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Inspiring Conversations with Lesley Davis of Mountain Orchid

Today we’d like to introduce you to Lesley Davis.

Lesley, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
My name is Lesley Davis, and I own The Mountain Orchid. I am the Master Grower as well. I graduated from Miami University in Ohio with a Chemistry Education degree in 2001 and moved to Colorado right after. I am originally from St. Louis, MO. I grew up surrounded by orchids and greenhouses. My mom has an incredible green thumb and has taught me everything I know about plants. I have dreamt of living a life of horticulture, so being in the garden is my happy place.

I got my Colorado medical card in 2009 because I have an autoimmune deficiency called Raynaud’s Phenomenon. I became an early caregiver in the State and took on a few other patients’ plant counts along with my own. Cannabis acts as a vasodilator and can increase blood circulation. Raynaud causes the nerves in my hands and feet to seize restricting blood flow to my extremities. Cannabis causes those nerves to relax and promotes blood flow.

Once I realized these crucial benefits, I decided I wanted to grow my Cannabis so that I knew exactly what was being put into the plants. I am a very healthy person, so I was concerned about how others were growing my medicine. I also wanted to make sure my patients were receiving the purest form of Cannabis to help with their ailments as well.

I have always recognized the many health benefits of Cannabis throughout my life, but one of the strongest benefits it has given me to date was when I shattered my leg a few years ago skiing. I broke my tibia and fibula in 8 places and had surgery to reconstruct my leg using a metal rod and screws. I was on crutches for over 6 months. Right after surgery, they prescribed me oxycodone and other pain medications.

After about 12 days of heavy pain medication, I felt the meds were moving away from my injury, and I started to notice them affecting my dreams, moods, and emotions. Once I became aware of this transition, I immediately cut all pain medication and began supplementing with Cannabis. That was one of the best decisions of my life. I felt my body was in a much better position to heal without pounding it with medications.

One of the most difficult parts of healing was having to sleep in the same position all night. I would get restless and uncomfortable. I started using Cannabis edibles to help me relax and allow my body to get comfortable. They were a HUGE help for sleeping! I also used CBD tinctures and traditional smoking throughout my healing process as well. All of it helped keep my spirits high and my body relaxed. Both are extremely important when recovering from a major injury!

A couple of years later, we decided to switch from personal Cannabis cultivating to a slightly larger scale. It is important to us to maintain a size that allows us to cultivate craft Cannabis, so our facility consists of 2 bloom rooms with 20 lights each and 1 vegetative room consisting of 12 lights. We are a small operation. I enjoy our size because it allows me to personally connect with each plant and to be present in the garden as much as possible. We recently celebrated the 2nd anniversary of our first harvest. I am proud to say that the plants are the healthiest I’ve grown to date!

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
Opening a new business in April 2020, during the beginning of the pandemic, posed many difficulties. However, the most challenging aspect was figuring out how to run a new business for the first time. Every day I felt like I was creating a new wheel. We had to trial and error every step of the process. I had bartended for Keystone Resort for the prior 18 years before opening our new business, so opening a new business was all very new to me.

In the first year, I focused on creating standard operating procedures and dialing into the plant’s needs on a larger scale. Cultivating Cannabis has so many moving parts. I grew our entire grow from seed to avoid picking up pests and mildew from other gardens. Our cultivation facility is a brand-new building built for this purpose, so I wanted to keep it clean and safe.

Since I started from seed, I conducted a phenotype hunt to sort through the different strains and genetics until I found my absolute favorites! This was challenging in the beginning because there were so many varying types, it was difficult to choose between them and to isolate the unique differences within each strain. After 2 years of searching, I have finally selected my favorite phenotype in each strain. Since we do not share clones with anyone else, our top phenotypes are one of a kind to us!

After the first year, we started to get comfortable in the new larger gardens. I felt comfortable adjusting the gardens’ environment to satisfy the varying plant’s individual needs. I felt more comfortable with each process and the plants were responding positively! However, right when it felt like things were moving smoothly in the garden, the Cannabis Industry dropped drastically! The Cannabis market became extremely difficult to make sales, especially at the prices we require to maintain our boutique standards.

We decided that we wouldn’t stress over the lack of sales and instead made it our mission to grow the best Cannabis we could! Our small size has made it extremely difficult to compete with huge commercial and outdoor cultivation businesses. This has posed to be the biggest challenge to date. Purchasers expect the price of our wholesale flower to compete with these larger-scale operations, but that is both unrealistic and unsustainable.

I believe if the industry is not careful, they will push out all the small mom-and-pop operations and consumers will only have mass-produced options moving forward. We are fighting hard to keep that from happening. Our business only consists of a few people. We do all of the gardening, sales, finances, construction, marketing, and transferring of products. At The Mountain Orchid, we believe in growing the purest and healthiest plants and in return believe that they provide us with the most quality Cannabis available.

We prefer a nice bottle of wine over a box of wine, a craft beer instead of a case of low-end beer, and most importantly Cannabis that was grown with hands-on love and care versus mass-produced flowers. Fortunately, the market has taken a turn for the better for us, but this still poses to be our biggest obstacle.

Many of the outlets where we sell our wholesale flower have commented that the consumer is taking note of small operations and requesting flower that is grown in a smaller scale business with more focus on the plants’ health and individual care. As a result, we have been able to maintain higher pricing, therefore allowing us to give love and care to the plants that we believe are so important!

The market and large-scale competition are still challenging, but we are trying to produce the highest quality Cannabis and hoping that those out there realize the difference between these two very different products and request boutique Cannabis at their local outlets. If the consumer makes a point in researching Cannabis that is grown with the utmost care, hopefully, the dispensaries will see the worth in paying a little more for higher-end flowers and keep businesses like ours active.

As you know, we’re big fans of Mountain Orchid. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about the brand?
The Mountain Orchid is a small, boutique cannabis cultivation facility located in Montezuma, CO, Summit County (5 miles South of Keystone Ski Resort). We are an extremely small business consisting of me, my husband, and our great friend of 20 years. All three of us have lived in Montezuma for the past few decades.   We are one of the highest cannabis cultivation facilities in the country (and possibly the World). Our facility is brand new and built with the purpose to be a cannabis cultivation facility. We are located just below the continental divide at 10,500′, so we have access to the purest water, freshest air, and highest quality elements to provide our plants. We model our facility after a scientific lab by demanding strict cleanliness and attention to detail.

Our goal at The Mountain Orchid is to produce the cleanest, purest flowers and concentrates possible for those to enjoy and benefit from. Our cold temperatures help prevent pests and eliminate air conditioners. We also believe there is much more involved in raising a healthy plant than just soil, water, and light. We focus on all aspects of growth including the Lunar Cycle, Crystal Energy, Astrology, Ayurvedic Chants, and Positive Vibrations. We connect with our plants on multiple levels, and we strive to create the perfect energetic atmosphere to promote optimal plant growth. Therefore, creating Cannabis that offers the highest level of medicinal benefits possible.

We pride ourselves in being a boutique, high-end grow that can give special treatment to each individual plant with constant hands-on love and care.

Something that many don’t know, but I am also the Mayor of the Town of Montezuma. Our town has a population of around 75 year-round residents, not to count the abundance of wildlife surrounding us as well. I moved to the Town of Montezuma 20 years ago when I was 22 years old. I had always loved horticulture and thought growing Cannabis would be an amazing experience. However, at that time our Town was being run by a small group of older, conservative residents. Medical Cannabis had just become legal in Colorado when I moved to Montezuma, but it was still very taboo. I realized that the only way our Town was going to accept this new State industry was if our Town government experienced major changes.

I started speaking to neighbors about this needed change, and it turned out that many agreed with me, and that those in charge of our Town at the time, were actually in the minority with their antiquated thoughts surrounding Cannabis. The majority of our Town residents agreed that Cannabis has multiple benefits and that they would like to see our Town take advantage of this new legal industry.

This encouraged me to create a political party called 365, and I started to rally support for change in the Town of Montezuma. Our main goal was to create a strong, happy community that I like to call “Zumtopia.” We believe our Town residents should be allowed to follow State Laws concerning Cannabis, and that our Town did not need to add any extra regulations. In 2014, I was elected Mayor of Montezuma.

One month into my mayor position, I sat down and created a list of all the entities and people to that I needed to reach out and introduce myself to. Fast forward to that afternoon, and I was sitting in an emergency tent with a dry-erase board with all those names under my name (be careful what you manifest). It was early summer, and we had a major spring runoff causing the only road in and out of our Town to be destroyed. Since I was Mayor, I was evacuated to meet with the emergency teams, and then sent back into Town on foot with a radio to be the liaison between our community and the emergency officials. Needless to say I got thrown into the deep end and learned how to swim as Mayor quickly.

Today, I am happy to say it feels like we live in Zumtopia! The Town Board is in full support of this amazing new industry and our community has never been stronger. Montezuma is located above 10,000 feet, so we are one the highest incorporated Town in the United States, so technically, I am the highest Mayor in the country…

Another thing that makes our brand stand out is that we have professional musicians name each Harvest Batch. In 2020 when almost all live music was on a hold due to the pandemic, we had our good friend, musician Keller Williams, surprise our crew while they were gardening. He played a private 2 hour concert for the 6 of us! It was amazing! Keller named our first harvest LOVESONG.

The next harvests:

Chris Pandolfi (banjo player from The Infamous Stringdusters) named FLAGSHIP, Andy and Cecelia Thorn (banjo player from Leftover Salmon) named BEAR JERR’S BLEND, Andy Hall (dobro player from The Infamous Stringdusters) named his harvest AMBIENCE. Dave Watts (drummer from The Motet) hosted the next harvest and named it: KATHARSIS. Mark Levy (drummer from Circles Around the Sun) named his harvest: SMILES AROUND the SUN. Paul Hoffman (Greensky Bluegrass Mandolin player) named his harvest: LA BUENA VIDA. We just cut down a harvest and dedicated it to Jeremy Garrett (Fiddle player for The Infamous Stringdusters), and he named his harvest: ORACLE! The harvest that is currently growing has our first female Harvest Host: Maddy O’Neal (Female producer and DJ)! She named her harvest after one of her favorite tracks called AFTERGLOW.

These musicians have been a huge help in spreading the good word about our business. Plus, they are fun friends to dedicate harvests to because I can share their music with our followers and have them come play in the garden for our plants and team!

A few other fun tidbits about me and our grow:
Three of our strains, Scoops of Chem, Orange Cookie Chem, and Doobiebird Daydream have been featured in Grow Magazine. We are very excited! The features are coming out great!
Grow Magazine also did a full walk-through piece on The Mountain Orchid and myself. I’m very happy with the final product!

I was interviewed on a Woman’s Cannabis podcast called Journals with Jane by Palmer Jane. I was on the GrowSpeak podcast as well and had a ton of fun talking about our Cannabis garden. Both podcasts are published on Spotify if you want to give them a listen.

We have a publication on everythingbuttheplant:

We pride ourselves at The Mountain Orchid on growing the cleanest, healthiest plants possible, therefore producing the highest quality Cannabis which provides the best medicinal properties available to those in need. We believe in focusing our energy on cultivating premium Cannabis so that others can have access to hands-on, clean, high-end wholesale Cannabis products. We hope that consumers in Colorado notice the difference in our customized flowers versus mass-produced plants and seek out a finer product and are willing to pay more for the constant hands-on love we provide our gardens here at The Mountain Orchid.

Before we let you go, we’ve got to ask if you have any advice for those who are just starting.
I would love to remind all new business owners to make sure they continue to focus on their health and not just the business. It is very easy to forget about yourself and only focus on the projects and business, but in the long run that will not help productivity or promote a successful business. I have had to learn this lesson repeatedly, but I am trying hard to make sure to create time for my health. I have found that Yoga and meditation are hugely beneficial.

They are wonderful tools to keep yourself mentally, emotionally, and physically healthy. All of which are extremely important in running a successful business. I also make sure to create time to be outside and with family. We are surrounded by National Forests, so I make time to hike, snowshoe, ski, and take the dog out on frequent walks. All of these activities make me a stronger business owner and an all-around healthier person. So, make sure to put yourself and your health first, then the rest will benefit from it in the long term.

Also, to stay positive. There are a lot of ups and downs with starting a new business, but a positive mindset can go a long way. When things get tough, instead of getting discouraged, I try to lift myself and focus on the good aspects of the business. Things can change quickly, so instead of being down on yourself, try to figure out areas that can use improvement and keep your eye on the long-term prize.

Starting my own business has allowed me to work on managing stress in my life and avoid becoming too overwhelmed. If you let the stress and overwhelming feelings take over, your quality of life begins to slip. Life and health are too important to sacrifice for a new business, so it truly takes an active approach to maintain your health and run a successful business. Find what makes you happy, and make sure to continue to give it attention even when you are at your busiest with your new business.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Sarah Noonan Studio, Kiva/Katie Girtman, and Nick Johnson (@stickylens420)

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