The life of a farmer isn’t an easy one. It requires long hours and an incredible amount of resourcefulness when your day might include work as a horticulturist, mechanic, engineer, carpenter, electrician, veterinarian, accountant, manager and commodity trader, just to name a few of the tasks.
Einstein Labs co-owner Justin Roland might be a lifetime and thousands of miles away from the 640-acre family farm he grew up on, but the roots of a farmer’s life run deep and Roland credits much of his success in Alaska’s recreational marijuana industry to that work ethic.
“Everybody wants to know about my drive and where I got it from,” he said. “It came from the farm. Born and raised in southern Idaho.”
One of the first things Roland points out when giving a tour of the Einstein Labs facility, located in an industrial building near downtown Anchorage, is just how much he saved by doing as much of the construction work himself as he could.
“I built all the stairs, pretty much everything you see for the most part,” he said. “I poured 110 yards of concrete and footers myself in this building. I did a majority of everything. … I tried to do everything I could, and now we’ve got some really good sweat equity.”
Roland discovered marijuana at a young age. When his mom caught him swiping money to pay for it, he recalls that it wasn’t the stealing or even the marijuana that disappointed her the most.
“She was more disappointed in me because we are farmers and what the hell was I doing buying this when I can grow it?” he said.
After that, he started growing here and there, whenever he had some free time between school and farm work, developing a lifelong passion for cannabis and all things organic.
His personal taste eventually turned to cannabis concentrates in the search for something stronger, first in sifted kief and later into ethanol extraction. He eventually got a certificate degree in organic chemistry, which he says is the most valuable investment he’s made in a career of growing marijuana and producing concentrates.
Concentrating on concentrates
Today, Einstein Labs primarily works in marijuana concentrates, producing just about any form of concentrate — whether it be shatter, budder or decarboxylated oil — as well as distillate that goes into vape cartridges and edibles.
Those products have caught plenty of attention as potent, high-quality products and Roland has the awards, adorning multiple shelves throughout the facility, to prove it.
Roland might laugh when he describes himself as “a pot snob to the fullest,” but it’s not a joke. It’s a statement.
When he launched the business, he brought in more than 2,800 different marijuana strains, an effort that he said took a month just to catalog. He lights up when talking about aged marijuana strains and when touring the grow room, which is home to particularly pungent strains like his award-winning Tangie Chem or the venerable Arctic Blue, which was bred by grow room manager Dave Nyberg.
“The grow is my happy place,” he said. “I’ll sleep on the grow room floors a lot. I’m here all the time, so when I need to pass out and you can’t find me, I’m probably on the grow room floor. I’ll wake up to plants and it’s my Zen.”
The extraction lab is managed by Roland’s fiancee, Michele Moya, who brings the same kind of passion to the work in the lab. Everything, she said, is an effort to produce a clean and potent product for customers.
“We both love smoking, always have.
The whole point was to bring the absolute best quality product to anybody who’s legally allowed to do it,” she said.
In the lab, the extraction process for concentrates preserves much of the organic compounds — known as terpenes — from the marijuana plant, keeping the smell and entourage effects of the product intact.
The distillate that is used to make vape cartridges comes out of the process without any of those organic compounds and, as Moya explains, “smells like burnt buttholes.” To be palatable, you have to add some kind of flavoring compound. But where other companies might rely on synthetic flavorings, Einstein Labs extracts terpenes from fruit and other plants to flavor their cartridges.
Either process is highly controlled on everything from pressure to temperatures, and the work is never done.
“Literally anybody could be an extractor, but not everybody could be a really good extractor. It comes down to very, very fine details that you have to pay attention to on every run,” Moya said. “And they’re details that are easy to become complacent about.”
For much of Einstein Labs’ time on the market, the company had to buy cannabis from other cultivators. Typically that would come in the form of trim, which can have a lower concentration of THC that will result in lower yields of concentrates. Roland recalls that in those days they’d be running the machines in the lab 24/7 to keep up with demand.
In recent months, though, Roland has finally launched his in-house grow operation under the name Dream Green Farms. With in-house flower, they’ve seen their concentrate yields skyrocket. Where they were once going through as much as 800 pounds of trim in a month, they’re down to just a fraction of the bud.
With that has come a reduction in prices for their concentrates, and soon they’ll be able to bring the flower itself to market.
“I’m excited that I can get my strains out to consumers,” he said. “We are fighting for them. It’s all about them and the best, cleanest product we can give them.”
But just like his concentrate, Roland plans to have an exacting standard of what he’ll put out to consumers. Anything that doesn’t meet those standards will head right into the extraction machines for concentrates.
For Roland, one of the biggest challenges is keeping his passion alive and in line with the need to be efficient. He said to that end, it’s been all about finding other people with passion and putting them in places where that passion can thrive.
“The key in building a good team is putting the people where they love to be,” he said. “I got it off the ground, right? And now I just need to keep that vision going because now it’s about refining things on the backside because I need to be as efficient as I was passionate. … The minute you lose your passion, these guys feel it.”
Matt Buxton is a freelance writer in Anchorage. Comments about this story? Email editor@AlaskaCannabist.com.