If you’re lucky, the first time you’ll see Raw Garden products will be on a display rack the budtender just pulled out of the fridge. The white jewel box will stand out among the pack and look like the most expensive option available. You’ll pop the jar open and smell a terpene profile you’ve likely never encountered before as you lay eyes on the fantastic blonde sauce for the first time without the glass distorting your view.
Not long after, to your shock and disbelief, you’ll find out it is priced among the middle of the pack at $40 per gram, so people can actually afford it. When you finally vape it on some clean quartz, you’ll realize it’s one of the best dabbing products you’ve had in a while. And then it really hits you—there are a few dozen more Raw Garden flavors for you to try.
Congratulations. You’re now a Raw Garden convert. More than a year after California turned legal, the Santa Barbara-based extract brand is turning 50 acres of their own cannabis into some of the most pure, tasty, affordable, and available hash the state has to offer.
How we got to this point—with tens of thousands of Raw Garden fans enjoying dozens of flavors sold at 495 stores in California this 710 holiday—is a story of family, risk, opportunity, talent, and timing.
Only a week removed from taking first and second place in both the sativa concentrate and the vape cartridge categories at High Times’ San Francisco Cannabis Cup last month, we were able to track down the fastest growing cannabis company in California—with 80 employees and climbing—to get the story of how they reached the current pinnacle of the concentrate market, with products coveted by vape and glob enthusiasts alike. Raw Garden’s sales and marketing head Khalid Al-Naser told us how it all went down.
Germinating a Raw Garden
Al-Naser has been a part of Raw Garden since the company’s earliest incarnation in 2008. That’s when a group of family and close friends decided they wanted serve medical cannabis patients under the state’s landmark Proposition 215, which California’s voters passed in 1996. The industry was evolving from a high-risk, potentially felonious business to a global model of patient care.
Like many in the business, Al-Naser grew up around cannabis in Washington. Meanwhile an extended family member, Raw Gardens’ now-COO Thomas Martin, was on a more traditional path due to where he grew up—the rural, conservative town of Fresno.
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Soon after forming the company, the Raw Garden team had to figure out how to navigate the gray market. California legalized medical cannabis under Proposition 215, and then collective cultivation and distribution under Senate Bill 420 in 2012. But both laws offered defenses against prosecution, not actual legalization.
Things began to change at the turn of the decade, but extraction methods were still primitive. Many extractors were still making hash using explosively dangerous techniques in their backyard.
“It has to be healthy, it has to be something everybody from every financial background can get access to.”
After President Obama’s election in 2008 things opened up just a little more.
In 2009, Obama’s Department of Justice said state-legal medical cannabis activity was not an enforcement priority. By 2012, local cities and counties in California became the first in the nation to regulate medical cannabis stores and farms.
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“People also started feeling more empowered to say this is what they wanted,” Al-Naser recalled.
Today’s vertically integrated commercial-scale company coalesced out of disparate medical cannabis entities, including a farm collective and an extraction collective.
Different team members wore multiple hats and brought together various business assets. But he said the family-and-friends aspect made it easier to keep everyone on course. A core ethos emerged from those early medical cannabis days: They wanted to focus on creating professionally produced, high-quality, and accessible medicine.
“We decided early on that we were going to champion great access and good quality,” he said.“It has to be clean, it has to be healthy, it has to be something everybody from every financial background can get access to.”
Inside the Raw Garden Farm
Through the company’s Buellton-based subsidiary Central Coast Ag Farming LLC, Raw Garden holds 97 state cultivation licenses in Santa Barbara County. California’s central coast has emerged as the new hotbed of legal cannabis farming, and Raw Garden is the biggest grower there.
The company’s plan is to grow cannabis as more of an agricultural commodity without sacrificing quality. This means they’re looking at yield, and how much aid the plant needs to reach its potential. The control Raw Garden is able to have over each step in the process is second to none.
“We invested first and foremost in science and research as the laws started changing,” Al-Naser said. “We put our energy into getting some space outside to grow. We brought on a Ph.D. who’s focused on the breeding side.”
“We’ve been able to take decades of experience through family and industry partnerships we formed, to really create a dynamic farm,” Al-Naser said. “We are from the industry and we continue to grow with people from the industry.”
A Deeper Freeze for Purer Terps
As soon as the farm harvests, the product heads directly to a cryogenic chilling tunnel. The tunnel drops the temperature of the harvested buds at a speed that simply can’t be recreated by a traditional freezer truck. The plant material will remain at subzero temperatures until it’s processed.
Furthermore, each different strain is kept separate from other strains all the way through to the retail shelf. Unlike competitors’ blended distillates, each Raw Garden extract is strain-specific. That gives Raw Garden sauces some of the most diverse flavor ranges available. Flavors include the award-winning Italian Soda Live Resin, Rose Water Live Sauce, Orange Cookie Pie cartridge, and their Extreme Punch cartridge.
Secret to Sauce: Proprietary Purity
Raw Garden’s specialists believe the faster they freeze the harvested material, the better they can replicate that fresh-from-the-field aroma in their extracts.
From the beginning, one of the big difference-makers for Raw Garden has been the way they extract high-grade terpenes from the cannabis flower. Al-Naser believes other more common processes, like steam distillation, may degrade or change the flavor.
The Raw Garden Price
Growing high-quality cannabis at scale, then nailing down a high-grade extraction process, allows Raw Garden to compete on both quality and price. Their $40 grams of sauce best everything in their class, and often much more expensive stuff.
Some competitors might see a large-scale operator driving their profit margins down. Raw Garden sees happy patients getting clean, affordable, and excellent extracts.
“First and foremost we have to not focus on the idea of competing,” he replied, “The one thing we always make really clear is we want to see everyone succeed. It’s a huge open market, there is a lot of opportunity and potential.”
“I think some people, because of our success, might associate us with [Big Cannabis],” he said, “But I think they forget that the biggest gains came for us by staying true to that idea that was formed under [Proposition] 215.”
“Accessibility is really the whole thing. It’s not about us, it’s about making quality products that people can afford.”
Raw Garden 2019 and 2020
This season, Raw Garden is on pace to do the most seed planting they’ve ever done. Al-Naser cites that as a testament to the connectivity between the farming, production, and scientific arms of the operation. It’s hard to put a number on how many different flavors will make it to shelves, but Raw Garden’s lab has over 8,000 strains catalogued for possible production.
“That’s not all stabilized varieties,” Al-Naser said. “There are crosses, F1s, F3s. We expect to release an additional 30 sauce flavors this summer.”
Those flavors will revolve in as others revolve out.
As for the way they’ve been received by the masses over the years, “We’re always enthusiastic about any support people are willing to give us,” Al-Naser said, “We really appreciate it. We love to give people access to good medicine and anybody who appreciates that just adds fuel to the fire.”