By: Stephanie Shehan Anyone who knows Evan Marder also knows that he is extremely passionate about cannabis. His love for the plant shines through in his work as a cultivator. I recently had the chance to sit down with him to chat about his work at Fleur and the path that led him there. […]
By: Stephanie Shehan
Anyone who knows Evan Marder also knows that he is extremely passionate about cannabis. His love for the plant shines through in his work as a cultivator. I recently had the chance to sit down with him to chat about his work at Fleur and the path that led him there.
STEPHANIE SHEHAN: What is your title at Fleur Cannabis? Were you in the industry prior to working at Fleur?
EVAN MARDER: I am currently the Director of Cultivation at Fleur Cannabis. Previously, I was the Chief Operating Officer and Founder of Matrix NV.
STEPHANIE: Are you from Nevada? If not, what brought you here?
EVAN: No, I was born in the suburbs of Philadelphia and grew up in Wilmington, Delaware. I moved here in 2001 to be a flair bartender on the Las Vegas strip inside Treasure Island with a company from Delaware called Kahunaville. I worked for Kahunaville from 1994 to 2015.
STEPHANIE: What led you to the cannabis industry?
EVAN: This is a long story, but I’ll do my best to tell a very condensed version. I started growing when I was 16. I bought a growth chamber called a Phototron (they still make and sell them) and started growing in a closet in my father’s basement. That got me started. Throughout the 90’s I grew indoors using early stage ballasts with metal halide and high pressure sodium lighting. I did a lot of reading back then to hone in growing methods. In the early 2000’s I got a patient card here in Nevada and set up a grow room at my house with the hopes that Nevada would eventually take on the business model of California, where they allowed patient grows to sell to dispensaries. After many years it became obvious Nevada would never adopt that model, but in 2013 it became apparent Nevada was going to set up regulations for cannabis businesses. In late 2013, I started looking into and studying what it would take to become a cannabis business owner in Nevada. After months of research, in February 2014, I decided to risk everything I had and came up with a business plan, a business name (Matrix) and started shopping my plan to investors. Again, long story short, I was able to attract investors to my project by June 2014 and that’s when all the fun began.
STEPHANIE: What sparked your passion for growing?
EVAN: I started growing in 1986 when I was 16. It’s been a passion of mine ever since. I never had a mentor, it was more about figuring things out for myself and using what my mom had taught me about gardening. My mom grew up on and around farms and has always been an avid gardener with an outstanding green thumb, so I guess it’s fair to say she passed that on to me. From the time I was about 17 on, I also read everything I could get my hands on about cannabis. Before legalization we were all really afraid of getting busted, so I always felt I had to be very careful where I sourced my information and not really discuss it with others. By 2006, I would say there was a decent amount of online growers forums. I did a lot of reading on those forums over the years, especially later on to understand the commercial side of the business. For example, there were a decent amount of discussions about mechanical engineering and how to control environments, which looking back, none of it was really good info, but it helped me to understand the challenges of scaling up from a 400 square foot room to a 30,000 square foot building.
STEPHANIE: Tell us about the work you have done at Fleur.
EVAN: Fleur Cannabis has been the ultimate thrill of my cannabis industry life, which to me says a lot because I’ve had some major ups and downs since getting into the legal side of things. We’ve created a very healthy work environment that the plants thrive in. One of the things I’ve focused on in my career in cannabis has been team building, and Fleur is no exception. Fleur is now staffed with great people that excel in their specific departments. Back when I started Matrix, our core group on the ground was made up of family and friends, and then we built around that with people that shared the same vision. We built a great team filled with people who were passionate about the plant who mostly wanted to stand out and succeed in this industry partly because of their love of cannabis and the culture. We’ve essentially done the same thing with Fleur. At Fleur, I have also had the luxury of working for great people who appreciate me and the team we’ve built. They allow us to do what we do best with no micro-management, and I can’t stress how important that is. I’ve seen several cultivations that were in a good place end up failing because the investors thought they knew more than the people they originally hired to grow for them. They ended up micromanaging the business to a point where they forced those out that were initially responsible for the company’s success. I am also a firm believer that the plants respond to the energy of who is around them. I’ve seen first hand examples of this countless times throughout my life, so to me it’s very important that the staff has a constant positive attitude and positive energy. One of our jobs as managers is to make sure everyone on our staff is well taken care of and supported with the tools they need to succeed on a daily basis. Fleur pays our employees more than most cultivations offer, and we also offer benefits to all of our employees, which sadly seems to be somewhat rare on the cultivation side of the industry. The ownership at Fleur and Evergreen Organix and I see eye to when it comes to this. My philosophy coming into this industry was that I always kind of wanted to be the Google of cannabis. Google has a reputation of being an amazing employer that takes great care of their staff at a very high level. Everyone at Google wants to be at work when they’re at work. Granted, we’re not the corporate giant Google is, but providing that same level of a positive work environment is very important to us, and will always be part of our goal here at Fleur. As far as actual cannabis is concerned, we are constantly hunting for new strains and doing our best to get the best results out of the strains we currently offer. We of course want to make sure we put out flower with high cannabinoid percentages, but we also really focus on terpene production. We encourage everyone to look at how high and how deep our terpene profiles run on our test results at dispensaries and compare them to other cultivation numbers. We also have a lot of great new strains in the works, some of which are testing around 4% total terpenes with total THC numbers in the high twenties.
STEPHANIE: Tell us a little about your growing technique/style.
EVAN: Fleur Cannabis is a Clean Green Certified cultivation facility (Clean Green Certification is one of the only certificates for a cannabis cultivation to be certified ‘organic’ and is the most respected certification in our industry) utilizing sustainable, completely organic growing practices, just like Mother Nature intended. All our plants are grown in no-till living soil using our own hybridized version of Korean Natural Farming. Our composts and fertilizers are made in-house using all organic components, including plant material taken straight from our plants and organic fruits sourced from local farmers. This organic method of growing brings out the full potential of the plant, naturally, and we feel very strongly that it provides the cleanest, tastiest cannabis possible. We do not spray pesticides or fungicides and never use commercial fertilizers. I’ve used most every method possible to grow cannabis over the years, but after delving into the organic side of things and doing it at scale, I’ve come to the conclusion there is no better way to grow. For me it will forever be an organic style of growing from here on out. In my mind there is no better way, and commercially I feel growing organically makes the most sense.
STEPHANIE: Are there any particular obstacles that are related to growing indoors? Do you also have experience growing outdoors?
EVAN: There are tons of obstacles growing indoors, most of which start with creating the perfect environment. Millions and millions of dollars have been lost in this industry with people who have built cultivation facilities only to fail miserably. It’s definitely not easy and not the golden goose so many people think it is. When we were designing Matrix there was no blueprint you could purchase, no one offering solid information on how to do this. We had to figure it all out for ourselves. We spent hundreds of hours over the course of 2015 and 2016 with general contractors, architects, mechanical engineers, and electricians formulating a plan. No one back then had a clue. A lot of ‘consultants’ claimed they did, but very few actually knew how to scale up and meet the build-out demands Nevada created. 2015 for me was mostly spent in construction meetings and behind a computer screen developing the floor plan and business plan for Matrix. The amount of dedication it takes to do a project like this, and then the time to manage it, is something that I think most people can’t really grasp. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, I was a single guy with no kids and really nothing to lose, so it was a gamble I could afford to take. Had I been married with children I highly doubt I would have had the time and the finances to get through it all. The lead up just to get the business started was all incredibly time consuming, expensive and challenging. All that said, I haven’t even touched on the challenges of actually growing once your business is off the ground. It’s fair to say you can take any problem you could potentially have in a home grow and multiply it by a million. As far as my outdoor experience is concerned, that has been limited. I was part of an outdoor grow in Florida many years back, but not on a level that I can add significant insight on. I tried growing outdoors in Delaware too, but the climate there and the soil (it’s clay based) aren’t good to grow cannabis.
STEPHANIE: Are there any particular obstacles related to growing in Nevada? Any restrictions?
EVAN: I love growing in Nevada. Aside from the hot summers which present challenges with HVAC, the humidity here is great, and we don’t have an abundance of natural predators that attack the plant that you’d have to worry about as a grower, like in other parts of the country. Don’t get me wrong, we still face the same challenges, it just seems to me based on my experience as a grower here to not be as prevalent, at least in Clark County. As far as the regulations and the state are concerned, I’ve always said there is no state that does privileged licensing better than Nevada. Nevada has a long history of governing taboo industries like gaming and prostitution, and in my opinion that experience played a part in creating what I feel is the best cannabis program in the world. The regulations here are very strict and buttoned up and I feel that has played a large part in the reason why we have not seen any federal interference. My experience with the state regulators has been that they are tough but fair. They want to make sure Nevada continues to be the gold standard for the cannabis industry, and I am all for that. Of course there have been growing pains, especially in regards to working with the seed to sale tracking system we are forced to use, but that is to be expected, especially in a budding industry that is still federally illegal.
STEPHANIE: How difficult is it to abide by lab guidelines? Any particular limits or restrictions that you would like to see changed?
EVAN: I have been told that the average commercial failure rate for flower in Nevada is around 30%. That does not mean that most of the flower grown here is garbage, that’s not the case at all. This speaks to the fact of how stringent and difficult to pass our testing is here in Nevada. A while ago I read a study that was done some years back that found something like over 80% of the flower grown in California couldn’t pass testing in Nevada. 80%! I think it’s fair to say that the cannabis on Nevada dispensary shelves is the safest, cleanest cannabis in the world, and it’s all because of the testing that we have to pass in order to be able to sell our flower. Nevada tests for a vast array of microbials, mycotoxins, heavy metals, pesticides and fungicides. The thing most cultivators fail for is microbials, and most of the time it’s for Aspergillus and/or yeast and mold. Aspergillus was added to the testing protocol a couple years into the program and let me tell you, that created a whole new headache for cultivators and I think a lot of them are still trying to figure out how to keep from failing for it. That said, I’m very proud to say that here at Fleur we are passing over 99% of our tests, and that has a lot to do with the fact that we grow organically and that we have implemented a lot of procedures to make sure we always test clean, all of which are completely safe and organic in nature. There are companies in this state that use all sorts of post harvest mold remediation techniques to pass the testing, including the use of radiation. I think it’s important for people to know we don’t do anything like that. We are old school, we grow clean cannabis using very clean, natural organic methods. No mold remediation is necessary for us simply because we never have any mold on our flower, and we don’t use nasty pesticides and fungicides to ward off pests and pathogens. Just clean and green!
STEPHANIE: Any tips for new cultivators entering the industry?
EVAN: I get asked this a lot. First off, unfortunately social media isn’t a great place to ask for a job. It’s a great place to learn about a cultivation you may want to work at, or to see an ad that a certain place is hiring, but I rarely see people get hired through a social media platform. It’s usually through something like Indeed or Craigslist, or through word of mouth. Also, in my experience reputable cultivation facilities most of the time won’t hire a grower for a grower position right off the bat. Usually people start off as a trimmer or a packager and work their way up to a cultivator position. My best advice would be first and foremost to have a great work ethic. Be punctual and communicate well. Be respectful and easy to get along with. Understand what your goals are and what you want to achieve in this industry and work towards them knowing everything takes time. Hone in on the craft and read as much as possible and if you’re fortunate enough to be growing at home, grow using the same methods you want to work on and master on a commercial level. Also, please understand being a cultivator is a physically demanding job and it’s not easy. There’s a decent amount of heavy lifting and back breaking hard work. This is indoor farming after all. I’ve seen people over the years not realize what the job entails and get turned off pretty quick after they realize how physically demanding it can be.
STEPHANIE: We have seen some great things coming out of Fleur recently. Any favorite strains you want to talk about?
EVAN: I am a big fan of all of our current strains. To name some, Orange Cookies and LA Confidential are two of our cult classics that I really like. The Face on Fire we produce is incredible. She’s consistently testing above 27% with a 3%+ terpene profile. We have some new strains on the market that I’m a big fan of, Sun God, Zest, Strawberry Cough and Live Fire to name a few. There’s a new strain just getting started in the pipeline that we named Bushido OG. This strain was named after another cannabis community brother, Master WIn. Master Win was a dear friend of our grow manager, who, along with his 2 dogs, unfortunately died in the California wildfires this past year. We feel good about giving him this homage as this was a guy that had an incredible life story that ended way too early. The strain is a cross of Wookies-n-Cream x Lemon OG and is testing around 27% total THC with a terpene profile around 4%. She’s also leaning heavily on the sativa side. Our first year at Fleur we really focused on developing sativa dominant strains, now we’re hunting for more indica dominant strains. Strain development is a constant work in progress that I would like to see continue for as long as I’m around and involved, which hopefully will be a long, long time.
STEPHANIE: How about the new high CBD strains which are amazing, especially for patients – tell us about them.
EVAN: We also like to focus on developing 1:1 CBD/THC strains. In addition to Fire Angel, which is a 2:1 CBD/THC strain that was here before I came on, so far we have two new CBD/THC strains, CBDiesel and Do Si Durban. We like the Do Si Durban, but CBDiesel is the real standout here. It’s a CBD cross off of Super Sour Diesel and has the same terpene profile with an outstanding 1:1 combination of around 10% – 12% CBD and around 10% – 12% THC. I’m a huge fan of this strain and am hopeful everyone out there will appreciate it as much as I do. It’s just a perfect strain for any time, day or night.
STEPHANIE: You have a solid team working with you at Fleur, anyone you want to mention?
EVAN: Absolutely! We have a great staff that I would love to give a shoutout to. When I arrived at Fleur we already had an outstanding grow manager, Sven Blum. Sven has been an absolute rock star and a pleasure to work with. He is a core part of the company and is incredibly passionate about what we do here. He is our in-house pheno-hunter and manages and guides the cultivation team on a daily basis. He has simply been outstanding. Our plant and soil scientist, Nate Weeden, is a guy I got to know while I was at Matrix and was someone I always wanted to work with. When this project came up Nate was working at one of the labs in town and jumped at the opportunity. Nate is a major talent that worked his way through UNLV waiting tables and obtained a Biochemistry degree. He has focused his knowledge on plants, especially cannabis. Nate oversees soil and plant health and is responsible for bringing the method of Korean Natural Farming to Fleur that we currently use today. I’d also like to give a shoutout to my brother, Jay Marder, he is our general manager and my right hand man. I’d be nowhere without him. Also an old dear friend of mine, Ron Carrell. Ron is a Vegas native and long time friend who is our facility manager and does an outstanding job making sure the plants have the optimal growing conditions to thrive. Last but not least, shoutout to Mason Garrett and our packaging department for getting all of our products out the door in a timely, efficient manner, as well as Rick Busack and our trim team for all of their excellent trim work, and of course our cultivators and porter. They all crush it for us on a daily basis. These are the unsung heroes of a cultivation facility. The amount of tedious work that goes into getting our products out the door is more than most people can wrap their heads around. Last, but definitely not least, I’d like to thank Jerry Velarde and Jillian Nelson and her family for this opportunity with Fleur and for all of their support. Jerry and I have built a friendship and working relationship that is one of the highlights of my professional life, and working with the Nelson’s has been nothing short of outstanding. I’ve found them all to be great people.
STEPHANIE: Do you have a favorite strain? Being a cultivator, what do you look for when purchasing your own personal-use cannabis products?
EVAN: Being from the northeast originally I’ve always had an affinity for the gassier strains like Sour Diesel. Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s we were seeing a lot of Skunk #1, and to this day that is the strain I’ve always loved the most. Problem is, I haven’t seen it since the mid 90’s. I know some of the Cheese strains are close in smell and effect, but trust me, nothing that I’ve seen has matched that Skunk we were getting back in the day. Personally I think growers just stopped growing it because it had such a strong odor it made it hard to mask the smell. My belief is most growers moved away from it because it would end up getting them busted. Hopefully someone out there that kept some seeds reads this article and is nice enough to send me some…lol. Another personal favorite is Strawberry Cough and we’re growing a great pheno of that strain at Fleur now. The funny thing is, a lot of people ask me to grow a lot of old school strains, but the problem is that a lot of those strains test below 18% and our market is driven by THC potency. That limits what we can grow. I’m hopeful with time and education that will change. People need to realize you can get a great high off of something with a 17% THC range and a good terpene profile, it’s not all about THC.
STEPHANIE: Anything new and exciting coming up from Fleur?
EVAN: We will be developing many new strains over the coming years. We have a MAC cross we will be releasing soon, as well as the Bushido OG and others.
STEPHANIE: How can readers follow you?
EVAN: Please give me a follow on Instagram @Evan.matrix.mmj I post a lot of pictures of the grow on a weekly basis. There are a decent amount of impostors out there that steal my image and pics on IG and Facebook, so please make sure to follow the right account. I only have the one, evan.matrix.mmj. Also, please give us a follow @Fleurcannabisnv
STEPHANIE: Anything you want to add?
EVAN: First off, thank you for doing this interview! Everyone at the magazine has always been great folks to get to know and I admire and value what you have added to the cannabis landscape in Nevada. You’ve been here since the beginning and I’ve always been a fan. I’d also really like to thank the Nevada cannabis community for all of the love and support I’ve received over the years. Like many of you out there, my journey in this industry has not been an easy one. The support I’ve received from so many of you has been a motivational factor for me that has kept me going through thick and thin, and is everything I could ever hope for from the community that I’ve always loved and wanted to be a part of. From the bottom of my heart, thank you all.
Photo of Fleur Cannabis Team By: David Singh Reddish IG – @Davindersingh_photography
Photo of Evan Marder By: Krystal Ramirez IG- @krystalrmrz