At the end of March, a palpable sense of excitement took over a 15,000-square-foot growing facility in Anchorage. It was the kind of focused energy that only comes from being days away from your first harvest. For Enlighten Gardens LLC, the promise of their upcoming bounty has been sweetened by the struggle they went through to get the operation up and running.
“This entire project has been very humbling – to see how things have come together after so much struggle is a good feeling,” explains Cultivation Manager Chad Foos.
An Alaskan transplant by way of Colorado, Foos has overseen large scale operations for the past 11 years. So, when he was offered a place with Enlighten in 2018, it seemed like it would be a natural fit. What ensued was a multi-year struggle to find the perfect facility, while trying to push through permitting. Not unlike Goldilocks, Enlighten struck out on three facilities before finally finding the right one in 2020.
The first proposed facility was occupied by a stubborn squatter. The second building was a lot like a bad Tinder date – great on paper but terrible in-person. Their third option’s rent was too high. It all seemed like a losing prospect until, as Foos puts it, “The universe finally sent us the right building.” Ironically, Foos’ dream building once served as a warehouse for criminal evidence collected by Alaska State Troopers.
“We actually had the sign for a little while before the Troopers found out and came to reclaim it,” laughs Foos.
Unfortunately, finding the perfect space wasn’t the end of Enlighten’s journey. With a tight harvest deadline approaching and remodels still underway, Foos and his fellow employees had to legally nurse their clones in red Solo cups at approved residences before moving them into their new home.
We just had to do what we had to do,” shrugs Foos. “Most of [clone room] was filled up with Solo cups and small plants. Now that we have everything in vegetation, it looks bare – but it makes me happy walking into here and not seeing cups everywhere! Watering hundreds and hundreds of little cups every day was pretty unfortunate.”
With his first plants safely nestled in one of the facility’s three grow rooms, Foos has turned his attention to finishing construction on the large vegetation room. Once completed, the vertical grow will house as many as 1,500 plants at a time. It will also go through 800 gallons of water daily –much of which will be recycled through the natural condensation that accumulates in the room.
“When we thought about how we wanted to structure our grow, we wanted to make sure that we factored in sustainability. For us, the focus is on quality, not always quantity,” explains Foos.
However, when it comes to their first harvest, Enlighten is diving straight into the deep end with 12 different strains.
“Given that our owners have had a storefront for four years now, they were able to make educated decisions on what would be a good start for us. We have a solid sativa and some good indica strains. We also have a variety of hybrids that are right in the middle. So, we kind of covered the gamut to make sure that we have a little bit of everything in this first harvest,” says Foos.
The initial harvest is only a small sampling of bigger things to come from the budding garden. Enlighten currently has access to close to 200 different varieties of genetics to play with. Once the grow is completely dialed in, Foos hopes to release in-house created feminized seeds through the company’s retail store, which already sells high quality, stable clones.
But first, Foos is just looking forward to setting up the garden’s Dosatron systems so he can finally take a break from all the hand-watering.
“Definitely holding my breath on that one,” laughs Foos.