By Diana Hutchison
Copperstate Farms LLC, local medical marijuana grower, has been open in Snowflake for less than 18 months but has already met some major goals and become a significant asset to the community.
Fife Symington IV, manager and founder of Copperstate Farms, attended the monthly Snowflake Town Council meeting on Feb. 6 to provide an update on the status of the facility. “I am pleased to be here tonight and have tried my hardest to accomplish all the goals that I set out for myself and meet all the promises that I laid out to this council,” said Symington.
Initially, Copperstate promised to employ 130 people starting at $15 per hour and also provide insurance benefits. To date there are approximately 190 full time employees at Copperstate. By March that number will swell to approximately 230 full time greenhouse employees. Almost all of those employees are local residents. The company has only relocated less than 10 employees of that 190 to this area, with the remaining being from the White Mountain region.
As Copperstate adds more workers and receives price breaks on insurance benefits, they are not pocketing those savings but using that to provide increased benefits to the employees. Symington said, “I have been delighted with the number of people who have applied for jobs and the attitudes that they bring to the table and the work ethic has been phenomenal.” Copperstate has become the largest non-governmental employer within the community and is making a conscious effort to support the local economy and small businesses. As they retrofit the facilities that used to be the Eurofresh tomato farm, they have used local contractors and suppliers whenever possible. They regularly provide meals to treat employees and have made a point to use local food trucks and restaurants to cater those functions. Council member Allison Perkins said to Symington, “I just want to thank you for being a great business owner and doing everything you promised.”
To further cement their status as a valuable asset to this community, they have supported many local charities and events in the area. During the holidays Copperstate participated in various food drives and they were a main sponsor for the 2017 Navajo County Fair.
“We really want to be supportive of this community and give back wherever we can,” said Symington. Not only have they helped with local charities, but last year they also generously donated $63,500 to the town to purchase the approximately 6.35 acres needed along the mid-section of the industrial park to help with the Northern Solution flood control project.
Copperstate has also been active at the state legislative level. They have led the charge to try to create a new law for mandatory product testing and childproof packaging within the medical marijuana industry. Testing standards were previously written into Arizona Proposition 205, the 2016 ballot measure that would have legalized marijuana for adults 21 and older, but voters rejected that measure. The defeat of Prop 205 meant that any safety standards by Arizona medical-marijuana dispensaries would continue to be self-imposed. Copperstate has a strong desire to professionalize the industry. They already participate in product testing through an independent laboratory but law does not require that.
Vice Mayor Kerry Ballard did want to address the concern of the odor that emits from the greenhouses on occasion. In response, Symington indicated that up until two weeks ago they were in temporary processing rooms that did not have ventilation filtration systems. They recently got approval from the state on their newly built processing facility and that facility has a full high-efficiency particulate absorber (HEPA) filtration system that should alleviate any odors. Copperstate is also working on an additional perimeter filtration system that will convert any odors to a floral scented odor similar to systems used at landfills.
Copperstate came to town and was met with uncertainty and even opposition but has quickly become beneficial to the community in a variety of ways.