By Jon Johnson
BONITA – Bayacan, LLC, has refiled a rezoning application to change a greenhouse (Site 6) at NatureSweet’s tomato-growing facility from General Land Use Certification to Unlimited Manufacturing to allow it to grow medical-grade cannabis.
While the refiling may sound onerous, what it really breaks down to is that they want to grow cannabis plants where tomato plants previously grew, essentially trading one plant for another in an agricultural community surrounded by other farms. Cannabis is legal in Arizona for both recreational and medical use, and Safford currently has one dispensary in operation that sells both. A second license has been granted by the state for the Safford area to sell recreational cannabis, and two licenses have also been granted to Clifton in Greenlee County.
The Graham County Chamber of Commerce Governing Board unanimously supports the rezoning, and a letter of support can be signed here. To learn more about Bayacan and its proposed operation, click here.
The property – located near S. Brookerson Road and Ash Creek Road in Bonita near the county line with Cochise County – is in a mostly agricultural area, and will utilize one of NatureSweet’s existing greenhouses that formerly grew tomatoes by essentially just switching to grow cannabis hydroponically. Bayacan plans to purchase the greenhouse from NatureSweet if it is allowed to grow cannabis.
While NatureSweet’s property encompasses about 479 acres, the application is only for 238 acres and would allow for the company to utilize a second greenhouse (Site 5) in the future. For its part, NatureSweet has informed its workers and the public that if the rezoning fails and Bayacan does not purchase the greenhouse, NatureSweet will cease operations, costing the county and various schools hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax revenue.
Bayacan previous rezoning application did not receive a favorable recommendation from the Graham County Planning and Zoning Commission and Bayacan ultimately withdrew its application during a Graham County Board of Supervisors meeting in which various neighbors spoke out about the proposed change from growing tomatoes to cannabis.
One of those against the zoning change is the family that operates the Fleming Thoroughbred Farm located roughly 300 acres west of the proposed site. The horse farm operation began its operation 13 years after the initial greenhouses were constructed for what was then owned by EuroFresh. By 2005, when the Flemings’ operation moved in, EuroFresh had grown to operate 318 acres of greenhouse space and had 1,200 employees at the peak of operations. That same year, it was sold to Bank of America Capital and was later purchased by NatureSweet in 2013 after undergoing bankruptcy.
NatureSweet previously sold off its greenhouse space in the Snowflake area to a group that grows medical marijuana, and if allowed to sell Site 6 to Bayacan has advised that it would continue operations and create a research and development facility for its tomato operations.
According to Bayacan, its proposed grow facility would use less water than other agricultural crops since it will be grown hydroponically in a protected climate, using a closed-loop water system that prevents loss of water and fertilizers. Each plant will be fed via a drip system and any remaining water will be disinfected and recycled to use again.
Previously, neighbors cited increased traffic for the facility as a concern, however, Byacan advises that the traffic will be consistent with the historical levels of the existing greenhouses, which used to have many more employees during higher production years. Additionally, all of the cannabis crops will be harvested and then shipped from the greenhouse in cargo vans and small delivery trucks. The proposed facility will also have heightened security, including round-the-clock surveillance cameras as required by the state. There will be no processing of the cannabis at the NatureSweet greenhouse site.
Another concern was the possible smell from the facility, however, since the cannabis will be grown entirely inside the greenhouse, Bayacan advises that there will be no impact on air quality as it is grown in the controlled environment.
The rezoning application will be before the Graham County Planning and Zoning Commission on Wednesday, June 16, and will then be up for a vote before the Graham County Board of Supervisors on Monday, June 21. The P+Z and BOS previously approved a cannabis growing operation for the Eden area, which has begun to move forward with hiring and construction.