If it weren’t for the strong odor of weed inside the former Oakridge Motel, where A Vant Garden is located, the building could pass for a laboratory. In fact, operations manager and co-owner Ryan Johnson tells Eugene Weekly that he doesn’t consider the place a grow — it’s a facility.
A large white plywood wall covers the face of the former motel. Once you get past the front door — the only way in — and through what was formerly the lobby, you encounter employees rolling joints and harvesting plants on stainless steel tables.
Past the harvest station, where plants also dry on bread racks inside converted linen closets, the architecture of the former motel is obvious with its log-cabin style façade. Inside what were once hotel rooms is a sterile white environment, and each room is filled with weed plants and infrastructure to help it grow, such as humidifiers, HVAC and lights.
It’s an operation that Johnson says uses “pharmaceutical cleanliness and military precision” to inject efficiency into growing weed to help the plant “live its best life.”
Using clinical, scientific methods Johnson learned as a civilian contractor for the Department of Defense, A Vant Garden has found a way to maximize efficiency and strength while producing a consistent yield. The product has been successful: Local weed shops that carry his product sell out of the product quickly.
A Vant Garden harvests weekly rather than seasonally, yielding 15 to 20 pounds a week and 15,000 to 20,000 pre-rolls a month. Its product is distributed throughout the Portland area, southern Oregon region and locally at Sweet Tree Farms, People’s Wellness Center, 20 After Four and pre-rolls at High 5 Cannabis.
Johnson says A Vant Garden is so self-sustaining it could grow cannabis in space.
“If we picked up this facility and it was air tight and we could generate oxygen, we could move tomorrow, we could move it to the moon,” he says.
Of course, that’s not possible for any number of reasons, but Johnson’s confidence is because he’s applied what he’d learned from how NASA grew fruits and vegetables on the International Space Station (ISS).
He read about NASA’s food growing methods on the ISS when he was a civilian contractor. As a contractor, he applied scientific methods to manage mold and mildew after natural disasters like hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.
A Vant Garden has eight flower rooms and harvests plants at eight weeks. When a plant leaves the flower room, another one is brought in by the end of the day. Since each weed strain has different environmental needs, he’s able to control temperature and humidity to match the genetics’ environmental origin.
“Our environment is so perfect and so clean that the plant doesn’t have to do anything but focus on being itself and being its best self, living its best life,” he says.
A Vant Garden grows in small rooms because, he says, it’s easier to control for cross-contamination and you can basically play God with the plant. Johnson says he thought about growing in abandoned apartment complexes or a hospital but settled on a vacant motel in Oakridge since Oregon has better tax laws for growers than other states like Colorado.
“The smaller the room you can cultivate in, the less chance you have for cross-contamination,” he says. “The motel was a perfect avenue for that.”
Johnson is driven to minimize the amount of cross-contamination to his plants. No two doors are ever open at the same time. He asks testers to visit his facility first and requires employees to have short hair, be showered and not visit other growers.
He used to have employees wear hazard suits to ensure there would be no cross-contamination, but that requirement ended when it got in the way of efficiency.
In fact, he says, he’s known to sometimes run down the hallway to catch fungus gnats.
“It really does nothing negative in the plan, but I’ll freak out,” Johnson adds.
He says that since his plants can concentrate on growing, on their immune system and not fighting pests, the plants and buds look fake because they’re so perfect — and it’s some of the purest cannabis ever grown. This is why dispensaries sell out quickly.
A Vant Garden’s weed hasn’t had its THC levels test below 25 percent in more than eight months — the average weed’s THC levels are around 16 to 18 percent, he says. One of the more recent strains, White Towel Cookie, has the highest THC number the facility has ever produced: 29.87 percent.
Because of the success A Vant Garden has experienced, Johnson says he has plans to expand its facility three-fold, meaning in a few months it could be shipping out 50 to 60 pounds a week. He doesn’t consider himself a “master grower” or that his product is the best in the state.
“I’ve let the consumers dictate that, and how that translates to me is how fast it’s selling, and this 12 pounds of flower and 25,000 to 30,000 of pre-rolls will all be gone before next Friday,” he says. “We’ve got customers who’ll sell a pound in a day or two and call us back the next day, and be like, ‘We need more.’”