Kids are optimistic, and Devin Cooley was no exception. When he was a student at Jefferson Middle School, he dreamed of going into business with his best
friends. What he didn’t envision was that the business in question would be an award-winning legal pot farm. Today, Cooley and his friends Michael O’Brien and Will Prull are at the helm of Sunstone Farms, based in their hometown of Eugene, Oregon.
With Prull as head of propagation, Cooley as chief of operations and cultivation, and O’Brien on sales, Sunstone quickly rose to prominence, doubling in size twice in two years, and recently winning the Grower’s Choice Award at the 2017 Grow Classic. Cooley, who is 27, was honored to be recognized by the region’s top growers. “Walking into that room and seeing everyone was the most intimidating moment of my life,” he says. “We are super appreciative of this honor.”
So how do three guys in their 20s gain early success in a state home to some of the world’s best growers? Cooley is frank. “We’ve taken an interesting route,” he says. “We weren’t having good luck producing new, exciting genetics, so we said screw it!” In a world obsessed with new strains, Cooley and crew took the risk of ignoring that game. Instead, they focused on growing the best possible expressions of tried-and-true standards. Through attention to detail, they’ve attained the second highest recorded THC level for Oregon Diesel (20.5%), and created powerhouse versions of Obama Kush and Cookie Monster.
“Our main goal is to maintain small craft practices while scaling up to an industrial size,” Cooley says. By craft practices, he means growing in organic soil, watering by hand when needed, hand-trimming, and curing in glass jars, which is, of course, highly unusual for an operation of their size.
Part of this attention to craft stems from the desire to maintain the highest quality, and part stems from a commitment to the local community. Sunstone maintains an in-house team of eight trimmers. “I’d rather employ people than employ machines,” Cooley says. “I’d rather have good people around here employed to do good work.” Because it’s not cost-effective to hand trim anything but the best weed, the in- house trimmers actually serve as another motivating factor for a laser focus on producing the highest-quality crops.
Cooley switched from outdoor to indoor growing because he wanted a greater level of control, but when asked to give his best lighting advice, he cautions against getting too obsessed with lighting. “People get caught up on putting as much light into a room,” he says. “And a lot of plants do well with less light.” His advice? Be careful about giving your plants too much light. Don’t blast your plants with too much high-pressure sodium (HPS). Focus on what the plant needs in a wide spectrum.
He credits Sunstone’s success with their attention to their organic soil. The farm uses the Roots Organics soil line and also does product testing for the Eugene-based company. “We are super, super loyal to Aurora Innovations,” Cooley says. “They’re our mentors, and we work closely with them. The name makes sense. Aurora is always innovating, so we’re always trying out new soils and new composts. I love being on the cutting edge of stuff. In this case, the cutting edge is applying new science to ancient practices.”
When it comes to their actual grow team, Sunstone is keeping it small: Cooley, Will Prull, and their associate Bernie Subia. When things get busy, their trimmers help out with the plants. Cooley says they’re able to maintain a small detail-oriented team by working at a “fervent pace.”
But despite this dedication to the work, Sunstone has a playful sensibility. Cooley’s descriptions of their strains tend toward the amusing: “this stuff will get you off the couch, climbing mountains, and discussing the limits
of the universe with your friends or that guy that hangs out on the street corner.”
And the Sunstone motto is something we can all agree on: “Pot is tight.” Cooley explains: “Cannabis is all about making people feel good, right? Curing ailments, relieving stress, spreading mirth… A cannabis brand should be no different. Make people laugh and want to be a part of the experience.”