Matt Gaboury is head of Design and Systems for CalyxKing. Listen in as Matt describes the most high-tech and efficient grow rooms he creates. He also describes the grow room of the future.
[0:59] – What is Calyx King
[1:57] – Matt’s background
[3:21] – Matt talks about what his work entails
[4:57] – Planning a cannabis grow facility
[11:02] – Biggest mistakes when planning a cannabis grow facility
[13:55] – Matt talks about technology in optimizing workflow
[16:53] – Matt talks about carbon neutral growing
[21:56] – Using intellectual property to help clients
[22:44] – Matt talks about mistakes amateurs make in writing SOPs
[23:31] – Matt’s partners
[24:24] – Grow room of the future
[27:34] – Pursuing a cultivation license
[28:52] – Matt answers some personal development questions
[33:20] – Contact details for Calyx King
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The Five Trends That Will Disrupt The Cannabis Industry
How do you design a cannabis cultivation plan that does everything you need to optimize plant health and profit out of the gate? Matt Gaboury from Calyx King is going to help us answer that question today. Matt, welcome to CannaInsider.
Matt: Thank you so much for having me.
Matthew: Give us a sense of geography. Where in the world are you today?
Matt: Today I’m in my hometown of Seattle, Washington.
Matthew: Very cool and I’m in Vienna, Austria today.
Matt: I wish I could switch with you.
Matthew: Before we dive in on everything you do, can you tell us what Calyx King is?
Matt: Yes absolutely. So, Calyx King is a seed to sale service provider. We are comprised of various different professionals who offer consulting and professional services related to the cannabis, primarily, production and processing. Our main focus is helping individuals in new and beginning marketplaces enter into the new regulated industry through application support, the creation of (1.29 unclear) and employee manuals, as well as what my primary focus is, which is the design, the permitting and the help facilitating the build of these cannabis production processing facilities.
Matthew: And I really want to get into the permitting and specifically the build too and doing that the right way, but before we do that, give us a little bit about your background. What were you doing before Calyx King and how did you come to get started in this?
Matt: Absolutely. We started Calyx King back in 2012. However, prior to that, I was always a bit of cannabis enthusiast. It’s something that’s been around into my life for pretty much as long as I can remember. From inception, my parents were very into cannabis as well, so it was something that has naturally passed along to me. I was an avid user for a very long time, and then I started growing very small scale, probably a little over ten years ago with this one tiny light in my basement.
From there I went back to school for architecture and almost immediately started applying those tools and tips of the trade to designing and building cannabis production facilities. It started off with my own basement by making that a more efficient design and me helping out a friend or two in their basement. And then that evolved into a smaller garage and then into a warehouse and then into some smaller, light industrial type buildings and then we’ve had the opportunity in the last five or six years to grow that in scale, to now have the opportunity to design about 2 million square feet for people around the United States.
Matthew: Wow. Now if we were to look over your shoulder as you work day-to-day, what does your work look like?
Matt: That would completely depend on the actual day, if you were a fly on the wall. It’s definitely a very variable schedule, depending on what’s going on in that particular period. At Calyx we’re very responsive to the rules and regulations that are being released all around the United States, and therefore our business is very much attuned to those changes. So as a new marketplace opens up, let’s say for example most recently Pennsylvania and Florida, we get a big influx of individuals looking for existence in those new states.
So a lot of times my day is dependent upon what is actually happening around the United States. But to kind of boil it down in basic terms, I spend a lot of time in front of my computer and using programs like Auto CAD and REV IT to help design and model these facilities. I’m a really big proponent of pre-planning. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So we definitely spend a lot of time doing site visits and a lot of hands on with our clients in order to make sure that we design the best and most appropriate facility for them.
Matthew: When you’re starting to plan for a cannabis cultivation facility, can you give us a sense of how you’re thinking about it, what’s your top considerations and challenges are in your mind and maybe what lenses you’re using to think about it? Because I’m sure the way you’re thinking about it and the way someone who is listening to this right now are very different. So let us borrow your brain for a moment and just think about when there’s a new project. What are you thinking about when you’re thinking about the cultivation?
Matt: Sure. First and foremost it comes down to the site and the location, because no two sites are the same. No two projects really start off on the same design foot. So you really need to start there. You need to start with that foundation. The foundation isn’t really the foundation of the building. No pun intended. You’re looking at the environment conditions, it’s really important looking at the site characteristics, what the opportunities there are, what some of the limitations may be and that could be the actual site itself, the topography, the sun orientation.
In addition, something that I highly recommend people looking into is also your utility providers. What sort of power, water is coming to that site? What sort of sewage requirements are going to be necessary and what some of those permitting and code hurdles may be, because every site has a different building department and every building department is also slightly different in how they look at cannabis facilities. And then in addition to that, we also really like to start at the top level of the business strategy. So, no two cannabis businesses are exactly the same in what they produce, the strains that they grow and the methodologies that they use in order to accomplish that.
So, we really like to start with that specific business’s goals. For example, if your goal is to produce, let’s say, CO2 for vaporization and that is your main product offering, then the way in which you design that facility is going to be much different than if your main product offering is a high class dried flower product. And that’s going to come down and dictate the size of the space and that’s going to dictate the flow. That’s going to dictate a lot of different design elements. So, to wrap that back up, I definitely encourage all people to start off at the very macro level, whether that be the macro level of the site or the macro level of your business strategy and then reverse engineer your plan to make it appropriate for what you’re trying to do.
Matthew: Okay. So, that’s kind of stage one there, and then you kind of look at the limitations. You look at the foundation. You look at utilities, all those things. What’s your optimal cultivation facility look like? You’ve started with that as your foundation. These are all the things I need to know. I have to fill in all the blanks so I know what I’m dealing with and then how do you go about creating the after photo from the before?
Matt: Once you get a lot of those parameters and once you have quantifications on a lot of those elements that we just talked about, then you kind of have your playbook. And once you have your playbook you can start to design what is the most appropriate for those different conditions. Like I said earlier, that’s all going to depend on what you’re trying to do. And because as you and as a lot of the listeners are probably familiar with, there’s many different ways to go about skinning a cat when it comes to cannabis production. Even from the methodology that you incorporate, whether that be a greenhouse, whether that’s full outdoor or a highly tuned indoor environment.
So let’s say you go with an indoor structure, you’re in an environment where that’s necessary, or even a hybrid greenhouse. What I would then encourage people to do is look at the systems that are going to be associated with that because every building type has a different set of systems that work the best for that building. So for example, the HVAC or the cooling or heating system that you may put in a greenhouse is going to be very different than the system that you would choose to go into a building. And even within that building itself, depending upon that building’s insulation values, depending upon its materials and its finishes, that could also affect those systems too.
So starting off with what that angle is, then that helps you define what that ideal facility is. Other things that I really encourage people to think about during this part of the design phase is efficiencies in resources and efficiencies in movement. Those two things are very big when you’re starting that design process, because ultimately those are two things that are very difficult to go back and change in the future. So when I say that, it’s really looking at that design and how it’s laid out to maximize the use of your employee’s time, to maximize their use of their movement around the facility as well as, like I said earlier, to look at those resources as well, your energy usage, your water usage and look if there’s ways that you can reduce that through either implementing architectural elements like regenerating power or more efficient fixtures or looking at methodologies with your local county in order to reduce that.
So a lot of times they’ll let you do off peak hours to reduce your load. They’ll potentially have incentives for certain technologies and certain equipments that you may be able to put in, but all of this is required to be done first before you build the building. Like I said earlier, it’s really difficult to go back and change those things. So in order to create that optimal cultivation facility, having a little bit of pre-thought in design goes a very long way.
Matthew: Now everybody, not everybody, but most people coming into the industry are new. Maybe some people are listening right now that are creating their own grow facility or they’re going to be soon or they’re considering applying for a license and they don’t have an architectural background or just practical growing practice. If you were to kind of stack rank the number one, two and three mistakes that people make when considering how to make a grow facility, is it that easy to put them into buckets as the most common and second most common?
Matt: Yeah. We definitely see a few general mistakes that people go through, and I would say that the biggest ones are just the transitioning of scale. A lot of people now are scaling up from what I would say the hobby scale or the light commercial scale to something that’s more industrial. And when you go and make that jump there’s a lot that’s lost in translation. So I really encourage people to look into the different more industrial equipment that can be at your disposal when you get to that larger scale, and don’t hold on to those old concepts, because those old concepts are only at the small scale. As soon as you try to replicate that at the larger scale, you’re going to be losing a lot of efficiencies and you’re also not going to be capitalizing on all of the industrial scaled materials and equipment that are at your disposal then.
In addition to that I would say another big bucket that people generally fall into is not considering what the local code and permit restrictions are. Because every single municipality has a slightly different perspective on their building codes, nevertheless how cannabis is being perceived and how cannabis is being implied to those building codes, there is almost always very specific limitations, and that can be limitations to your site. That can be limitations on how and what you can build, and those are all things you need to be considering first and foremost. I’ve seen a lot of people go down a path of action that they thought that they could accomplish only to then be delayed and cycled by the code or the inspector because they didn’t properly look at the code and the permitting restrictions prior to trying to implement that design.
Matthew: Good points. So people, they might have two or three plants and they think oh I can scale up now to hundreds and it’s as different than riding a bike and then the space shuttle. So there’s all these ideas of plant management and managing a much larger amount of inputs and outputs that just change the whole game entirely. So people struggle with that when the scale changes. I can see that. I mean in terms of plant management, when you get into much larger grows, I mean is there anything interesting happening with the technology there? I’ve heard people use flood tables. I’ve heard where people have these rolling tables and little, not assembly lines, but the way that kind of tables work together to manage everything from trimming to watering to curing and so forth. Do you see anything like that in terms of optimizing the workflow?
Matt: Yes absolutely. It first starts off with that layout. So to make sure that you’re designing something that has the proper flow to it. I think that’s just drawn from general manufacturing principles. Looking at efficiencies that happen in Japanese manufacturing and drawing some of those principles in how the management structure is laying out not only the physical flow but also the management flow of those materials. And then some of that technology that really helps with that. You mentioned a couple of those. The big ones for me are a good ERP solution or good inventory management software.
When you’re at a small scale it’s really easy for your master grower to keep track I think of a lot of these things and I would say that most people who are at a smaller scale or a smaller commercial scale are doing a lot of these things either through their head, just keeping these notes internally or they’re writing them down on paper. It’s not as organized as is necessary for when you go to that larger scale. When you’re at that larger scale, and especially in these regulated industries, all the plants have to be tagged, all the plants have to be recorded and you have to very accurately manage that as that plant goes through its lifecycle.
There’s where having a software solution that can manage that and automate some of those things, I feel it is huge and really reduces a lot of that human error and a lot of that thrown in on your upper management. In addition, I think that there’s a lot of great technology that you can utilize within the rooms to reduce your employee output, as well as, make that management of a large group of plants a lot easier. One of the things that you had mentioned that I think is great are the rolling benches, rolling agricultural benches. We definitely recommend those, whether it’s indoor/outdoor greenhouse, because it maximizes your footprint and it allows you to get more plants into a smaller space.
In addition to that I think an automated watering system. So, whether you use an ebb and flow or drip system, some sort of automated watering system that you can reduce the amount of hand watering that’s necessary is going to be huge in reducing your employee costs. Because watering represents probably one of the largest operational costs once you get to a large plant count. And then in addition it’s going to enable consistency, and when you talk about some of the pitfalls of large quantities of plant management one of the biggest ones is consistency. Consistency in the amount of water each one of those plants gets, consistency in the amount of love each one of those plants get. So, by automating some of those systems, it gives your farmers more time to actually focus on plant health and plant maintenance.
Matthew: Is it possible to have carbon neutral growing?
Matt: I absolutely believe that that’s not only possible, but that should be something that we all strive toward. One of my personal passions is sustainability in cannabis. Right now we are just energy hogs because the profit margins are so high and a lot of these efficiencies there hasn’t been a necessity to have to find those or to have to utilize those. However, I think that there’s going to be big negative media backlash that’s going to be associated with all the power we use, and I think that anything that we can do to not only stifle that is going to help the industry in general, but it’s also going to help each individual proprietor reduce their costs. So I’m a big fan of trying to utilize any sort of sustainable or green methods into the growing facility.
The biggest, and it may sound to be the easiest, is really just making sure that your operational flow is as streamlined as possible. This goes back to what we were just talking about with an appropriate layout and design. If you can design that manufacturing process to be as streamlined and as smooth as possible, then you reduce a lot of your employee waste, and that’s the biggest one that almost any business can do. You don’t have to go out there and buy any expensive technology. All you need to do is really put a lot of thought into how your employees move around and handle your materials. Let’s say somebody has to take an extra ten steps every time they perform a task and they perform that task multiple times a day, then that ten steps could extrapolate to thousands of steps by the end of the year and that is thousands of minutes of wasted time and ultimately a less efficient facility.
So that first and foremost is just how you look at your employees and your employee resources. In addition to that there’s a lot of new, exciting technology and equipment that can be utilized into these growing facilities. I think one of the most exciting ones and one of the most easy is just all the new efficient lighting fixtures that are out in the marketplace. Conventionally, up until about five years ago, we all grew with either 600 watts, 1,000 watts HPS fixtures and it was quite typical to use 1,000 watt metal highlights for your veg. Now there’s a wide range of plasma, LED, induction, (19.17 unclear), all these different fixtures that have a very comparable par and lighting spectrum but have a reduced wattage. And they’re really easy to get, they’re really easy to switch out into your facility. They usually don’t require a lot of addition infrastructure because you’re actually using a lesser load. And addition to that there’s usually incentives or rebates being offered by a lot of the local municipalities to help reduce the initial cost for that business in going and purchasing those and implementing them into their facility.
Besides that there are all sorts of different, more effective and green strategies, whether that be the poly covering on your greenhouse or different feeding systems, different HVAC systems that are more effective. Another big one is renewable energy sources. So we’re definitely seeing a big push now for wind, geothermic, as well as solar renewable energy being implemented in these facilities. And then the last concept I like to talk about is called districting, and that’s basically using your grow facility to help aid your community around you. And what we’re seeing and what we’re trying to kind of design the wave of the future is instead of a grow facility that is pushed out into the perimeters and buffered away from everyone else, they actually start to implement these into more of a community environment where you could, let’s say, purchase on large solar array that powers maybe your grow facility during certain hours when the lights are on, but it can also power let’s say some apartments or some mixed use commercial areas.
You could also then share the heat, so the heat that’s generated, the excess heat that’s generated by your light fixtures could be shuttled over to let’s say your living areas, your living buildings and then used as radiant ambient heating throughout the facility. And then this whole acts as an ecosystem, and if that can occur, then reaching carbon neutral is even easier because then you’re not just alone by yourself at the single facility, but you’re actually sharing some of your responsibilities with your neighbors around you and there’s a lot of synergies that can happen to allow that carbon neutral effort to be even easier.
Matthew: Do you use any specific intellectual property to help your clients?
Matt: Yes, I think that that’s something that we’ve been developing over years is some specific IP that we have. A lot of that is specific to the growing methodologies. We’ve definitely developed what I think is a pretty unique way of production and processing that goes back to that manufacturing streamline that we talked about earlier. So we have just developed that process as well as the equipment associated with it into our own Calyx King package, so to speak. It’s not anything that you couldn’t go out there and get yourself. It’s more how you put all these different components together I think is the IP that we offer.
Matthew: In terms of creating standard operating procedures of SOPs, where do you see amateurs fall short in terms of thinking how a cultivation facility ought to be run?
Matt: I think a lot of times it is because people are trying to capture what they’re currently doing and not trying to theorize about how it’s done better. I think when you write SOPs that gives you the prime opportunity to do so. Part of SOPs is capturing what is currently happening, but like I said I think it’s this prime opportunity to expand upon that and to make it a more ideal situation. So I would definitely encourage people when they do write those SOPs try to think about how to better that process and how to then standardize that in a way that makes it for everyone.
Matthew: What about your partners at Calyx King? What do they do?
Matt: I’m very fortunate to be partners with a very diverse group of professionals. We are comprised of some lawyers, operational managers, long time horticulturists. I run the architectural and design department in which we have two other trained architects, as well as several individuals from the construction and project management field. So, we are very fortunate to have a pretty wide spectrum of skillsets underneath our roof.
Matthew: You talked about some of the latest developments in technology for grow rooms, but what do you think the grow room of the future will look like? You mentioned districting, which is a unique idea I haven’t heard before. Is there any other vision you have about how the grow room of the future will look?
Matt: Yeah, I definitely think the grow room of the future in my perspective or what I would love to see is that carbon neutral grow room where you are using as little resources as possible, and it’s as automated as can be. So, we’re definitely seeing some very good advancements in that technology in order to accomplish that in the last, I would say, three to five years. And I really think that now it’s just the process of putting all that together and having the capital to do it right properly from the beginning. I think a lot of people getting into the industry are hamstrung and don’t have the capital that’s necessary a lot of times to perform some of these more expensive methods or purchase some of this more capital expensive equipment. But it definitely goes a long way and I think that’s the grow rooms of the future and the grow facilities of the future are becoming much more sophisticated. They’re starting with a lot more capital so they can accomplish these things. They’re not having to be revised.
They’re starting off with all the proper mechanisms at first, and they’re being able to then maximize that. So, my ideal grow room, and I’ll be a little more specific with it, my ideal grow room would be a system that is being cooled in a passive manner and heated in a passive manner. So, ideally that would be located in a geographic area where you could capitalize on geothermic loop in order to accomplish that. The grow methodology would be something that was without soil or without a soiless medium. So what my preference is is deep water culture and an organic deep water culture. So in an organic deep water culture setup you could use very little water and very little nutrients, so that reduces both of those loads.
Then this would be a facility that would be a hybrid. So you would be able to utilize the sun’s natural solar radiation. So it has a roof systems that has the ability to control its opaqueness. And then lastly, you would have an automated basically moving system so that your components are then automated on track moving through your facility. Therefore you’re reducing any sort of employee resources of having to transplant and then change those plants as they are going through that lifecycle. This is something that you see very commonly in really large agriculture with the moving bench system. So my grow room of the future you would be utilizing the very top pieces of technology from all of your different categories and seamlessly tying those together to have the most, in my opinion, efficient and effective room and production facility.
Matthew: That’s fascinating. If there’s listeners thinking about pursuing a cultivation license, what are the most important things they should do to make that happen, in your opinion?
Matt: Yeah, I think it’s going to come down to the individual state in which they reside, in which they are looking to get that license. And I say that only because all these different license processes are so different, depending on where you live. But once you actually look at that and look at what the specifics are for your local, then I would start to look at your site. I think your site is so important. I always tell people that it takes three things to really be successful in the cultivation side of things and that is you need the right IP and the right gardeners, number one. You need the right genetics and strains, number two. And then you need the right tools in order to accomplish that, number three. And your building and your site is your number one tool.
So you definitely want to put a lot of emphasis on where that is and making sure that that’s proper because if you don’t have that right tool, then you’re not going to be able to maximize your strain and your farmer is not going to be able to do his job properly.
Matthew: Matt, I like to ask a few personal development questions to let people get to know you a bit. With that, is there a book that has had a big impact on your life or your way of thinking that you would like to share with listeners?
Matt: Wow, you know, there’s a book. It may not be applicable to cannabis or to growing as some may expect, but it has been very influential in just the business management and the effectiveness for me and it’s a book called the Effective Executive. I think a lot of individual… and the reason I read this book is because what I see a lot, talking with people all over the United States who are interested in getting into this industry, it’s a lot of new business owners. It’s a lot of people starting a business for the first time or a lot of people looking to expand their business. One of the most difficult elements that I’ve seen people struggle with is just that management from general business terms and general business perspectives. The Effective Executive has been a very good book for myself to be able to tackle some of those general business ideas and to do things in a better sense and in a more effective sense as a manager of a corporation and a company.
Matthew: Yeah that’s a great suggestion. We could all use any advice there possible. Is there one thing that sticks out to you that you use often from that book?
Matt: Yes I think it is how do you properly attain your goals, and it gives some really good pointers. Especially about writing things down, creating succinct and smart business plans. Being able to isolate things, being able to not what I call chase butterflies, which I think a lot of people run into in this industry because there’s so many opportunities. But to really look at how to focus and target your efforts in what you want to do to accomplish your goals in the best way possible.
Matthew: Is there a tool, web-based or otherwise, that you consider vital to your day-to-day productivity?
Matt: There are several tools that I use that are specific to the architecture side of things that are indispensable, but may not be as applicable just for normal people getting into the industry and those are some of the more architectural programs, Auto CAD REV IT. We do a lot with Bin Modeling, which I feel has definitely revolutionized our ability to plan these facilities. Bin Modeling is building information modeling, so it’s basically in the computer in a 3D environment. You are putting in as many parameters as possible. So, we actually like to create the whole building inside the computer. We put the actual mechanical systems in there and then through certain programs and algorithms, you can run simulations on your building.
So, you can run heating simulations. You can run your light simulations to see how that affects your insulation for example or your vapor barrier. And you can really start to find any sort of bugs or hiccups in the computer before you actually build it, and we’ve found that that’s been very advantageous in saving money in the field.
Matthew: Wow, so it creates a simulation of what the live finished building would look like and how it works.
Matt: Exactly, and it really helps too with testing concepts with a lot of things. One of the major architectural elements that we have been doing a lot of advancement on in the last five years is the HVAC and the environmental condition controls because there’s so many different ways to go about it. There’s forced air, there’s chill systems, there’s VRS and they all on paper do something very similar, but they all do it in a different way. So, it’s been really helpful, especially with that to be able to model these different HVAC systems into a building to see how that influences those interior environmental controls, as well as its impact on the electricity usage of the building or you can even structurally be able to model these things. So you could model your rooftop unit and that could tell you structurally what additional supports you may need and then what the cost associated with that is. So it just allows us to flush out a lot of those design concepts before actually having to put a hammer on a nail out in the field.
Matthew: Great, great information here Matt. I appreciate that. Before we close, can you tell listeners how they can connect with you and learn more about Calyx King?
Matt: Yeah, absolutely. You can find us online at www.calyxking.com. We have a contact form there through the website. We also have the contact information for all the different partners. If you have a specific question, you can contact one of us directly, depending upon our skillset, or just through that general info tab there on the website is easiest.
Matthew: Would you mind spelling the url?
Matt: Absolutely. That’s www.calyxking.com.
Matthew: Well Matt, thanks so much for coming on the show today and educating us. We really appreciate it.