Michigan marijuana growing facility expanding

BROWN TWP. – Just outside the city of Manistee, in Brown Township, lies a farm, but not the kind that one might expect.

This farm is the primary one-stop-shop for the cannabis provisioning center, Authentic 231. Almost all of the products that can be bought at Authentic 231 come from the complex in Brown Township. The plants are all grown and cultivated at the farm, the cannabis oil and THC extracted, and the final products processed and packaged at the sprawling complex.

Left Coast Holdings’ assets include Heritage Farms, the Brown Township farm; and retail stores Authentic 231 in Manistee, and two stores — in Muskegon Heights and East Tawas in development.

The grow facility holds five Class C AU grow licenses and one Class C Medical Grow License license. The farm currently has 11,500 plants. McKenzie said they plan to double the number of plants to 23,000.

On April 8, 2020, the Brown Township Board of Trustees adopted an ordinance to allow certain marijuana establishments in the township under the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act (MCL 333.27951) of 2018. The type of establishments approved includes growers, processors and secure transporters.

Willie McKenzie, CEO, and co-founder of Left Coast Holdings said that the company employs 20 people to grow and cultivate the cannabis plant. Eighteen more are employed at the extraction facility. He said construction on the facility began in May 2020, and it was licensed in November 2020.

At the Heritage Farms facility, employees remove the THC and the cannabis oil from the marijuana flower in order to create a THC distillate, which is THC that is distilled and purified to 80%-90% and then put into products like a vape pen or gummies. All of these products are sold at Authentic 231. Plans are to hire 10 more people at the extraction facility at the farm.

The oil that is extracted but not used in products also goes into a series of butane tanks that continuously recycles the oil which allows for more efficiency in the process of running the extraction facility.

McKenzie notes that after the products that are made directly from the plant “we can take the flower and extract the oil into the processing facility.”

The facility’s first 11,500 plants were grown from seedlings, however, they plan to clone what McKenzie calls the “mother plants” in order to double the plants in a very short time.

Overall, Left Coast Holdings employs 38 at the farm, 10 in management positions, and 17 at the Authentic 231 store on Arthur Street in Manistee.

There are plans to build a 15,000 square foot grow facility in one of the empty storage sheds behind the Authentic 231 storefront on Arthur Street as well as plans to expand the complex at the farm in Brown Township.

Currently, there is an indoor grow facility, a greenhouse – with plans for expansion – and an outdoor grow facility. McKenzie said that they’re planning on expanding the complex as a whole.

“We’re working on (expanding) it to 26 acres and fencing a total of 80 acres. We are starting (to double the plants from) the genetic stocks to 23,000 plants by the end of the first quarter of 2022,” he said.

McKenzie notes that in addition to supplying products for Authentic 231, the cultivation and processing facility in Brown Township provides products for 40 other marijuana retail facilities across the state.

McKenzie also noted that they’re farming on a piece of land they leased from a fifth-generation farmer in Manistee County, Calvin Lutz III.

“It’s important to have that local farming knowledge,” McKenzie said of the reason they’re working with Lutz.

Beyond just generational farming knowledge, new technology is involved with the business. One of the indoor grows facilities can grow the plants without any need for humans. A room can be temperature controlled from the outside or by an app on a phone.

McKenzie, who’s originally from California’s Bay Area, said that he started growing marijuana in his garage before meeting Charlie and Trever Johnson, who would become his business partners for Authentic 231.

McKenzie, when speaking about where he is now compared to where he started, noted that “what we have now sure beats what I had in my garage.”

Jeff Zide