High State Area: Garden State growers cultivate marijuana with a close eye on quality

Mike Montone
March 12, 2019 - 1:49 pm
Harmony Dispensary in Secaucus

Harmony Dispensary

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SECAUCUS, N.J. (1010 WINS) – Tucked inside a nondescript office park in Secaucus, a relatively new Garden State crop is growing.

Cannabis is harvested to the tune of 3,000 lbs a year in Harmony Dispensary’s in-house grow operation.

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Gov. Phil Murphy ran on a promise to legalize pot in his first 100 days. That deadline has come and gone, but over a year later, lawmakers are ready to hold a vote on the issue. For now, Harmony grows and sells its product for medicinal use.

While the black market marijuana trade is often associated with open-air farms secreted away in remote locales, cannabis at Harmony is designed, planted, and cultivated inside of a two-level hydroponic system a stone’s throw away from New York City. The grow room, as they say, 'is where the magic happens.'

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Harmony sells its product on site, allowing the staff to keep a close eye on quality control from start to finish. The whole process begins with ‘suiting up.’

“There are grows that don’t suit up, and I always ask them why aren’t you suiting people up” author, cannabis mixologist, and grow room tour veteran Warren Bobrow said.

‘Suiting up’ refers to donning a ‘bunny suit’ – picture those white jumpsuits worn by forensic detectives on shows like CSI -- and fresh shoes before entering a grow operation. At Harmony, guests and employees also step through an air shower. This decontamination process adds another layer of protection against infestation and contamination.

For Harmony CEO Shaya Broadchandel, decontamination is an essential step. His entire grow operation exists under one roof, and contamination could be catastrophic.

“Using one room means that one room can be wiped out by contamination,” he explained.

Grow room at Harmony Dispensary
Harmony Dispensary

It may only be a one-room operation, but Harmony maximizes every inch of space with equipment sourced from Holland, Israel, and Canada.

“We took advantage of the height and packed in whatever we could,” Broadchandel said.

That meant building their operation vertically. Plants move from the ground to the second floor on 4’x16’ tables. The plants themselves sit in a porous stonewool which allows them to be watered by Harmony's hydroponic system.

It’s something Broadchandel says he put a lot of thought into designing.

“I traveled across the world learning the industry, learning what technologies, bringing people who know and have experience… people who understand plants don’t necessarily know how air conditioning works,” he said. “There’s a lot of different engineers, consultants, growers who came together.”

Broadchandel is confident that Harmony’s grow room could one day be the industry standard.

“If the FDA were to regulate tomorrow, this would be as close to that bar that they would expect, in fact, I would love to help them set that bar,” he said.

Before a plant can make its way through the grow room, it starts as a seed. Before seeds can be generated, Harmony spends months cultivating and testing plants to ensure consistent genetic production.

“Plants have different terpene profiles, so they breed them,” Broadchandel said.

A crop of 100 similar plants will be whittled down to 1 or 2 ‘mother plants’ which will be used to create a production line of about 100 plants each with the same phenotype.

The team then cultivates seeds from plants on the production line at Harmony – production line plants are never harvested, but used for seeds to ensure uniformity and quality control over the final product.

Seed to sale software even allows Broadchandel's staff to track a bag of marijuana sold at Harmony, back to its mother plant.

“I can tell you which mother it came from, which day it was put into here, which day it was transferred from this room to that room, what it was fed,” he explained, “So if we have to do a recall or if there’s an issue with something, we can dive into an investigation.”

The entire process from seed to clone to sale takes about eight months. At the end flavors like Boss Hogg, Strawberry OG, Tangilope and others are available to card holding customers in Harmony's storefront.

Bubby's Cookies Harmony Dispensary
Harmony Dispensary

As plants mature through the process, they move from the irrigation room to the flowering room, where they spend eight weeks before being harvested.

“By the time it comes out it’s just perfect, looking, smelling, tasting, ready for harvest,” Broadchandel explains.

The flowering room is incredibly bright, and plants are moved on a belt operated system through various positions which mimic different angles of the sun. A stroll through the room requires sunglasses and the slightest touch of a plant releases incredibly potent oils.

While green may be the color most often associated with marijuana, the flowering room betrays a range of colors, shades, and patterns. One strain branded ‘Girl Scout Cookies’ appears dusted in snow.

Harmony Dispensary Chocolope
Harmony Dispensary

Innovation at Harmony continues in the drying room where cannabis heads once it’s been harvested. Harmony cures and dries its plants using a hanging system of Broadchandel’s creation.

“I went to a dry cleaner that was going out of business, and we bought their system,” he said, “We hang everything.”

Plants spend another four weeks being dried and cured before heading to the storefront.

Infestation isn’t the only threat to a marijuana grow operation – a power outage could spell disaster.

“A blackout is a problem,” Broadchandel explains. “If we know there’s a big storm coming we’re going to bring a temporary generator.”

“We’d empty out Home Depot of 1,000 generators if we had to,” he added.

If that number sounds high, consider this; Harmony’s annual electric bill is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

For now, one of Broadchandel’s biggest problem is that things are going too well. He’s been approved to open two more shops in New Jersey, but that will require another grow room, and he’s only licensed for one.​

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