Michigan's Budding Cannabis Tourism: A Behind-The-Scenes Look

October 9th, 2023 Business & Industry
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Michigan, known for its picturesque lakes and robust automobile industry, is now witnessing a transformative phase in another sector - its marijuana industry. The green rush is on, and with it comes an era of transparency and education. Recreational marijuana ventures, spanning from open fields to boutique establishments, are increasingly inviting the curious and the enthusiastic to step behind the curtain. These tours provide a unique perspective, offering an intimate glimpse into the world of cannabis cultivation, processing, and more.

The Journey to Transparency

Historically, Michigan's marijuana sector has been somewhat of an enigma. Businesses, particularly those involved in cultivation, often opted for remote locales, away from prying eyes and shrouded by privacy barriers. However, as with most industries that transition from taboo to mainstream, the need for openness becomes paramount. Karen Kekelik, the visionary co-owner of Muskegon's IndiGrow, captures this sentiment perfectly. She opines that to truly dispel myths, it's crucial to showcase the seriousness and professionalism inherent in the cannabis business.

Decades have passed since the U.S. government's War on Drugs cast a shadow over marijuana, associating it with negativity and unprofessionalism. Kekelik, backed by personal experiences and strong convictions, believes it's time to rewrite this narrative. She and her partner, Steven, took a proactive stance. Mere months after IndiGrow's inauguration, they began offering tours, emphasizing the educational aspect of their venture.

Visitors to IndiGrow are immediately introduced to the meticulous standards maintained within the facility. Adorned in personal protective gear, including hairnets and shoe covers, they embark on a captivating journey. The tour, beginning with a unique air shower experience, takes guests through the various life stages of the cannabis plant. They witness its early growth, marvel at the flowering phase, and delve deep into the extraction processes that yield potent products.

Demystifying Cannabis: A Glimpse Inside

The world of cannabis is intricate and multifaceted, often guided by strict regulations to ensure product purity. Understandably, those within the industry are protective, prioritizing the sanctity of their operations. This commitment to quality and adherence to regulatory standards means that visitors are often draped in protective suits and hairnets, especially when exploring indoor grow rooms.

Yet, the genuine beauty of this industry lies in its ability to balance secrecy with openness. For leaders like Will Bowden, the CEO of Grasshopper Farms, there's more to these tours than mere business optics. Bowden, a stalwart advocate for transparency, firmly believes in demystifying the industry. "If clarity is the goal," he asserts, "open your doors wide and illuminate every corner."

Grasshopper Farms serves as a testament to Bowden's philosophy. After acquiring a sprawling 160-acre property and dedicating 40 acres to marijuana cultivation in 2020, Bowden took an unprecedented step. He extended an open invitation to local government representatives and neighboring residents to experience the farm first-hand. The underlying message was clear: transparency builds trust.

Inspired by the overwhelmingly positive feedback, Bowden embarked on an even more ambitious endeavor. He championed the cause of offering free tours to the broader public. His vision wasn't just about showcasing operations but fostering genuine human connections. He emphasized the importance of introducing the dedicated team behind Grasshopper Farms and shedding light on their day-to-day efforts. In Bowden's words, the objective isn't to alter perceptions or engage in debates about marijuana. Instead, it's about humanizing an industry and building bridges of understanding.

The Vineyard Blueprint: Beyond Just Tours

Cannabis tours, while rooted in education and transparency, also present a promising business proposition. Drawing parallels with the vineyard model, where wine aficionados are invited for tastings, cannabis ventures are discovering the dual benefit of these tours: brand promotion and potential revenue streams.

Will Bowden's Grasshopper Farms, though generous with its complimentary tours, envisions a broader, immersive experience for its visitors. Much like wineries that host restaurant staff for tastings, Bowden sees the value in forging direct relationships with potential retailers. He believes that a firsthand encounter with the farm can result in genuine brand endorsements. "Imagine a budtender narrating their personal experience at our farm while recommending our products," Bowden envisions.

Furthermore, Bowden is keen on capitalizing on the growing cannabis tourism trend. In the pipeline are plans to introduce an educational hub on the property, complete with a deck for panoramic views of the sprawling farm. The grand vision also includes transforming existing structures into Airbnb accommodations, offering guests a holistic "cannabis experience."

IndiGrow, on the other hand, offers a premium package. For $100, visitors not only get an extensive tour but also benefit from interactive Q&A sessions, personal protective equipment, and delightful goodies, including pre-rolled joints and branded apparel. Steven Kekelik, co-owner of IndiGrow, elucidates the underlying business rationale. The tours, he states, serve as a financial buffer, especially given the volatile nature of the cannabis market. Beyond direct revenue, there's also the potential of increased product sales, driven by the trust and familiarity built during these tours. "It's akin to the allure of buying fresh produce after a visit to a local farmers' market," Kekelik analogizes.

The appeal of these tours is undeniable, with visitors traveling from neighboring states and even international destinations. Feedback from these tours consistently highlights the educational value, passion, and sheer magnitude of the cannabis industry in Michigan.

The Future of Cannabis Tourism in Michigan

As cannabis tourism blossoms in Michigan, both enthusiasts and the uninitiated are drawn to these experiential tours. Their allure lies not just in the knowledge they impart but in the tangible connection they create between consumers and the source of their products.

Booking Your Own Cannabis Expedition

For those keen on embarking on this unique journey:

  • IndiGrow, Muskegon: Dive deep into the world of cannabis with their comprehensive experience priced at $100. The tour culminates with a handful of pre-rolled joints and a keepsake T-shirt. Bookings can be made directly on their website at IndiGrowMI.com, with slots available most Saturdays.

  • Grasshopper Farms: A sprawling testament to openness and transparency, Grasshopper Farms welcomes all with free tours. Those eager to experience it can sign up directly on their platform at GrasshopperFarms.com/michigan.

  • Winewood Organics, Ann Arbor: Catering to the niche audience, Winewood Organics offers bi-weekly tours at $30 each. With the next tour just around the corner, interested parties can secure their spot at WinewoodOrganics.com/microbusiness-tours.

Amid the tours, the feedback remains resoundingly positive. Steven Kekelik from IndiGrow fondly recalls a comment from an awestruck attendee: "The buds were frickin' huge!"

In conclusion, as Michigan's cannabis industry continues to thrive and evolve, these tours represent a pivotal intersection of education, transparency, and business. They not only demystify the world of cannabis but also spotlight the dedication, passion, and innovation driving this booming sector.

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