SPRINGFIELD — Craig Cunningham always wanted to be a farmer.
„I never knew it would be this type of indoor farming,” he said.
Cunningham worked the past eight years for the Kellogg Co. as a senior business intelligence analyst. During that time, he was also a licensed medical marijuana caregiver.
This summer, the Athens, Michigan native left his corporate job to help launch Munchy Farms LLC, a licensed Class A medical cannabis grower. It is currently the only marijuana facility in the city of Springfield.
„I started to look at this and was like, 'It’s a bunch of stoners doing this,'” Cunningham said of the cannabis farming industry. „I actually have (consumer packaged goods) experience. I started looking at it from that angle and realized it’s a cash cow. If you do everything right, follow the laws, stick to it, I think you can really do something with it.”
Munchy Farms has 204 plants in its „veg room,” set to harvest in November. The entire crop has already been sold to a Class C licensed medical cannabis facility in Lansing.
According to the Michigan Marijuana Regulatory Agency, there are 40 active Class A licensed medical facility operators in the state, which allow for up to 500 plants. There are five Class B operators (up to 1,000 plants) and 210 Class C (up to 1,500 plants).
Cunningham said the decision to change career paths didn’t come lightly, but it’s paying off.
„It was like jumping off that cliff and taking a leap of faith,” Cunningham said. „It’s a dream come true. To think four months ago, I was still sitting in a cubicle, coming here every night and weekends. Now to be here every day doing this, it doesn’t feel like work.”
Planting the seeds
Paul Brunt of Hastings owns the 10,000-square-foot Munchy Farms property, located in the northwest corner of Springfield. He has a Pepperidge Farm distributorship and, along with his wife, Colleen, owns three printing shops in the region.
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Brunt, who has known Cunningham for roughly 10 years as members of Blue Moon Fitness in Battle Creek, said he was first approached by his workout buddy two years ago about converting the space into a commercial pot farm.
„I have never been a pot smoker or anything,” Brunt said. „I am in it to make money, I ain’t lying to you.”
Brunt brought in a silent partner, which helped the group secure enough capital to launch the operation in July. They intend to expand and potentially open a medical dispensary as part of Munchy Farms.
„We have a three-to-five year vision where, if this works out, we’re going to be a lot bigger,” Brunt said. „We’re trying to position ourselves so we’re not going to be in huge debt, so when the price goes down, we’ll be fine. We are trying to position ourselves so we don’t get in over our head. A lot of people fail by getting in way over their head.”
Springfield previously allowed medical dispensaries, but those facilities were raided in 2013 after state police alleged they were operating illegally. The city opted out of recreational marijuana businesses in 2019, but opted in for the Medical Marijuana Facilities and Licensing Act.
Under the MMFLA, medical marijuana has a 6% percent sales tax and 3% excise tax. Of the sales tax revenue, 10% goes back to local governments. Of the revenue generated from the excise tax, 25% goes to municipalities where facilities are located, 30% to counties where facilities are located and 5% to county sheriffs in counties where facilities are located. Municipalities also are allowed to charge each applicant an annual application fee of up to $5,000.
„We took a look at it and at least the majority decided to opt out of recreational for the time being, but allow medical marijuana, so we set up a couple of different districts,” said Springfield Councilmember Art Hollingsworth. „I’m only speaking for myself, the size of the city and the areas that are available, I don’t anticipate any expansion of the (medical cannabis) district. Things are very limited in Springfield as far as where that would be appropriate. It’s limited, in my option, by the size of the city.”
Springfield has imposed a cap of five licenses each for growers (Class A, B and C), processors, provisioning centers, safety and compliance facilities and secure transporters.
Munchy Farms doesn’t want to disclose its location out of security concerns. Because cannabis remains federally illegal, banks have generally been reluctant to work with the industry, making most cannabis businesses cash only operations.
Cunningham personally installed 22 security cameras on the property, which he said saved the company $30,000. It’s one of a number of state-of-the-art features at the facility, which includes a climate-controlled dry room and packaging room, a quarantine room for testing, a flower room and a veg room.
Munchy Farms is in the process of hiring, and Cunningham said he envisioned having as many as 15 full-time employees once it is fully operational and harvesting every 10 to 15 days.
The company is permitted to sell flower, trim and kief (hash) for medicinal purposes.
„Our phone is ringing off the hook. From dispensaries, from people who want trim to make oils,” Cunningham said. „Our focus is on quality. People that we know personally are going to be buying this, and I don’t want them eating or inhaling anything that is going to be bad for them. I don’t want them to feel ripped off either.”
Brunt and Cunningham credited their silent partner for coming up with the Munchy Farm name. The group commissioned an artist to design the logo, complete with a cartoon mule as a mascot.
„We’ll make pre-rolls and we’re going to call them mule kicks because they will be super strong,” Cunningham. „He’s 'Munchy the Mule' – kind of like 'Tony the Tiger.'”
Nick Buckley can be reached at email@example.com or 269-966-0652. Follow him on Twitter:@NickJBuckley