Few cannabis operations in America can enjoy the level of respect from peers Preferred Gardens has through its rise in California to its massive Florida launch that has many calling its flower the Sunshine State’s finest. It’s the same story back home in California. Not only is Preferred Gardens a contender in the debate about the best flower, but it ranks high in both indoor and mixed light. Its winter light-assisted harvests are among the most flavorful things you’ll taste in California.
Preferred Gardens is essentially as mom-and-pop as multistate cannabis operations can get. Founder David Polley and his wife Nicki do a lot of the work. They’re backed by a small cultivation team that helps Polley in California, Florida, and Michigan as needed to produce the high-end flowers. Polley has trained people on their growing style for the out-of-state efforts.
We sat down with Polley to get his take on the recent hype levels he’s experienced on both coasts. There isn’t really another guy at the moment who is growing flower both indoor and mixed light and getting the same level of recognition. So our first question: What is it like to be that guy?
“I know why. It’s because they’re both individually extremely hard, right?” Polley told High Times. “Especially mixed light, it’s ridiculous. It’s so relentlessly hard to deal with at all times, being head of cultivation of my own site, just controlling that facility all the time is a bitch compared to like these indoor facilities.”
Polley laughed and explained that the amount of people who have made the switch from growing in greenhouses to growing indoors.
“Most of the guys that have come from greenhouses, they’ll tap into indoor and then they’re like, ‘Fuck going back to greenhouse,’ because it’s just so difficult compared to what you can do. You can make it so automated indoor and have a life,” he explained.
But Polley has not chosen the path of his peers that quit greenhouses. He visits both his indoor facility in Sacramento, California and greenhouses in Yolo County daily. The farms are roughly a one hour drive from each other. This gives him some pretty unique insights, like the one he offered before about greenhouses being a bit harder to automate than state-of-the-art indoor grow rooms like the ones he runs in Sacramento. Even if the greenhouses, like his, are generally top-of-the-line before you get into the stupid money lab-grade kinds of facilities.
Polley argues the reason for this is just the level of variables. But even with the advancements in agriculture we’ve seen from places like Holland, Polley argues, “There’s always something that’s gonna hit you out of nowhere. There’s just too many changes happening on the outside.”
Polley believes once you start getting into the fanciest greenhouse debate, you might as well just build out an indoor grow. It’ll cost the same amount of money.
“There’s just so many moving parts. I mean, I’m running 30,000 square feet in Yolo. And I have one of the greenhouses that’s 20 years old, so every day there’s something going wrong with the mechanical,” Polley said.
But he wouldn’t want to be in one of those fancy greenhouses regardless. He feels like the more technology you add, the more things there are to break. Rudimentary approaches have proven successful for Preferred Gardens.
“All the easy analog timers and all that stuff, that stuff never breaks, all the new stuff is made to break,” Polley said, comparing cannabis hardware to the newest generations of smartphones.
Polley wouldn’t change a thing just for some new tech fad. He’s spent years dialing in his mixed-light setup. Many would put it second to none for the quality of both the operation and the resulting flower.
Polley just has to be an exceptionally hands-on operator with every plant under his supervision.
“Just on a regular basis to be able to walk in there and have the energy and the plants. It’s just different,” he said of his greenhouses. “I don’t know. I see lots of indoor spaces and they just seem so industrial like there’s no being in tune with the plant. Really. You’re really just turning and burning on a lot of stuff. Not to say that we’re not putting out amazing indoor flowers now too. But it’s a different life.”
As much as he loves the flower, he equally hates the business side of things. He’s always been in it to produce the best flower possible. He knew if he could do that, the money side would work out.
“I love operating. I have all this opportunity to be this businessman. That’s the stressful part. I don’t like doing that,” Polley said. “I mean, it sucks when you’re doing stuff all the time that you don’t like to do. I like doing the events. I love growing plants. I love seeing new fresh weed, new strains, pheno hunting, breeding, and all that stuff like crazy. That’s all I want to do. Even if I didn’t make any money.”
But as cannabis legalization grows in America, how much can an operation like Preferred Gardens scale up and still produce the cannabis it’s famous for? Especially given how much time Polley spends at the grows.
He was quick to agree that there is that imaginary line in the sand where you could start to lose quality for anyone but said it’s different for everyone. Not to mention you can do a lot before you get to that point with a great team like the one he has. Secondly, he’s avoided the mega deals that would fund a big jump in production. Some of the offers were as big as $40 million.
Polley says those deals are scary because the contracts don’t even matter. If things go south with a big money partner they already have someone on retainer that can try and bankrupt you through perpetual litigation.
Recently for Polley, scale isn’t as important as partnering with the right people from state to state to enter new markets. The deal with The Flowery in Florida has proven particularly fruitful and seen the name Preferred Gardens rapidly rise in prominence among Florida cultivators.
The next phase of the Florida buildout will see them double in size to 200,000 square feet.
“I already have my facility in Sacramento, and it’s only 6,000 square feet but the rooms are identical to the rooms in Florida,” Polley explained.
He added a couple little tiny things to deal with the outside variables of Florida like another 10-15% more dehumidification. He also beefed up the A/Cs a little bit, but at the end of the day it is the same facility, and the business was plenty prepared for the heat after its Sacramento effort.
Polley believes the multistate operators running different kinds of gardens from state to state are kidding themselves. He argues that that model doesn’t work because they aren’t experiencing the same things from garden to garden on a daily basis.
Polley is thankful for the moment. But he never takes it for granted.
“I can see it just disappearing like instantly, if you know what I mean. Like it would just be drops and probably have to stay in a certain state like California or whatnot like that. I want to make it bigger,” he said.
As for the interstate commerce debate starting to happen, Preferred Gardens will need to make partnerships with the right players that can actually export cannabis. Maybe one day in the future, the whole country can buy from Preferred Gardens, but for Polley that doesn’t look too far down the line.
“Then I can run teams to follow my standard operating procedures and oversee that situation,” Polley said. “I don’t see that being a problem for me. I mean, I knew that already.”
This article was originally published in the May 2023 issue of High Times Magazine.
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