Think you have the line on top-shelf reserve in your state? Sure, local Cannabis Cup-winners might have that fire, but for a more quantifiable take, now there’s The Grow-Off — a contest helping preserve flower appreciation in America.
The Grow-Off pitches itself as “the Iron Chef of weed” — except a single grow season takes six months to conclude and the final judges are lab equipment. Wonky comparisons aside, the three-year-old contest idea has taken root internationally. This year, The Grow-Off expands to Canada, returns to California and goes back to its home state of Colorado to determine some of the world’s best growers.
Similar to “Iron Chef,” each contestant gets the same ingredient — one fresh clone of a new mystery designer strain — and has six months to grow it out any way they like.
At the end, each contestant submits 5-gram samples to an accredited lab. Organizers announce the winners at a wild bash where the name of the mystery strain is revealed and first, second and third place trophies are awarded to top finishers in three categories: Potency, Terpenes and Yield. Everyone can see their lab scores. No funny business.
As a contest, “The Grow-Off really stands alone,” said Jamie Hubbard, the cultivation manager for 2017’s Denver winner, Verde Natural. “There’s no politics involved.”
The couple behind the contest consists of former critic for The Cannabist, Jake Browne, a 30-something Denver-ite who has worked in the weed industry since 2009, and his fiancé Samantha Taylor. Browne grew weary of the typical awards chicanery — the bleary-eyed judging, the inevitable rumors about pay-to-win. Browne and his fiancé also loved competitive cooking shows.
“You see more and more shows, either it’s ‘Iron Chef’ or ‘Chopped,’ where everyone is starting out with the same ingredients,” he said. “We also wanted to rely on science, not someone smoking 40 strains in two days and walking away wondering what happened to them.”
Building on two successful years, the 2018 season in Colorado got off to a solid start on Jan. 30, with 52 contestants receiving their mystery clone from leading breeders The Herbal Cure. But things went sideways quickly. Two weeks into The Grow Off, a “bitter” former employee at the clone shop leaked the mystery strain’s name, Tangie Power, to all the contestants, Browne said. Browne offered all contestants full refunds. Only two pulled out. The Colorado contest runs through July.
“It’s a testament to everyone’s mindset that they stayed in,” said Jason Paley, inventory and compliance manager for Verde Natural.
“It wasn’t going to change our approach anyway,” said Hubbard. “We looked up what the cross was, but we have faith in our flowering bed.”
For Verde Natural, their 2017 first place win in the potency category and third place win in the terpenes category validated their whole business model and plant philosophy. The contest triggered a sales run on their winning 2017 strain, Scroopy Noopers (a Cookies X Stardawg cross), and it gave Verde priceless industry cachet.
When the award was announced at the party, Hubbard said he was “just really happy for the team.”
“We’re doing something special,” he said. “This contest is a way to see how your methods stand up to the industry across the state.”
Verde Natural took top honors with an all-organic and sustainable approach that just 3 to 5 percent of the industry uses in Colorado, Hubbard said. They grow indoors with Gavita-like “Sunsystem” lights, CO2 enrichment and nutrient-rich soil beds that are two and a half years old. They’re the largest indoor organic cultivator in Colorado.
“We literally do everything by hand,” said Hubbard. “It’s where we want to see the industry move.”
The Grow-Off win helps justify Verde’s higher-cost $50-$60 eighth-ounces, and their sales pitch to customers. Unlike with wine or craft beer, organic food shoppers often still smoke chem-weed (cannabis grown with chemicals) because they lack education and a chance to care. “We know the market is out there,” said Paley.
Out in California, a 2017 Grow-Off win gave two virtual unknowns the courage to seek state licensing. Family-run, two-year-old Delta X Family Farms of San Bernardino can’t afford huge booths at the Cannabis Cup or a major media buy. But the small, 16-light indoor hydro operation in the battleground county bested almost everyone in the state in strength and terps.
“We were like totally shocked,” said co-founder Mikey. “We weren’t thinking we were going to get first. We were hoping we didn’t get last.”
“When they called out our name, we placed in all three categories, first in two of them. It was a surreal moment,” says Mikey. “It made us say, ‘OK, we know we can make it in this industry.’”
Will the Delta X brothers be back in 2018 to defend their belt?
“Yes,” said Mikey, without missing a beat. “Of course.”
For contest updates, follow @thegrowoff on Instagram and #thegrowoff.
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Originally published in Issue 32 of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE