By Kate Barcellos
The Green Mountain State got a little greener on July 1, and one local entrepreneur has started a consultation business teaching others how to cultivate their very own cannabis gardens.
“It’s just a really good plant,” said Tom Morcombe, owner of Vermont Grow Coach LLC. “It has so many medicinal benefits. If you know how to grow it, you know what’s going into your own stuff. Otherwise, you don’t know what germy hands have touched it, what kind of environment it’s been grown in, whether pesticides have been used on it.
“You have your own bud, can choose to harvest at different times during the flowering phase to get different effects.”
Morcombe, a full-time billing specialist at Casella, said he first started setting up indoor growing systems for cannabis really close to home.
“I started as a caregiver for my mom,” Morcombe said. “She became a patient, wanted to learn how to grow, and didn’t know what she was doing. Fortunately, I did.”
Morcombe’s mother suffers from anxiety, arthritis and diabetes, which has resulted in the loss of her toes from gangrene and in turn resulted in arthritis of her toe joints.
To help with her pain, she got a medical marijuana card and enlisted the help of her son.
“Once she was up and ready, I wanted to move on to other patients, but you’re not allowed to be a caregiver for more than one person,” Morcombe said. “So I brought in four friends who enjoyed growing and wanted to do it legally. They opted to take on those medical patients.”
His small entourage of do-gooder gardeners started helping more patients set up their own indoor garden systems, and started brainstorming a business model in April of this past year.
By June, Morcombe had acquired an LLC, but his team got nervous and agreed only to help him if their names weren’t released.
“Even though cannabis is slowly losing its stigma, there’s still some there,” he said. “A good share of our customers don’t want anything to do with photos.”
The systems for indoor gardens are very similar in terms of major components, whether you’re growing cannabis or tomatoes, so Morcombe became a part-time indoor-garden consultant when he’s not spending time with his family and his three children.
His services include video consultations, at-home consultations, in-home nutrient regimen consults (basically, telling you what your plants need) and even installing an entire tent system.
He also serves as an in-home chef, teaching customers how to make edible cannabis items like cookies and infused butter. He also instructs clients on how to make concentrates like dabs, which can be 50-60 percent THC — the active hallucinogenic ingredient in marijuana — and offers instruction to turn cannabis into E-juice, which can be consumed using a vaping system.
Morcombe offers checkups on the new grow systems, and teaches cultivation techniques such as “low-stress training,” which gently bends the branches so more light can reach the flower buds on the top of the plant, resulting in larger buds.
What Morcombe doesn’t do is sell weed.
“I can come out and teach you how to grow it, but that’s just not what I do,” he said of selling the plant. “Part of that is because I don’t want to be known as a drug dealer. That’s not who I am. I want other people to learn how to grow it themselves.”
Morcombe now has 14 customers, six of whom he is seeing on a weekly or biweekly basis, and the other eight he sees for consultation by appointment.
“I think of it as an entourage system,” he said. “When all of the cannabinoids work together to provide you a better high if you want that, and a better medicinal effect if you’re using it as a medicine.”
Studies have shown cannabis and its compounds, such as CBD or cannabidiol, can be used to treat anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain, inflammation, seizures, insomnia, and stops shaking from Parkinson’s disease.
“I’ve been using (cannabis) for a long time, and my mom had cancer,” said Dove Sharp, 26, at a cannabis presentation Morcombe hosted on Friday at Grow Vermont, a indoor and outdoor growing supply store in Rutland. “I saw how it benefited her. She didn’t have to take opioid medications and could still drive and sleep.”
Though her mother has since passed away from cancer, Sharp uses cannabis to help treat her anxiety, depression and get a good night’s rest.
“It helps me be a productive member of society,” she said. “But the laws are really ambiguous right now…I hope the stigma changes, but I still don’t talk about it with people I’ve just met.”
Several others who attended the presentation were unwilling to give their names when talking about marijuana.
After Morcombe’s short presentation, as customers filtered in and out of the shop, they exchanged ideas about soil microbes, predatory insects that could be used instead of pesticides, recycled CO2 systems and automatic irrigation systems for home-grow use.
“A lot of customers ask us about how to grow it,” said Mike Steele, co-owner of Grow Vermont. “We don’t personally grow, but we’ve done research and built a knowledge base. We wanted to put customers together with Tom so they could learn something new.”
Morcombe is hopeful that cannabis cultivation will soon become more widespread.
“Someday, I want to see a bunch of small farmers,” Morcombe said. “Then, it gives the farmer more time to spend with these crops, care for them properly, as opposed to a 100-acre crop sprayed with pesticides.
“Especially in Vermont, people are going to craft weed like they craft beer. Give me the Long Trail or the Magic Hat of cannabis. Not the Budweiser.”