OKANAGAN COUNTY — “Come on in here,” says Tim McCormack squatting down as he enters the thick of the dark green plant and disappears from view.
Our Q13 photojournalist Marc LeCuyer follows behind him with video camera in hand. They go deep into the crop at Antoine Creek Farms. McCormack is co-owner of the farm in its first year of operation. It’s one of the few fully outdoor legal marijuana growing operations in the state.
McCormack doesn’t even smoke marijuana– thought it might sound like it to hear him talk about his “babies” the plants that range here from 10 to 14 feet tall.
Pointing out a particularly tall plant, he says, “this thing is just gorgeous and the weight and density and the health. I just come in here and I’m inspired by these things.”
The farm is an a remote valley in southern Okanagan County. This part of Central Washington State is known more for sunshine, wine and apples than marijuana– but not for much longer. For Antoine Creek Farms– like the rest of Washington State– this is the first ever legal marijuana harvest since Washington voters legalized the plant to be used for recreational purposes.
"I go from excitement to terrified almost every day," says McCormack.
The farm has faced many obstacles this season. Their plants went in small and late in the season-- so they're excited to see this season end on what appears to be a successful note.
McCormack is not a farmer, in fact, his normal day job is as an intellectual property attorney across the Cascades in Seattle. He didn't think farming was going to be so difficult.
"The rain and the frost and the grasshoppers and the gophers and the bunnies. It's everything," McCormack says.
No, the bunnies don't get high. (I of course had to ask, they eat the non-THC parts of the plants like any other leafy plant.)
The day we visit, they're battling the coming frost. Harvesting about 75 plants a day on the 21,000 square feet they're allowed to use to grow marijuana. The farm itself is about 150 acres.
"This is the bud," as he points out the thickest part of the plant with dense dark growth. "This is what everybody wants."
Harvest workers chop down the plant, making sure to keep each one separate. They're processed under canopy at several tables where about two dozen seasonal workers dissect the plant into component parts.
"It's very regulated and we're completely complaint with the state," says Master Grower Joe Bighouse. "And that's the way we want it." Bighouse is a former tile setter that grew marijuana for himself illegally in the past on a vastly smaller scale indoors for personal purposes.
Now, marijuana cultivation is meeting up with commercial agriculture practices. Gone are the days of illegal operations that are planted in clearings in national forest or Bureau of Land Management Lands with workers showing up on their own schedule and often paid with the crop itself.
Bighouse says it's something most of the public might not realize just how business-like their legal operation is now. Workers can't smoke marijuana on the job, they're on a schedule and expected to stick to it.
"[The public might] think it's a big party with everybody smoking like it's a guerrilla operation," Bighouse says. "And it's nothing like that."
Once the plants are sorted and the buds are trimmed, they're taken inside and the buds are trimmed by loud machine.
Other parts of the bud are shaken out that can be used to make other marijuana products. Then the plants move to another room full of drying racks. Temperature and humidity is closely monitored.
Antoine Creek Farms expects to grow and process about four thousand pounds of marijuana this season. That's a crop they guess will be worth about four million dollars with about a million going to the state in taxes.
All of the marijuana is headed to state licensed stores in Washington state. That's as far as it is allowed to go-- for now. If federal laws change there are now markets emerging for legal weed in Alaska, Oregon, Colorado and even Washington DC. So, this cash crop here in the Evergreen State is just beginning to grow.
Tim McCormack hopes that someday in the not-to-distant future where he could sell his crop to other places where marijuana is legal, much like the way that wineries can send a bottle of wine across state lines.
"This is an exciting time for the new era," says McCormack. "The amount of money we have wasted, the amount of human capital we have wasted fighting this beautiful plant. It's just incredible. To be a part of that and seeing that coming to and end is one of the more exciting things we do."
And when this harvest is complete, Tim McCormack says he thinks he'll finally try marijuana.