The medical cannabis industry in Maine is taking off, and it’s doing it on the backs of a small community of very capable cultivators. They’re not big business — yet — but they’re passionate and driven, paving the way for a cannabis-friendly future. These mad scientists of the marijuana market are barreling ahead at full steam, continuously creating new products and production methods. Masters of their craft, these cannabis farmers are positioning Maine as a major East Coast hub for an industry that is on the cusp of federal recognition.
Maine-born Ryan Henderson at East & Eye is one such cultivator who is bringing some West Coast experience to our humble East Coast market. Ryan has a background in organic farming and permaculture, which has helped him become one of the top cannabis growers in the state. We sat down with him to talk about his experiences, methods, and grow philosophy, and he gave us some great insights into what the daily grind is like and where he thinks the future of cannabis is headed. “I’m excited about where we’re at as a community and an industry,” he told us.
Now, Ryan heads a modest team of cultivators at East & Eye. Ryan and his investor co-founded East & Eye in 2018. Their mission ever since has been to provide a locally grown craft cannabis product by hyper-focusing on the details of the growing process from seed to harvest. Their EYE for the plant kingdom and a commitment to a healthy planet keep them working toward a higher standard in cannabis cultivation so that their consumers know that they’re purchasing pure and effective cannabis.
In a field full of unconventional knowledge, experience is key. East & Eye is not Ryan’s first venture into cannabis cultivation, and he told us he has gained invaluable knowledge from each and every one of his endeavors. After years of smaller grows in tents and closets, Ryan moved into a room on the third floor of a building right in Portland — his biggest grow space up to that point. At the time, Ryan was traveling to and from California, where he learned organic cannabis farming in large-scale outdoor grows.
Before starting East & Eye, Ryan helped found Stillwater Farms and Fine Tree State some seven or eight years ago. The partnership lasted a couple of years before Ryan felt it was time to move on. After a second brief partnership Ryan decided ‘no more handshakes and hugs’ and got busy writing up a business plan to pitch to investors.
When asked about his grow philosophy, Ryan said he felt it was “important to bring an organic method indoors.” His desire was to do more with living soil and regenerative, or Korean, natural farming. These concepts were being explored on the West Coast, particularly in California, but Ryan had to figure out how to bring this method indoors.
After doing some research, Ryan decided that what he really wanted to do was build his own soil. By starting with an OMRI-listed, MOFGA-certified base, and growing their own microorganisms, East & Eye are able to build a soil that organically provides the right levels of nutrients for growing high-quality cannabis. They now have 3x3 and 4x8 containers of homemade, organic, nutrient-rich soil.
Up to this point, their focus has been largely on producing a consistent product. They are almost at capacity with three grow rooms, but are taking their time and trying not to get ahead of themselves. Building the business slowly has helped them achieve a consistently high-quality product. Ryan has had the chance to play around with several cultivation methods and told us he’s learned a lot from all of his experimentation. From general hydroponics using bottled nutrients to general outdoor organic, Ryan’s vast experience has allowed him to tailor his approach and focus on the small details that make all the difference.
Ryan admitted it’s been a learning curve, and that they’ve “definitely had [their] share of pests and pathogens along the way,” but said that they’ve ultimately been able to strike a balance that allows for a product rich in essential oils and terpenes that also burns clean and has notable aromas and good resin production. Ryan says this is a difficult balance to achieve, but that they’ve finally been able to produce a product that is “exactly what [they’re] trying to go for.”
Now that they’ve had some time to experiment with indoor growing techniques, East & Eye is looking into solventless extraction methods and equipment with plans to add a hash lab and commercial kitchen. Ryan told us that he has solid experience with ice water extraction, but is looking forward to experimenting with freeze-drying and rosin press technology. With things at East & Eye running smoothly, Ryan is also back to working on a pitch and portfolio to try and bring in new investors. He has his eye on a few pieces of land so he can return to outdoor growing — his passion — and is paying attention to which municipalities he thinks he’ll be able to work with.
Currently East & Eye is an entirely indoor operation, but Ryan does keep a small garden patch at the homestead in Portland, where he currently has four plants he’s cultivating as a fun pet project. His focus right now is cutting costs and making East & Eye a profitable venture before finding a permanent space where he can get back outside.
East & Eye is also trying their hand at some in-house breeding. They’ve developed a new strain dubbed Bob Ross, which is a cross of Purple Orange — a higher CBD, low-THC backcross of California Orange Diesel that Ryan referred to as a good “entry level strain” from Best Friend Farms — and Mimosa, from Symbiotic Genetics. They’re currently working with two phenotypes that have the traits they were going for. “The genetics game is so full of heat right now [...] it’s an exciting time to be a grower!,” Ryan told us.
While East & Eye hopes to one day break into the recreational market, they are in no rush to transition from medical. Overall, Ryan says he’s very excited about where he and East & Eye are at, and where the state of Maine is at, and he’s looking forward to a bright future. “I want to see everybody that has their hearts in the right place be able to make a living, and I really feel like the demand for Maine cannabis is going to allow for that to happen.”
From building their own soil to pressing their own hash, East & Eye is focused on creating high-quality, small-batch organic craft cannabis. With a handful of distributors in southern Maine now carrying their products, the brand is building some serious street cred and angling to continue expansion as laws loosen. Just recently, East & Eye had to turn down several wholesale requests due to production limitations and quality control concerns. Ryan says they would maybe be open to working with another one or two shops, but that the shops he’s already working with would be more than happy to take as much product as he’s willing to sell them. You can find their products at All Kind, Fire on Fore, Beach Boys, and Kind & Co.