Location: Nevada City, California
Indoor, outdoor, greenhouse or a combination: greenhouse and field
Photos courtesy of Stone Road Farms
Lex Corwin founded Stone Road Farms in 2016 when California was still a pure medical market.
Can you share something about your background and how you and your company have come to this day?
Korvin: I started growing cannabis in high school. I was a somewhat naughty kid, and my parents sent me to a farm school in rural Vermont. I grew up in New York City. So I learned how to work and live on an organic farm. When I got back, much to the chagrin of my parents, I ordered cannabis seeds in Amsterdam and started growing cannabis on my neighbor’s property called Stone Road, hence the name of the company. So I’ve been into cannabis since I was 16 years old. I went to school in Portland, Oregon and worked with a number of different breeders there. I bought this property in 2016.
Kelly: I grew up in Ohio and naturally started smoking cannabis like everyone in high school. Then, after high school, I started doing various 9-to-5 jobs. I got an opportunity to move to California in 2017 and just stumbled in and met Lex by the grace of God who gave me a wonderful opportunity. We just slowly ironed the kinks from there.
Korvin: I started [the company] In 2016 and the first few years we already had the business [adult-use cannabis] became legal in California and we operated in the medical setting. We have grown cannabis and used it in our products but when Metrc was formed in July 2018 we had to switch to the co-packing model and after two long years of working with our county we are now finally fully legal and fully scaled . In 2021 we pulled our first legal inaugural harvest from the farm. So a growing percentage of Stone Road produce actually comes from the farm.
Stone Road has greenhouse and outdoor growing operations.
What tool or software in your cultivation space can’t you live without?
Korvin: To be honest we don’t use any. I probably shouldn’t use Google Sheets for everything, but we really do use Google Sheets for everything. I have a small team, so everyone contributes their part. Blake uses Metrc, but ultimately we realized that there is no such thing as perfect software for farmers. I have a feeling that we would need to use a more complex operation with more plants and more employees, but for now we only use Metrc.
What purchase of $100 or less has had the most positive impact on your business in the last six months?
Korvin: Nothing that costs less than $100, yet. Honestly, I’d say it’s about the people you hire, not the equipment you use. There are so many strains out there that use crazy technology and their stuff is pretty much whatever, if you grow it with lots of attention and love you will end up with an overall better product.
We just got a new pressure washer for about $200 which I’m really looking forward to.
Stone Road uses living soil and elements of biodynamic agriculture.
What cultivation techniques are you most interested in right now and what are you actively studying (mostly)?
Korvin: We like to say that we use elements of biodynamic agriculture. Obviously, [we don’t do] all the crazy stuff like combining cow dung with llama droppings and waxing under the full moon. We don’t have time for any of that. but [we implement] other things, like regenerative water practices [and] Use living soil. Instead of using pesticides or plastics, [we use] predatory mites. [We make] our own compost teas.
Kelly: As for the sustainability we want to work towards, we recently installed a solar system on the farm. This is free, renewable energy. And then we try to learn more about making our own compost so we can improve our soil [and] manufacture our own nutrient system and produce everything in-house, [or] at least as much as we can for this scale.
How did failure or apparent failure prepare you for later success? Do you have a “favorite mistake” of yours?
Kelley, Plant Manager at Stone Road, wants the farm to eventually make its own compost.
Korvin: Oh, I have so many – we would be here all day. The biggest, of course, is that our company is like a family, because to be successful you have to be able to work with people you can trust. When I founded the company, I had two business partners who just didn’t put their hearts into it. Ultimately, after a lot of crazy betrayals, we have a much stronger working relationship, and it’s also a lot easier to know that these people have your back. So I would say just pick the wrong partners, the wrong people to hang out with, [is a failure that set us up for success].
Kelly: I totally support that because of course as you grow you will make certain mistakes – maybe more than one. A new theme will emerge each year. It’s all about learning. If you’re not surrounded by people who want it the same way you do, you’re set to fail from the start.
What advice would you give to a smart, dedicated breeder about to break into the legal, regulated industry? What advice should you ignore?
Korvin: Don’t come to California – there are too many pot growers. That’s my advice. Frankly, as long as the political and fiscal environment is in its current form, all of the real growth areas for cannabis lie outside of California. I saw a map today where 60% of municipalities in California ban any commercial cannabis activity or any type of retail. So from a retail perspective, California is still a very underserved state. If I were a young entrepreneur, I would look to Oklahoma, Illinois or Massachusetts, places with fast growth and a slightly friendlier business environment.
In terms of what I would tell them to avoid, just don’t compare [yourself] to others, because you will always find growers doing it bigger, better, with more money and higher THC levels. You really need to stay in your own lane and focus on your product because at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.
Kelly: It is very important that you choose your employees and surround yourself with the right kind of people. And again, don’t get jealous and don’t compare yourself to others. Likewise, [take a] kind of a lessons-learned approach when it comes to plants – you can always add and add more, but you can’t take away, so be careful with some of these things.
Korvin: Yes, as with nutrients and pesticides, they always tell you to put in huge amounts when in reality it’s only a fraction of that.
Kelly: There is so much new technology out there that they swear you have to use, but for the most part that’s not true. Some things will make your life easier, but like I said, it’s a less-is-more approach. Work with what you have and the budget you have, and don’t feel like you have to work at the same level as someone who’s been doing it for a while.
Corwin describes Stone Road’s growing style as “natural”.
How do you deal with burnout?
Korvin: For me I’ve done my best and I’m 100% in and you have to show that level of commitment. You always have to believe that you’re going to rock next season, rock next year. If you have that glimmer of, “Oh, I don’t know if it’s going to work,” just walk away. You don’t have what it takes to make it in the industry – it’s too brutal. So how do you ultimately deal with burnout? [You have to] learn to enjoy it.
Kelly: California is hot and plants don’t take a day off so sometimes it’s long days, multiple days in a row. You have to be really good at communicating with your partners and just speaking up. You might see it on a colleague’s face that they’re burned out, but if you don’t talk about it no one knows, hey, they need a break – these days are getting pretty long. It is very important that you must communicate well.
How do you motivate your employees/team?
Korvin: Tell them you love them. Basically you just have to work really hard and stay really focused. Make sure they are in a good situation and pay them.
What keeps you up at night?
Korvin: Collections – but this is different from the farm. On the farm it is farming – there are so many different things. There’s a lot of HLVd, latent hop viroid, which basically makes plants yield less and be low on THC, and you don’t really know you’ve got it until the end. Eighty percent of California plants have it in some way. [Also,] Are we getting wildfire? There are so many uncertainties that you need to prepare for.
Kelly: I would wholeheartedly agree. It also depends on the time of year, because in the main growing season there is a lot of stress, a lot of things can come up, but you give it your all and at the end of the day you are exhausted. I sleep pretty well during the growing season. When the days are less strenuous and I don’t break a physical sweat and then anticipate the next year, it’s easy to keep myself up at night.
Korvin: I’m pretty nervous when there are no plants growing because I don’t know when the next inspection will come.
What helps you sleep at night?
Korvin: The fact that I love what I do.
Kelly: After a day’s work I’m exhausted. It’s also the excitement for the future. You are looking forward to the next day and what tomorrow will bring.
Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for style, length, and clarity.