Written by Sonia Case
“Sun+Earth certifies that cannabis brands are holistically, responsibly, and regeneratively grown for the well-being of all people, farmers and the planet.” – Sun+Earth
This summer, Emerald is on a mission to learn more about Sun+Earth Certified cannabis. Join us each week as we interview certified growers and manufacturers across the United States.
In 2014, Portlanders Devan Anthony and Sally Alworth decided to ditch their management jobs at a construction company to start Luminous Botanicals; the first Sun+Earth Certified manufacturer.
The Luminous Botanicals story is one of friendship. While on the job as a construction manager, Anthony injured his back and aggravated an old chronic injury. What followed was months of pain and sleeplessness. At a loss, Anthony experimented with different CBD concentrates.
He found “amazing relief” with a high CBD ethanol extract. “It was really life changing for me,” says Anthony, “but I had a really hard time dosing this stuff because most concentrates are so strong…I’m really sensitive to what I put in my body and I would be way too high to sleep at night.”
One day, Anthony was telling Alworth about his experience using cannabis for his back pain and the challenges of accurate dosing. After some back and forth, they both wondered aloud: “Isn’t it strange that we have this medical market for cannabis products, but there isn’t anything available in the dispensaries that’s standardized in potency for really accurate, precise oral dosing?”
Anthony and Alworth saw an opportunity to make a product that would stand out. They started testing different product formulations in Anthony’s kitchen. The “Cannabis Cure-All” was their first successful product, an oil infusion of cannabis with standardized dosing and consistent strength across batches. They’ve since moved out to a formal production facility and continue to grow the Luminous Botanicals brand.
This week, Emerald sat down for a virtual meetup with Anthony and Alworth. From construction site, to kitchen, to cannabis extract extraordinaires, this pair taught us a lot about what it means to be a Sun+Earth certified manufacturer.
EMERALD: What has been the most difficult part about breaking into the cannabis product manufacturing industry?
ALWORTH: We actually had it relatively easy compared to what the scene is like now. We started this business with a total of $16,000 between the two of us. Devan and I built a little workshop off the back of his garage and in the medical days, you could actually do that.
Now to get started in the industry, you have to be able to afford to rent or buy commercial space, commercial insurance licensing, and extra rounds of testing. I saw something recently that suggested that the minimum entry cost to get into the market is over half a million [dollars] now.
So we could really bootstrap it in a way that’s no longer possible. It’s one of the real challenges for small businesses and especially entrepreneurs of color.
ANTHONY: The hardest thing for us now is we are still a small business. [Alworth] and I still own a hundred percent of the business. We don’t have investors who are pumping millions of dollars into our business model with the hopes of cashing out by pumping up the value of the brand and selling it off. That’s not the game we’re playing.
We really just want a small business that’s sustainable, that provides really good medicine to our community, that provides good living wages to our staff [and] that contributes positively to the health of our community. That seems to be rare.
Having those huge dumps of money coming into the Oregon cannabis industry, and then having to compete against that means that we, as a small business that is paying our bills, we’re competing with other brands that are able to undercut us on price and sell their products for a lot cheaper than we can because they don’t have to make money.
EMERALD: What does it mean to be Sun+Earth Certified as a manufacturer?
ANTHONY: We’re thrilled with Sun+Earth. When we saw Sun+Earth rolled out in California, immediately we both said, this is it. This is what we want [because] this recognizes that not only are we choosing to support small family-owned farms that grow outdoors without chemicals under the sun, but we’re also choosing to use organic ingredients in our product lines. We’re also choosing to support our staff well, pay them well and offer them full benefits. It felt like a really good fit for the values that we already carried.
When we found out about the certification, we immediately reached out to our farm partners, East Fork Cultivars and Green Source Gardens, and asked them if they would be interested in becoming certified. For us to be certified, all of our farm partners have to be certified as well. Fortunately they both were excited about the prospect of becoming certified and jumped on board. The three of us went through the process and we’re part of the first kind of graduating class of Sun+Earth brands [in] Oregon.
EMERALD: Can you tell us a bit about your manufacturing process? How do you arrive at a standardized dose?
ALWORTH: We use a process that as far as we know is still unique in Oregon. We’re taking this beautiful plant material that we get from our partnered farms and then we steep it directly in organic almond oil. It’s actually really similar to the process you might use to make a cannabutter at home.
Then we go through two stages of filtration. We’re actually experimenting with a third stage of filtration just to make sure that it’s really pure, really clean. So we make those initial infusions really strong. We do a lab test to see what those potencies are and then we sit down, and based on those numbers, we make a blending scheme so that we’re hitting our target potency, and we’re hitting the ratios of THC to CBD that we want.
After we do that blending, you test again to make sure that we’re actually hitting our numbers. The standard in the pharmaceutical industry for potency is a variance of plus or minus 3%. That’s what we try to hit as well.
We’re both sort of math nerds to begin with. We enjoy that.
All of our products just have Sun+Earth certified plant material, organic almond oil, organic virgin coconut oil, and then a small amount, less than 1% by volume of organic essential oils for a little bit of flavor and fragrance.
ANTHONY: The type of extraction we do is called a lipid extraction.
ALWORTH: But everything that’s beneficial in the cannabis plants naturally wants to bond with fats. So we can make our products and make very strong infusions without needing to use any chemical solvents. No really crazy heavy duty equipment. We run a commercial kitchen. That’s what we do. It’s as simple and as close to nature as we can be.
EMERALD: Where do you see Luminous Botanicals going over the next couple of years? What’s the next step?
ANTHONY: Modest growth. Survival. (laughs)
We really are fortunate in that our customers are very loyal. We do hope to continue to grow the company and grow the brand but using the organic growth model that has gotten us this far.
Right now, we’re limited to only selling to the Oregon cannabis market. [But] we see that at some point the federal rules will change and we might be able to ship product out of state and sell our products in other markets. So our medium term plan is to get ourselves ready for that.
EMERALD: Who do you perceive to be your target consumer?
ANTHONY: I think our target consumers are people that are concerned with the values of the company that they’re choosing to support.
ALWORTH: It’s not one particular age range. There are lots of folks who regularly smoke cannabis who also will buy our products. Our products can be used orally or topically. You can [even] use them in the bedroom as a lubricant and as a sexual enhancer.
We [also] know that dispensaries sell a lot of our products to cannabis newbies. When the adult use market opened up, all of a sudden we saw a ton of people who live with some kind of chronic pain who for whatever reason, never felt comfortable being part of the Oregon medical marijuana program, popping up and saying: “wait, I’ve read great things using this for reducing inflammation or dealing with pain or enhancing my sex life. What should I take? How much should I take?”
The bottle comes with a dripper that’s marked with a 10 milligram dose. So you can say to somebody who’s nervous about what kind of experience they’re going to have with oral cannabis, like “just take to this line” or “take half of that to test it out, try it out, see how you feel.”
I think it gives people the confidence to experiment that they might not have otherwise.
EMERALD: Any parting thoughts or pearls of wisdom?
ANTHONY: Having really good relationships seems to be a foundation for who we are and how we’re running our business.
Cannabis is a tool that invites us to have more authentic relationships with ourselves, with our loved ones and with the living planet that we live on. Sun+Earth for us is a reflection of the fact that we prioritize those relationships and our relationships with our farm partners.
We’re not just buying material from them and it’s not just a transaction. We actually support each other. We want them to thrive. We want them to succeed. We want them to have a sustainable business so that they can weather the storm of these really big cannabis business models.
We really take pride in going down to the farm, spending time, letting our team meet their team, spending time together, sharing foods [and] sharing work. It’s really important.
Our conversation with the Luminous Botanicals team ended with a quick virtual tour of their production facility. A couple of years ago, Anthony and Alworth transformed a dilapidated house for their own commercial use. The house sits on a four-lane city road facing a Taco Bell. They also tore out the lawns and built their very own rain garden.
All of the Luminous Botanicals magic happens in this green house and the booming native plant garden sheltering it from the harsh city vibrations. The ebb and flow of rush hour traffic is the soundtrack to their chill creations.