By Jonathan Katz
Shere McKay can rattle off dizzying list of homemade cannabis goods that you would expect to find at an established Michigan dispensary. Vegan cream cheese cookies, salad dressing, nougat (the top seller) and even smoked sausage. The products are her own creations—derived from the home grow that she and her husband Don operate in Otisville, Michigan, just outside Flint. They serve as caregivers under the business name McStickys and sell their products to their patients at a market hosted by a private club in the area.
Their journey as home growers is a familiar story. Shere McKay, battling a debilitating shoulder injury from a landscaping job, needed to find another way to treat her pain without relying on traditional prescription painkillers and sedatives. Both she and her husband were avid cannabis consumers for much of their adult lives and believed there had to be a better way. They had been smoking flower that friends were growing, but the quality just wasn’t there.
So, in 2017, they began growing their own cannabis and processing the flower into a variety of products, including edibles, wax and topicals. The business has become successful enough that Don McKay was able to quit his job in construction. Their path to prosperity is rooted partially in their previous cultivation experience and intuition.
Don McKay already had some previous home-growing experience and introduced his wife to the practice.
“He was like, ‘You love flowers; you’re a good landscaper – with the two of us I think we can make this happen,” Shere McKay said. “It took some serious encouraging, but he did encourage me and I did step in and start helping him out.”
They started in the basement and expanded with their first outdoor grow in 2020. This year, they plan to have 15 plants outdoors and approximately 30 plants indoors, with dedicated bloom and veg areas that occupy nearly half the basement.
The expansion would have been more challenging without an effective nutrient mix, Don McKay says. He realized early on that the quality issues he noticed from other growers were likely related to the supplements they were using.
“I used Foxfarm, and I could tell that’s what everybody today was using,” he says. “I didn’t like it. I didn’t like the buzz. I didn’t like what I was tasting. It was like all of the sudden my favorite thing was going away.”
He decided to take a less-conventional approach to growing. Instead of following the strategy of other local growers, he took a divergent path.
“When I went to the grocer and started growing myself, I steered away from what everybody else was doing, and that’s how I found Emerald Harvest,” Don McKay says.
At the time, Emerald Harvest, founded in 2015, was fairly new to the market. Even local suppliers seemed skeptical, according to Don McKay. “They would tell me, ‘You’re paying for the artwork.’”
Short Learning Curve
One of the key selling points for Don McKay was Emerald Harvest’s ease of use. The application chart was intuitive, leaving little opportunity for error. Shere McKay didn’t have as much experience with nutrient applications and was initially apprehensive about the process.
“I was totally discouraged from growing,” she says. “I didn’t want to get into the nutrients. I thought I would just mess things up. When I started, I watched Don for a week putting water together (with the nutrients). Once I was on my own, I realized anybody can do it. Emerald Harvest has it so anybody can become a very good grower and have quality products.”
They began with Emerald Harvest’s Grow, Micro, Bloom three-part nutrient line. The results were noticeable early on. The plants were bigger, the root system appeared healthier and the taste and smell was more satisfying, Don McKay says. The McKays grow their plants outdoors in fiber pots using a coconut husk and perlite medium. His peers at the growers’ market where they sell their products were impressed.
“I’ve had 70-year-old guys at that club who said ‘that’s the biggest pot plant I’ve ever seen in my life,’” Don McKay says.
The McKays now use the entire Emerald Harvest product line. Other growers in the Flint area are catching on as well.
“I can tell you this: Most of the growers who know me have all switched to Emerald Harvest,” Don McKay says. “Even if they haven’t switched 100 percent to Emerald Harvest, it’s definitely in their line now.”
The greatest challenge the McKays face now is figuring out how to keep pace with demand. “Once people have our products, it’s hard to keep them in stock,” Don McKay says.
Looking ahead, the McKays hope to move from registered caregivers to a licensed growers and expand their business into a commercial space. (In Michigan, it’s legal for caregivers to grow up to 12 marijuana plants per patient for up to five patients.)
For now, Don McKay has no intention of returning to the construction industry.
“I turned 40 this month, and I’m at the point in construction where they really need me, so it’s a good feeling to be able to tell them I’ll go back when I want to,” he says. “Not to say this is going to last forever because they’re going to shut the caregivers thing down eventually, but I’m hoping to gain traction enough to become a licensed, commercial grower.”