimes the dispensaries note Vera as the cultivator, sometimes they don't. "The majority of our product is sold wholesale and it's effectively white labeled," says Park, who hopes to expand the company's own branding opportunities in the near future. Vera also works with about five concentrate makers, including a few who produce high-end, solvent-free rosin from Vera's cannabis. "It's not enough just to grow great weed now," says Park. "You need to prove to the market that that weed is also suitable for live rosin."
Vera has also partnered with hip-hop legend Method Man (of the Wu-Tang Clan), producing in Colorado his line of branded cannabis, TICAL. Vera grows strains for TICAL named Free M.A.C., Orange Cookie Kush, and Sweet Grease. Park calls Method Man a "lyrical genius" and the partnership -- which was more than a year in the making -- "exciting." Park also notes, "The TICAL value set aligns with ours, in the sense that they're very much about social equity. They want to support Black-, brown-, and minority-owned businesses, so they've targeted dispensaries and [cultivation operations] that are owned by minorities."
Park describes his own ethnic heritage as half-Korean and half-Jewish. He came to Colorado from Massachusetts to study at the University of Colorado. Originally intending to pursue a law degree afterwards, he interned for Denver cannabis attorney Warren Edson. (Full disclosure: This author was employed by Edson during that same time period.) But ultimately the idea of running his own cannabis business appealed to Park more than entering the legal field. Park oversees the company alongside his two co-founders, Eric Haughton and Harrison Somoza.
What does he hope consumers will get when they try a Vera product, like one of Method Man's TICAL selections?
Answers Park: "I hope, first and foremost, that the customer gets an elevated experience -- one that is driven by the quality of the grow and the methodology that we utilize. Unique terpenes, unique cannabinoid profiles by virtue of how we grow. Underpinning it all is the knowledge that what they're buying is a consciously-cultivated product, one that is not extractive environmentally. It's something that's grown sustainably. So, going back to our credo that high end cannabis doesn't need to come with the price tag of [harming the] environment."
Challenges: Within a saturated cannabis market, Park says the challenge is "trying to communicate to the customer (and the customer is not just the end user, but also the dispensaries that we sell to) that what we're producing is not just cannabis, but something a little more than that: It's a value platform that embodies the values that we have: eco-friendly, social equity, resource efficiency."
Opportunities: Expanding out of state. "We're currently building a facility in Michigan," says Park. "We have a partnership with a group in New Zealand. They sought us out to be their cultivation partners." Additionally, the company is awaiting word on whether New Jersey will approve its license.
Needs: Park says, "I think it's always smart, talented people who are ambitious and believe in our model, and want to grow with us."