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Cultivating Compassion: Cody Henderson of Dragonfly Wellness

"I think we are succeeding in growing some of the best Cannabis flower in the state."

Photos by Kat Jorgensen

Driving through rural Utah amidst picturesque landscapes and majestic mountains, you’d never guess you were in the middle of Cannabis country. What was once a turkey farm in Sanpete Valley has blossomed into a thriving medical grow – where the scent of possibility, and Cannabis, hangs heavy in the air. But beyond the green fields and thick aroma lies a story reminiscent of a Clint Eastwood wild west film – a tale of vision, passion and transformation. At the heart of this journey is Cody Henderson, the Director of Cultivation at Dragonfly Wellness, whose dedication has propelled this Cannabis operation into becoming one of the largest producers in the state.

From the Golden State to the Beehive State

Like many OG growers, Cody Henderson’s journey into the world of Cannabis began on the fertile grounds of Northern California. Born in New York, the now 45-year-old Cody was raised entirely in Northern California – a region synonymous with the plant and the culture which surrounds it. It was in the heart of California’s Cannabis movement that Cody found himself immersed in a world that would become a lifelong passion.

“When the medical movement started in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1996,” Cody recalls, “I was 18 and living just 75 miles north in a small town on the Russian River in the heart of wine country.”

This historical moment marked the passing of the Compassionate Use Act in California – a pivotal step towards legitimizing medical Cannabis use around the country. The Act was largely a response to the AIDS crisis and the urgent need for a legal and reliable source of medicine to combat the harsh side effects of HIV-related pharmaceuticals.

Cody’s familiarity with the plant and the culture surrounding it runs deep. He attended a small private high school that was not only formed, but also run by a group of old hippies who were both growers and activists associated with NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws). It was an environment where Cannabis was not just a plant – it was a symbol of activism and compassion.

“Needless to say,” Cody chuckles, “that since I was already immersed in that culture and the movement at essentially its epicenter, it was a natural progression to transition from familiar and interested, to deeply involved.”

Overnight, personal cultivation went from being part of an entirely underground economy to a vaguely regulated industry. For Cody and many others who wanted to test the boundaries of these new state laws, it became a way of life. It’s a way of life that has defined him ever since.

Cody’s journey didn’t stop there. He pursued higher education, attending Humboldt State University with a major in Fine Art. His simultaneous background in the construction trades provided him with the technical know-how and experience to build small indoor cultivation rooms for clients. These projects paved the way for larger, advanced warehouse operations.

“All of this culminated in me being a founding partner of a licensed vertical medical dispensary in Palm Springs in 2014,” Cody explains, reflecting on his journey from Northern California to the southern part of the state.

Nurturing Growth in Utah

Cody’s journey eventually led him to the Dragonfly Wellness grow nestled in Moroni. While Cody is the Director of Cultivation, the Dragonfly team also includes his brother Micah Henderson serving as the cultivation manager, and Max Youngbludt – a longtime friend and employee at Cody’s previous dispensary – who now serves as the greenhouse manager.

Together, they have been working and growing together for over a decade. It’s a partnership that has evolved and adapted, eventually developing the system and cultivation approach currently utilized at Dragonfly Wellness.

Cody’s involvement with Dragonfly began as a consultant approximately two-and-a-half years ago when he flew in from California twice a month for work. After about three months of consulting, Micah took a permanent position at Dragonfly, followed by Cody three months later. Max Youngbludt, a trusted employee from Cody’s previous dispensary, joined the team soon after that and the boys were back in town ready to crank out some craft Utah Cannabis.

“I spent a year working full time with them while my family was back in California,” Cody says, “and in August of 2022, we finally purchased a small farm in Fairview and they moved out to join me.”

The Journey of Dragonfly Wellness

Like many cultivation facilities, Dragonfly Wellness in Sanpete County has seen its share of ups and downs, with several cultivators and operators over the years. Micah and Cody, however, represent the third operator of this facility – inheriting numerous challenges along the way.

One of the most significant hurdles for any cultivator is scaling up from small, manageable grows to large commercial-scale facilities. Fortunately, Micah and Cody had experience navigating these rough waters.

“The process has been a bit like turning a cruise ship around in the Venice Canal,” Cody humorously notes. “But after two years of methodical troubleshooting and facility development, I think we are succeeding in growing some of the best Cannabis flower in the state.”

Innovating for Excellence

Cody’s dedication to innovation and sustainability is evident in the cutting-edge systems employed at Dragonfly Wellness. “Speaking to methodology,” Cody emphasizes, “I passionately believe in organic practices first and foremost in both Cannabis and food production.”

While a fully organic approach in indoor cultivation may not be considered commercially viable due to associated low yields and costly inputs, Cody and his team integrate as many organic practices as possible into their otherwise typical indoor cultivation regimen.

“We NEVER use pesticides or herbicides in any of our indoor or greenhouse spaces,” Cody emphasizes. Instead, they rely on beneficial insects, with ladybugs serving as frontline defenders. If a specific pest issue arises, they opt for the introduction of the appropriate beneficial predator insect.

For their growing medium, Dragonfly Wellness favors coco coir – an inert and pure ground coconut hull – over engineered and manufactured substrates like rockwool. Even when it comes to foliar feedings or inoculations, they use organic-based or certified organic products.

But sustainability isn’t just about what goes into the plants – it’s also about how they manage waste. All Cannabis waste, including fan leaves, stems and root balls, are meticulously processed by blending the coco with the biomass. This waste is then transformed into composted, reusable soil that’s donated to the community for topsoil enrichment.

From a technical perspective, Dragonfly Wellness operates a typical drain-to-waste top-fed hydroponic system using coco coir as the medium. This system employs high-efficiency drippers/emitters and Athena’s line of commercial powdered fertilizers.

The facility boasts a unique lighting setup, with half of it illuminated by traditional 1000W DE HPS fixtures and the other half by high-output 1200W water-cooled LED fixtures. These fixtures are controlled by a proprietary software platform with advanced integrated atmospheric monitoring.

These highly efficient LED lights also employ a hydronic cooling loop that removes 50% of their BTUs, contributing to Dragonfly’s commitment to sustainability. In fact, the facility is preparing to go even greener with a massive solar array set to go online in 2024.

Cultivating Compassion, One Bud at a Time

As Cody navigated the meandering path from Northern California to Moroni, he didn’t just find a job – he found a calling. His role as the Director of Cultivation at Dragonfly Wellness isn’t just about growing Cannabis … it’s about nurturing compassion, activism and healing.

In a world where change is constant and the Cannabis industry evolves daily, Henderson stands as a reminder that some things remain steadfast – the enduring power of a plant to heal, unite and inspire. His story, intertwined with the growth of Dragonfly Wellness, echoes the sentiment that Cannabis is not just a commodity – it’s a force for change, a symbol of compassion and a beacon of hope.

Utah’s Medical Cannabis Program and Dragonfly Wellness

Dragonfly Wellness, nestled on a sprawling 60-acre property in Sanpete County, holds one of Utah’s eight coveted cultivating licenses – making it a leading force in the state’s burgeoning medical Cannabis industry. With a state-of-the-art 40,000-square-foot grow, 450 flowering lights, and five climate-controlled greenhouses supporting up to 11,800 flowering plants, their operation is a testament to both innovation and sustainability. They’re on the cusp of harnessing solar power, reducing their environmental impact—a step that reflects their commitment to a greener future. The facility’s security measures, including a perimeter chain-link fence topped with barbed wire and vigilant security guards, underscore the gravity of their mission. Undoubtedly, cultivating medical Cannabis in Utah is a responsibility they take seriously.

Utah’s medical Cannabis program has experienced remarkable growth, with sales reaching $118.7 million in 2022 – a staggering 59% increase from the previous year. The first half of 2023 alone has seen sales of $68.5 million. Revenue streams include a $3 levy on each pharmacy transaction, contributing $2.4 million in 2022, in addition to income from pharmacy licensing fees and patient card fees, totaling $4.7 million.

Comparatively, neighboring Colorado recorded over $230 million in medical Cannabis sales in 2022, reflecting substantial differences in market size and maturity. Colorado’s combined medical and recreational Cannabis retail sales in the same year neared $1.8 billion – highlighting the immense potential of the industry.

It’s vital to recognize that Utah’s medical Cannabis program is among the most restrictive in the country, especially when compared to medical-only states like Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Oversight by two government agencies – the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food for the Utah Medical Cannabis Program and the Utah Department of Health and Human Services managing the Center for Medical Cannabis – ensures rigorous adherence to regulations. In 2022, Utah’s eight licensed Cannabis farms (spanning seven counties) produced an impressive 111,000 pounds of biomass to supply licensed facilities engaged in Cannabis product manufacturing, packaging and labeling.

As of September, nearly 80,000 Utah residents held medical Cannabis cards, underscoring the program’s substantial impact. While this figure represents approximately 2% of the state’s population, it’s noteworthy that growth rates are stabilizing – a trend observed in other medical Cannabis programs nationwide – where participation typically ranges from 1% to 3% of the state’s population.

Dragonfly Wellness, synonymous with quality, sustainability and compassion, is at the forefront of Utah’s medical Cannabis movement. The story of Cody Henderson, Director of Cultivation, seamlessly aligns with Dragonfly’s values. As an environmentally-conscious and community-focused individual, Cody found a perfect match. Their shared vision extends beyond Cannabis cultivation – it’s about fostering compassion, promoting activism and facilitating healing. Together, they stand as a testament to the enduring power of this remarkable plant, transcending its role as a mere commodity to become a symbol of hope and change.

dragonflywellness.com | @dragonfly.wellness

Photos by @kathrynxiv

This article was originally published in the November 2023 issue of Utah Leaf.

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