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Sweet Dirt’s husband and wife duo raise the bar for sustainable cannabis

Hughes Pope wasn’t satisfied with the marijuana he could buy in Maine, so he set out to grow his own organic plants in living soil. 

Pope figured that if people appreciate organic produce found at farmers markets, they’d also like organically grown cannabis, so he and his wife, Kristin, started Sweet Dirt in 2015 with the goal of satisfying that demand.

Before starting Sweet Dirt, Hughes Pope worked in cannabis and other areas of horticulture ranging from hydrangeas to blueberries. Kristin Pope was an herbalist, doula and yoga instructor.

“I got into this because I wanted to have something that was hard to get,” Hughes Pope said. “It’s always been difficult to find really kind herb, really nice weed. I always had to pay a lot of money for it, and I just got tired of not being able to find what I wanted.”

Pope started collecting genetics and experimenting with different combinations in the cultivation process. 

“The majority of what’s on the market is old with a new name,” Pope said. “I find that to be really confusing. What I’ve done through the years is gotten to know a lot of the breeders who are preserving the genetics and revamping them…We’re giving people more cannabis for their money because of the way we’re cultivating these plants.”

Sweet Dirt, which opened its original storefront selling medical marijuana near the end of 2018, was the first company in Maine to garner the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners  (MOFGA) Association Certified Clean Cannabis (MC3) designation for adult-use cannabis. MOFGA’s MC3 seal certifies cannabis cultivators that farm using organic methods. 

To achieve certification, growers must meet strict requirements proving the purity of ingredients and ensuring no synthetic pesticides, irradiation or other unnatural forms of pest control, sterilization, or preservation are used. 

Sweet Dirt’s packaging reflects the company’s commitment to sustainability. In Maine, only exit bags, edibles, and topicals are required to be packaged in child-resistant packaging, but where possible, Sweet Dirt looks for packaging across categories that is beautiful and functional while ensuring the safety of children and pets.

The company’s exit bags, which are verified child-resistant, are made of plant-based raw materials in a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified factory powered by wind and other renewable energies. Sweet Dirt’s flower bags are made of flexible packaging that reduces waste, energy use, and greenhouse gas emissions. The resealable bags, which support extended flower shelf life, are made with films that can be recycled wherever polyethylene film recycling is available. Concentrates are packaged in child- and shatter-resistant glass jars with recyclable closures. The boxes are made using certified wind power and include foil stamping that is solvent-free and can be recycled.

In early 2019, Sweet Dirt began raising capital to acquire and build out additional cultivation, extraction, manufacturing, and retail facilities in preparation for Maine’s adult-use market. Since then, the company has grown to more than 130 employees, and opened two more adult-use retail stores–with two more expected to open this summer. 

“We’re creating beautiful stores and creating a community—we put people first,” said Jessica Oliver, Sweet Dirt’s chief of operations. “The retail cap in Maine has been lifted, so we’re looking for municipalities that want to opt in.”

Sweet Dirt also is looking at opportunities to expand throughout New England.

In March, Sweet Dirt amended its lease with Power REIT, which will enable it to fund additional capital improvements to its 48,000-square-foot greenhouse. Power REIT is providing $3.5 million that will be used to install a Combined Heat and Powersystem—electricity and thermal energy from a single source. The energy system will generate its own electricity to recover the heat as a byproduct of electricity production and then use the captured heat as a source of energy.

By growing cannabis organically and using eco-friendly cultivation methods and sustainable packaging, Sweet Dirt is giving its customers the clean cannabis they’ve come to expect from the company. 

“We have a passion for the plant and put a lot of love into the product we produce,” Oliver said.

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