Chewelah is certainly no stranger to agriculture, so Building 420 on the site of the old Magnesite plant isn’t anything new – except for perhaps the product.
Building 420, operated by Wildfire Cannabis Company, already has 1,940 cannabis plants growing outside with present and future plans to expand to 90,000 total building square feet for their indoor grow including a full state-of-the-art kitchen and processing facility.
Reaching their tier III grow canopy of 30,000 square feet.
Robert Foster, of Deer Park, is manager and owner of Wildfire Cannabis Company. He also assists and oversees several project sites for CGrowth Capital — a publicly traded company — including the site just south of Chewelah. The CEO of Chewelah Properties LLC signed a lease last April with Wildfire Cannabis giving Mr. Foster an opportunity to break into the new marijuana industry in Washington.
“CGrowth’s CEO Bill Wright sees the potential of what the site could be used for and the future potential of it,” Foster said.
Things have been moving — and growing — fast for Wildfire. After Mr. Foster acquired a producers license on April 24, 2015 and completed the stringent requirements by the state to get vested. Wildfire has already built a considerably large grow area outside their building and is just about ready in the next few weeks to begin their inside grow operation.
Mr. Foster along with his Wife own 90 percent of Wildfire Cannabis Company, there are also four other shareholders — some of them also working for the operation. Wildfire currently employs 11 full-time employees with medical benefits and shareholder options.
This is a business opportunity made legal by the people of Washington State and regulated by The Washington State Liquor Cannabis Board, Foster said. “It’s about creating quality good paying jobs in this area,”
CGrowth Capital has been one of Wildfire’s biggest supporters. With the date for shipping product to retailers still months away, they’ve been patient and behind Wildfire the entire way.
With Wildfire’s lease, all tenant improvement expenses were provided by Chewelah Properties LLC allowing Foster to concentrate all his funds towards the operation. Furthermore, Wildfire has been able to manage all operations with Foster’s contributions and not loans or private investors.
The outside grow area, which consists of 1,940 plants in several different grow stages, is surrounded by 17 shipping containers as its obscured fencing. A state of the art security surveillance system remotely monitors the site and a 24-hour security staff is on site at all times.
“Eastern Washington is phenomenal for growing marijuana,” Foster said. “We get a breeze here in Chewelah and the plants like it. The roots bind to the soil better and it blows some of the pests off. It’s also usually a little warmer in the valley and it’s not a secret these plants like warmth.”
Foster employs several growers that monitor the growth and health of the 35 different strains currently in production. Wildfire got most of their plants from local growers as well. Foster said he personally had never seen a plant before beginning this business venture but had learned a lot from his experts in a very short time.
“There’s so much to it,” Foster said. “There’s a lot of time and money. These girls you have to treat them right with watering and nutrients along with massive amounts of attention.”
Eight of the 11 employees focus on growing specifically and, while there’s an automatic watering system, the growers hand water the plants with nutrients as well. They expect about a pound of production from each plant when they reach maturity.
“All our nutrients are all-natural bio safe and approved by the WSLCB, most of the nutrients don’t even have caution labels on them,” Foster said.
Building 420 — as it’s called — is in its final stages of construction. They have made great strides on improvements to infrastructure and preparing for future buildings thanks to efforts by Chewelah Properties LLC including removing garbage and tearing down existing buildings that are falling apart. Wildfire is preparing for its startup of the indoor grow in the next few weeks and when complete — with the support of their landlord — will start two phases of construction.
“The challenge in permitting and construction is the unexpected ramifications of Washington State not classifying marijuana grow operations as agriculture,” Foster said. “They classify growing buildings as Factory I which means far more stringent requirements than anything an agricultural building needs or desires.
Wildfire is also in the final steps of getting there processing license. Along with their producer license, it would allow the company to process all raw cannabis into its final packaging for shipping directly to retailers. Currently there are 285 retailers in the state and 818 producers.
Foster also wanted to thank the Stevens County Planning and Building Department, Tri County Health, Stevens County Commissioners, WSLCB and the Department of Ecology for their assistance and support to get through this lengthy process of permitting and regulatory review required to grow cannabis legally in Washington State. Foster went on to say the tax dollars and jobs created by cannabis production will only help strengthen the economy especially here in Stevens County where big business has historically shied away from.
Plants have gone from small seedlings to impressive leafy crops in just a few short weeks for Wildfire, which is breaking into a new industry for the state, just a few miles out of town.
By Brandon Hansen/The Independent Staff