Growing the Industry: Q&A with Brad Rhodes of Robust
The cannabis plant is wondrous in its ability to form so many different variations of medicinal flower. When given ideal environmental conditions, the plant’s growth will amaze. With mature plants at times exceeding 10 feet in height and width, these potentially monstrous plants can fill up a large room quickly, converting warehouse or greenhouse space into a jungle of variety.
Many may be distracted by the shapes and colors of all of the flower, while what’s happening beneath the canopy is often overlooked. Beneath the soil, there is a thriving culture of biological diversity. In a living soil garden, the cultivator monitors and maintains the microbiology in the soil as well as healthy beneficial fungi to help give the plant the nutrients it needs.
Robust Missouri is a medical marijuana cultivation company that demonstrates the value of living soil organics. With a 74,000 square foot facility, Robust uses conversion grow rooms that are outfitted with nearly $1 million in supplemental grow lighting while still maintaining access to sunlight.
Robust is led by its Chief of Cultivation and Manufacturing, Brad Rhodes by its Chief of Cultivation and Manufacturing, Brad Rhodes. A Missouri-native, he shared his pride in his home state when speaking to Greenway.
“I’m originally from Florissant, but have been a lifelong Missourian who has spent time living across the state.” He continued, “I’m Missouri through and through, I was born here and I’ve lived here all my life.” “I always said I wanted to make medicine when I grew up, the other kids didn’t believe me, but I did it.”
“I graduated from Mizzou with a degree in Biology where I focused my studies on organic chemistry and evolutionary biology. After that, I worked for Washington University’s School of Medicine doing oncology research until 2016 when I was blessed with the opportunity to become one of the first employees in Missouri’s legal cannabis industry.”
“From 2016 until 2019, I was the only employee for Noah’s Ark Foundation, one of two companies who was issued licenses to cultivate cannabis under the Department of Agriculture’s CBD program to treat patients with intractable epilepsy.”
“My time at Noah’s Ark was incredibly rewarding and solidified my desire to spend my life working in cannabis. After leaving Noah’s Ark in 2019 I’ve spent the past several years building Robust with my business partner Tyler Hannegan.”
What came first for you, a passion for plants or cannabis?
“They really came at the same time. Since I was a kid I had always planned on going to medical school or pursuing a PhD in biomedical research but when I was blessed with the opportunity to enter the cannabis space in 2016 my mind was opened to cannabis and the amazing therapeutic potential of plants in general.”
What does medical marijuana mean to you?
“To me, the term medical marijuana exemplifies the nearly limitless therapeutic potential of the plant. I know of no other medicine with such broad-reaching benefits in terms of the symptoms it can treat and that’s why the team at Robust is so passionate about our work that truly does have the power to better people’s lives every day.”
When asked if he learned anything that he thought gave him an advantage by working at a CBD-focused cultivation facility Rhodes said, “I definitely did, I learned the non-negotiables about growing in a greenhouse in Missouri, I think that was definitely a leg up on those that couldn’t cultivate in the state at that time.”
How is the Robust grow set up?
“Our facility is 74,000 square feet overall, with the main grow consisting of 10 rooms that make up 55,000 square feet of that total. Our 8 flowering rooms contain 30,000 square feet of flowering canopy and are currently being perpetually harvested.
“Our grow, which is a state-of-the-art positive pressure greenhouse, allows our plants to harness the sun’s natural energy while maintaining strict climate controls. Our facility and its environmental control systems allow our cultivators to take a much more personal approach with the plant. Specifically, our plants are hand watered, and we cultivate in living soil using 15-gallon pots that are reused cycle after cycle to maintain an optimal soil microbiome. Cultivating in living soil under both natural and supplemental lighting allows for us to maximize the robust terpene and cannabinoid profiles our genetics have to offer. Additionally, we cultivate using organic inputs and have received both Clean Green and Certified Kind designations for organic cannabis production.”
Greenway asked Rhodes about Robust’s commitment to growing plants with living soil organics, he said, “I started with living soil at Noah’s Ark and it just made sense with my background to continue. I understand the symbiotic relationship between the microbiology and the plant….we test the soil every cycle to make sure its microbiology is maintained and top dress for macronutrients at the appropriate times.”
Tell us about the Robust genetics and what went into your selection process.
“We have over 100 different cultivars in our genetic library that we are still selecting through them to identify the most optimal cultivars for production in Missouri’s environment. Instead of taking in clones from other states that were selected in dramatically different climates, we chose to start from seeds we had identified for their genetically diverse potential from the best breeders in the world. By focusing on genetic differentiation, it is our goal to have the widest selection of terpene and cannabinoid profiles on Missouri’s market which we feel is vital to ensure patients have access to medicine that works well for their own unique physiology.”
What makes good flower?
“Passionate people make a good flower. At Robust, we are blessed to have an amazing team who love what they do at every stage of our production process and I think that clearly shows in our end product.”
What makes Robust-grown cannabis unique?
“Everything we do is natural, clean, and sustainable, that’s the Robust way. Below is a picture of our brand card which highlights some of our key differentiators as a brand.”
What is the biggest obstacle you face with a grow like this?
“Dialing in and maintaining the environment for every inch of your grow space in a newly constructed building of our size is always challenging.”
What lessons have you learned from day 1 to now?
“That if you surround yourself with passionate people who all share the same goal amazing things are possible. I’m so proud of how much our team has accomplished in such a short period and am beyond excited to see what the future holds for Robust.”
What’s your favorite cannabis cultivar and why?
“Although my favorite cultivar for personal use changes weekly, our California Raisins will always have a very special place in my heart as she was our first clear-cut keeper in the selection process at Robust. California Raisins (Biscotti x Grape Gasoline) was bred by Compound Genetics and provides relaxing, creative, and happy feelings that are perfect for any time use.”
What are the most important things when growing cannabis?
“Attention to detail and controlling your growth environment to ensure optimal conditions are always present.”
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
“To never stop learning or asking questions. Those two pieces of advice have been the biggest two drivers of my never-ending curiosity of the natural world overall and cannabis in particular.”