When Fig Farms took first place at the 2017 NorCal Cannabis Cup, it was with the flowers from a single plant. That Banana Fig, a cross of Purple Fig with Banana Split, was exceptional enough to propel the company to what it has become today—one of the most well-respected and prolific creators of new kinds of cannabis. I would be remiss not to say upfront that the unique cultivars put out by Fig Farms rank among the most exquisite indoor pot I’ve ever smoked.
“Winning that cup was special to us,” Keith Healy tells me from an office within his Oakland, California grow facility. “It changed our lives. The next day we got offered this space.”
And the space, which Healy and his wife and business partner Chloe run together, is an incredibly impressive operation. Across from the large boardroom table where we are sitting is a fridge filled with 12 different kinds of cannabis pollen, and Chief Sales Officer Mike Doten is pulling large plastic bags of yet-to-be-released strain combinations for me to examine and smell. Fig Farms is not only a cannabis flower brand, it’s also the birthplace of new types of pot through its extensive breeding program.
“Every two-and-a-half, three months, we’re popping 500 seeds,” Keith says. “We try to pop about at least 50% ours and 50% somebody else’s. I think that the biggest hurdle is that we might find something that’s extremely special to us but doesn’t have the highest THC. Or we find things that are just so special like right now we’re dealing with like 20 plants where we can’t decide which one we’re going to put in the marketplace.”
Keith admits he has a hoarding problem when it comes to amassing cannabis genetics. The Fig Farms room for mother plants contains more than 300 different types of marijuana. When we walk inside this room while touring the facility, I don’t even initially spot a few people because they are hidden behind a wall of pot plants.
“One of [the phenotypes we grow] may be something that had a really high terpene profile of this one terpene, but the THC [percentage] wasn’t good,” Keith says in explanation of keeping so many mother plants around. “And so we’re waiting until we find the right male to pollinate that female.”
Big & Beautiful
You’ll know the Fig Farms flower when you see it. Instead of tight, dense buds, Fig Farm’s buds are often shaped like foxtails, frilly and elongated like a fox’s tail. While many growers see this irregular, slender, and taller bud shape as a flaw to correct, the Fig Farms brand values and promotes this shape. The foxtail buds make the Fig Farms flowers stand apart in a line-up of more typical cannabis nugs and provide a visual indication of the uniqueness of the cultivars.
“The cool thing about us is that we are unique and not afraid to be unique,” Keith says.
Stepping into one of the grow rooms at Fig Farms feels like entering a tropical paradise. It’s humid and hot, and the air is intensely perfumed with the scent of flowers.
“I think about it like if you were in Hawaii, a plant would express itself really differently than if you were in Northern California,” Keith says of the growing environment. “I want a plant to express everything that it has to show. I don’t want to suppress it and keep it really cold and have it just kind of tight and squeezed together. I’d rather have it be big and beautiful, and I think the aromas, the flavors, everything comes out more when you’re pushing out a plant in a Hawaii-style environment versus a very cold environment.”
A Treasure Map to Independence
Back around 2014, Keith was growing and selling strains like Gorilla Glue #4 and XJ-13 for two medical marijuana dispensaries, Harborside and the Berkeley Patients Group. Those dispensaries were receiving a lot of Gorilla Glue #4 from different growers, but Keith’s stood out. A dispensary employee encouraged him to start branding himself and popping seeds to sell more unique strains.
Keith got the breeding bug and began amassing a collection of cannabis genetics in a warehouse. When the DEA raided the neighbor’s warehouse, their landlord, who thought he would be doing them a favor, cut down all the plants and filled the space with tomatoes and vegetables. Then Keith and Chloe, eight months pregnant at the time, came upon a scavenger hunt note from their landlord instructing them to go to another location, where they received another scavenger hunt note with a treasure hunt map on it. The motivations behind the landlord’s odd method to let them know he had destroyed their plants is unclear.
“Before we know it, we’re at some water tower on a hiking trail that we’ve never been on in our lives and Chloe’s like, ‘Is he going to stab us?’ And I’m like, ‘No, this is going to be the best thing,’” Keith says of thinking he might be getting a unique clone cut. “And he comes up to me and he says, ‘I killed all your plants.’ And Chloe just started crying. I mean, these were things that we had been growing for five or 10 years. Things that we were holding on to that we couldn’t have [gotten] anywhere else.”
This devastating news started Fig Farms on a path towards creating its own types of cannabis and the discovery of its original cultivars, Purple Fig and Pink Fig.
Keith grew up in Southern California near Figueroa Mountain (located in Santa Barbara County), and when he was in high school, the best cannabis in his area was called “the fig.” In his beginnings as a cannabis breeder, one of his first creations reminded him so much of that taste and aroma profile he remembered that he decided to name the company Fig Farms.
Fig Farms started as a brand name in the medical marijuana marketplace in 2016 and has since expanded from California to Illinois. Initially based out of Sonoma County, when Keith and Chloe entered the Cannabis Cup in 2017, they had just had their second child and Keith wasn’t even sure he wanted to enter the competition because they were so busy raising a family. The cup was before California’s 2018 transition to an adult-use cannabis market, and when they did decide to go ahead and enter the Banana Fig, which has about 20% THC, the line to enter the cup was around the block.
“Everybody that had a little grow in their two-car garage had a cannabis business,” Keith explains. “[The Banana Fig] is a strain from yesteryear. It doesn’t test high enough to compete in the modern marketplace. It’s something we keep in the mom room to have it for the day where people aren’t so stuck on THC.”
The Fig Farms Cultivars
When it comes to looking for new types of cannabis to release, Keith says, “the weirder, the better.” He’s looking for strange and unique cannabis combinations that put Fig Farms in a different lane than other cannabis cultivators. At the same time, the team at Fig Farms also has fun showing people what they can do with extremely common strains, such as Gelato #41.
“We want to be super unique, but we also want to show what we can do with things that everybody already has,” Keith says.
Fig Farm’s Holy Moly! is one of the more unique strains it has created. On my day’s visit to the grow, Doten pulls some Holy Moly! out to show me. The buds are completely frosted over with trichomes and are such a dark purple amethyst color that they almost look blue.
“I think it’s got sort of a cognac smell. It smells like the inside of a Tootsie Roll pop a bit,” Doten says. “That is a cross of the Cannabis Cup-winning Banana Fig crossed to a male found in an Animal Mints pack from Seed Junky, and miss Chloe made that strain.”
Along with that Tootsie Pop center taste, the tasting notes on this strain include sour cherry and mole sauce.
Next, Doten brings out five different phenotypes of Gelato #41 crossed with LD95 (an I-95 and Legend Dog cross) and I get to play the game of choosing a strain by looking for things like color, structure, and smell. Each of the samples looks and smells incredible. It’s not an easy job.
Choosing which phenotype to develop and put on the market is serious work at Fig Farms. A sample of Orange Cookies crossed with Sherb Crasher bursts with a tangerine aroma so thick my mouth starts to water. All the cannabis I’ve seen in development is worthy of any cannabis connoisseur’s head stash, and the work to create new unique types of cannabis shows no signs of stopping.
“We still have the original Purple Fig from 2015 in our mom room,” Keith says, noting that selecting a strain ultimately comes down to its THC percentage and how it smokes. “Like a chef that doesn’t eat his food or a winemaker that doesn’t drink his wine, a breeder and popper that doesn’t smoke their pot, that’s a red flag.”