MA: Greens Growers In Attleboro Branch Out To Marijuana

Photo Credit: Paul Connors

Ashley and John Irving are farmers.

But you won’t see them out working in a field.

They grow their crops, organic micro-greens, in pans neatly arranged on wooden racks, under special growing lights behind high brick walls wrapped around 15,000 square feet of floor space in an old factory at 81 West St. in Attleboro

The Irving call their indoor organic farm “2 Friends Farm” because it was founded when they were just friends more than five years ago.

Now married and living in Attleboro, they produce 20-25 varieties of micro-greens, which are ordinary vegetables, like celery, peas, broccoli, beets, chard and radish, but are harvested as sprouts.

Cut, packaged and sold after about two weeks of growth they’re valued because they’re high in nutrients and organic, Ashley Irving, 37, said.

The couple employs about 20 workers and sells to supermarkets and restaurants in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont and New York.

But now they want to use their farming skills for another crop — marijuana.

They plan to start with 12 varieties specifically geared to the medical marijuana market in a business to be known as The Leonard J. Irving Center.

They’re also planning to grow recreational marijuana at some point and aim to sell both recreational and medical in the retail market.

Both will be grown organically.

“It’s a natural transition for us,” John Irving, 48, said.

The recreational business will be divided and function under the names Ashli’s, Ashli’s Farm and Ashli’s Extracts.

The Irvings’ new farm will consist of an 80,000-square foot greenhouse at 70 Frank Mossberg Drive.

A retail shop will be located there as well.

Some special growing lights will be needed in the darker months, but the aim is to keep it organic and use the sun and soil to grow the marijuana “buds.”

“We’re trying to go the natural way,” Ashley Irving said.

The couple has submitted an application to the state for a medical marijuana permit.

They have not applied to the city council for the needed special permit, but intend to do so soon.

With recreational marijuana slated to hit the retail market for the first time this year in Massachusetts, some wonder what will happen to the medical market.

Ashley Irving said it’s too early to tell and that’s one of the reasons the couple wants to sell both.

“It’s really hard to say what’s going to happen. We assume medical patients will stay medical, but there is the chance they will go to the recreational side because they don’t need a prescription,” she said.

And there are certain advantages for medical users.

There’s no sales tax, for one, and that tax is steep.

At the state level, it’s 17 percent. Cities and towns can add another 3 percent.

Medical users, who must be 18, can get stronger doses in marijuana edibles.

They can get up to 10 mg of marijuana in edibles while the limit for recreational users is 5 mg, Ashley Irving said.

In addition, those with financial hardships can get discounts on medical marijuana.

Meanwhile, recreational users — who must be 21 — don’t have to pay yearly fees and don’t need to get re-certified as patients.

“If the medical patient population doesn’t grow as the recreational stores are opening, then I’m sure new medical shops will stop opening,” Ashley Irving said. “Medical patient numbers have been on a steady rise every month in Massachusetts, so only time will tell.”

The couple’s medical business is named in part after John’s late father, Leonard, who was interested in healthy living and had an entrepreneurial spirit.

“He’d be blown away by this,” John Irving said. “He’d definitely want to help.”

He said his dad would be as enthused as he and Ashley who are eager to get growing.

“We’ve been very passionate about getting rid of the prohibitions (on marijuana) so we’re really excited about getting into this industry,” Ashley Irving said. “We are so excited for the opportunity to not only grow the finest greens, but to grow the finest buds.”