Andy Kong, founder of PNW Cultivar and Phyton Collective is a cannabis breeder and cultivator based in Washington State. His breeding projects include cuts like Passion Punch, Triple Double, Falcon Heavy, 206 Cookies, and PBJ Breath. Passionate about his craft and breeding genetics for both commercial and home growers, Andy takes a refreshing approach to the cannabis industry by operating PNW Cultivar as a not-for-profit organization with the goal of bringing the same heal he has felt from cannabis to others.
We sat down with Andy to talk about his cannabis journey, his breeding methods, and bringing PNW Cultivar genetics to Pennsylvania through his collaboration with Parea Biosciences.
Andy grew up in the Southside of Chicago as a first generation Korean American and a regular stoner kid. He told us his first time growing cannabis came by accident from chucking brick weed seeds out a window at his buddy’s house. When spring hit and the seeds started sprouting, he took a plant home to try and learn how to grow himself.
He laughed when looking back on his first grow experience and said that it never actually resulted in any bud, “I would grow in my little closet, and it grew really big, I just didn’t know how to flower it. So, I never got any bud. I would just chop it down and start over. I would get so frustrated, but I was way too scared to look anything up and get in trouble.”
Cannabis would remain a part of Andy’s teenage years after that, even with the heavy stigma it carried in his family, “I’m first generation being born in America and my parents did not think highly of cannabis, but I have always felt an amazing heal from it.”
After high school Andy went on to join the Marine Corps and quit growing and smoking weed during his service.
When he got out of the Marines and was living in California, he rediscovered his passion for cannabis and its healing power through some Jupiter OG from The House of OG in San Diego. He said he can still remember how beautiful that plant was but also the struggles of learning to grow properly, “it’s funny to think that I was in a state full of legal growers, and none of them were willing to share with me. Like a lot of cultivators, I had to learn the hard way, going through all the motions without really understanding why it works. I had to read and absorb a lot of bro-science to help me understand my plant better.”
As he continued to hone his craft, Andy’s journey took him to different farms through the changing tides of the industry in California. Like many cultivators, he experienced the ups and downs of working in cannabis until he stepped away and found refuge in the security of a job as an IT Consultant.
He said that while the trials of working in cannabis are a part of his story, he doesn’t like to reminisce too much on dealing with bad operators or black-market grows, “people don’t need to focus on that side of cannabis, it’s difficult where it came from. It was never easy for cannabis in the black market and now people are working hard in the industry to clean that up. I want to do my part to make it good for people and benefit society through cannabis.”
That was his vision when he moved from California to the Pacific Northwest in 2016 and had his passion for growing reignited. He began breeding his own genetics and launched PNW Cultivar as a not-for-profit cannabis company with the goal of helping others through the plant.
As PNW Cultivar grew, Andy consulted for different farms and maintained his job in IT before he received an opportunity in 2021 to work in cannabis full-time in Oklahoma. He accepted the job, looking to break away from what he called “the monotonous lifestyle of an IT guy...type away, click away, and explain what happened,” and made the move to work on a farm in Oklahoma.
Oklahoma has become notorious for being one of the most volatile and difficult medical marijuana markets in the country. Close to 6,000 license holders (in comparison to just under 30 in Pennsylvania) look to meet the needs of an estimated 369,000 patients (around 713,000 in PA) in a less than optimal climate for growing weed.
The numbers on how many of those licenses are active are still up in the air but according to some estimates there’s roughly 52 patients for every active cultivation license and 160 patients for every dispensary license. Struggles with supply far exceeding demand, high tax rates for a medical market (4.5% sales tax and 7% excise tax), massive price drops, and black and gray market farms infiltrating the legal space have resulted in a cutthroat program that Andy recently left behind after two years.
Speaking about his time in Oklahoma and his decision to leave he said, “it’s just so poisonous, it’s everybody at each other’s throat. I heard a lot of stories and saw how a lot of people were operating, and I just don’t care to associate myself with that.”
He has since headed back to the Pacific Northwest, but his time in Oklahoma didn’t come without any cost to his company. He lost some genetics that he’ll never recover and experienced firsthand how business fueled by bad intentions can start to kill anyone’s passion for the plant.
He’s now looking to reset and develop new breeding projects to showcase across different markets while continuing to work towards his original vision for PNW Cultivar.
One of PNW Cultivar’s biggest goals in breeding is to help change the idea that commercial weed is garbage. Andy said the objective has always been to breed genetics that are great for both commercial and home growers. In his mind it’s about creating strains that can be great for everybody, whether you are running 100 lights or three.
He looks for diversity in his genetics, trying to be as expansive as possible in searching for differing expressions of the plant. He said he always wants to see how much can go into the plant, “even at just a fraction of a percent of something it never had before.”
Like any reputable breeder he’s steadfast and thorough about testing his genetics to ensure stability, viability, and allow for the best experience possible in growing and consuming the strain for everyone.
Talk to Andy about the strains he has bred, and you will feel the personal touch behind his recipe. His methods have been developed through years of trial and error with the goal of figuring out how even the most minor adjustments impact the end experience for cultivating and consuming the plant.
He pulls inspiration from the study of all plants and living species, not just cannabis. You can scroll through his Instagram and find references to mycology (the study of fungi) next to thoughts on the importance of trichome size over density, “more trichomes do not equate to a more potent bud,” and the proper environmental conditions for a homegrow, “if you are a small scale homegrow, stop giving a crap about VPD [Vapor Pressure Differentials].”
Like a lot of cultivators, Andy remains passionate about sharing knowledge with the community and educating anyone who cares about the plant and wants to listen. He has a way of breaking down topics that can be over the head of the everyday cannabis consumer in a relatable and digestible way that makes for an inviting conversation. If you spend long enough talking cannabis with him, one thing you are guaranteed to hear about is how he feeds his plants.
Cannabis nutrients can be a hot button topic amongst cultivators. Get 50 different grow nerds together and you might hear 50 different ways of feeding the plant to get the most out of it.
And while there’s plenty of different ways to reach the end goal of growing great weed, find two of those cultivators who share steps in the recipe, and you’ll find two people on the same wavelength.
That’s exactly how Andy connected with Parea's Director of Cultivation, Patrick Sprout. The two were introduced by Nik Nokolayev, creator and founder of Rooted Leaf, a carbon-based fertilizer that is designed as a regenerative solution for sustainable agriculture.
Rooted Leaf’s nutrient line is chemically buffered with organic acids to eliminate the need of adjusting the pH of feed water and deliver more carbon in the root zone. The company takes a holistic and plant centric approach to engineering their fertilizers with the focus on mimicking nature to optimize long-term soil and plant health.
Andy first met Nik over Instagram. The two exchanged ideas about nitrogen-free cal-mag formulas before Nik challenged Andy to use his new product, CalMag Fuel.
“That cal-mag was a gamechanger for me. I try to avoid Nitrates as much as possible, that’s what gives my flower that hay smell. I met Nik on Instagram and we got into this whole talk about it before he told me he created it.”
Around the beginnings of Rooted Leaf, Patrick was also introduced to Nik. He was drawn to the ideas behind Nik’s nutrient line and started using Rooted Leaf in the garden at Storm Cannabis, where he was the Director of Cultivation from 2018-2021. Knowing Patrick is always on the hunt for new genetics to grow, Nik connected him with Andy. The two began bouncing ideas off each other about feeding styles and grow techniques, eventually realizing they shared a similar philosophy.
When Patrick left Oregon in December 2021 to be the Director of Cultivation at Parea, he asked Andy for a few of his best genetics from PNW Cultivar to add to Parea’s lineup and the cross-country collab was born.
Parea has now brought to life several PNW Cultivar genetics in their garden, including Triple Double, Suzie’s Pie, and Falcon Heavy.
Triple Double is Gary Payton and MAC 1 crossed with Glue Sniffer from Twenty20 Mendocino and it has quickly become a new KCRA favorite. The strain has a nice touch of gas and effects that can leave you feeling relaxed with a dialed in sense of focus.
Suzie’s Pie (named Suzie’s Punch in Pennsylvania) is a cross between Honey Whip and Passion Punch with a deeply personal tie to Andy. He developed the genetic for his aunt who passed away from Cancer to help patients with the symptoms of Chemotherapy. “I gave the Suzie’s Pie out to a lot of terminally ill veterans and cancer patients because I really believe that one was true medicine.”
The last strain available through the collab is the Falcon Heavy (named Apez on Skatez by Parea). The cross on Falcon Heavy is Exotic Genetic’s Apes in Space with Andy’s V12. Apes in Space is a Grease Monkey and Falcon 9 cross, while V12 is a cross of Mimosa and Andy’s original PNW Cultivar genetic, Passion Punch (Passionfruit x Gelato 33 x Black Cherry Punch).
PA patients can give some of Andy’s strains a try by checking out the Parea x Phyton Collective collab on select dispensary shelves across Pennsylvania now and follow Andy on Instagram @pnw.cultivar to keep up to date with his breeding projects and get some free grow knowledge.