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Drew Nowak: We Treat Our Plants Like Professional Athletes

How a professional football career prepared him for the competitive Michigan cannabis market.

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This week, Drew Nowak, founder of Freedom Green, joins the Cannabis Equipment News podcast to discuss how his NFL career prepared him for the competitive Michigan cannabis market. 

Before Drew Nowak started his cannabis career, he was a professional athlete, playing in the NFL for nearly five seasons. Nowak spent time as a lineman with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Seattle Seahawks and Kansas City Chiefs. 

When Nowak retired, he was looking for a challenge that scratched his competitive itch, something that would make him wake up every day hungry to get to work. First, he went back to college and earned his engineering degree. He landed a job in the steel manufacturing industry but found himself wanting more. 

One day, Nowak was speaking with a friend when the up-and-coming Michigan cannabis market came up. Nowak wanted to jump right in, but his father, a business owner and Nowak's mentor, stressed the importance of steeling himself against the lure of the green rush and establishing a foundation upon which to build. His father said doing things right was more important than doing things first. So, Nowak set upon a 2.5-year process, talking to consultants, looking at facilities and creating a game plan. 

Nowak founded Freedom Green in Kalkaska, Michigan, to grow high-quality medical and recreational cannabis. He runs his business like a team. Over time, he has changed a lot of processes, but he has brought in the right people by asking four straightforward questions: 

  • Do you have a positive attitude?
  • Do you have a willingness to work?
  • Can you be a part of a team?
  • Can I rely on you?

While his company is the team, Nowak says his plants are treated like professional athletes. The plants need to drink right, eat right and sleep right if Freedom is going to get the most out of every cycle. 

Freedom has 1,600 square feet of canopy and harvests 35 to 36 times yearly. The company harvests about 500 pounds every month. But it has been a learning curve for Nowak. For example, he initially watered his crop based on gut feeling, but he's gotten smarter with a Growlink system and a moisture meter in every pot. Nowak also focuses on process improvement to maximize production—when he first started, Freedom was only harvesting 31 times each year. Adding five additional harvests has led to a tremendous increase in revenue. 

Nowak describes his company as "blue-collar cannabis." We're "just regular people growing weed," he says. Still, he's trying to grow craft cannabis at scale, including hand trimming all flower, because he believes that the look of the flower matters. Sustainability is also important to Nowak, which is why he recently installed a water reclamation system that reuses 1,000 gallons of water everyday. 

Unlike some competitors, Nowak's eyes don't stray beyond cultivation. While some of his competitors pursue vertical integration, he says his narrow focus will help make sure he produces a premium product in a cannabis industry he describes as the most competitive market today. 

Jump around: 

  • Starting the business slowly. (2:36)
  • How cannabis scratches his competitive itch. (3:22)
  • Using smart irrigation technology. (5:36)
  • Blue-collar cannabis. (7:23)
  • Successful employee retention tactics. (10:15)
  • Growing craft cannabis at scale. (11:24)
  • The equipment he couldn't live without. (15:26)
  • The current state of the Michigan cannabis market. (18:03)
  • A narrow focus on producing a premium product. (20:03)
  • Why he moved to a four-day workweek. (29:05)

Please make sure to like, subscribe and share the podcast. You could also help us out by giving the podcast a positive review. Finally, to email the podcast or suggest a potential guest, you can reach David Mantey at [email protected].

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