By Beth Waterfall
Like apples and grass, cannabis has countless subspecies, otherwise known as “strains,” which determine a plant’s color, size, medicinal applications and other characteristics. Cannabis sativa plants, which are favored by patients and other consumers for their generally uplifting effects, tend to grow taller and take longer to grow to full maturation than most Cannabis indica and hybrid strains. The taller the plant, the more space a grower needs. And when growing indoors, lack of height can mean lack of ability to grow certain plants or achieve optimal harvest results.
When Mashpee’s Aja N. Atwood struggled to grow tall cannabis plants in her basement, she did what any mechanical engineer would do: She researched the problem and devised a plan to create a solution. Atwood is an entrepreneur and cannabis advocate with more than 15 years of experience in the engineering industry. She earned her degree in mechanical engineering from Northeastern University and worked as an engineering consultant and specialist in natural catastrophe risk engineering. By 2011 she started her first entrepreneurial businesses.
Today Atwood is CEO and cofounder of Bourne-based agritech startup Trella Technologies LLC, which creates solutions to problems unique to indoor farming in socially responsible and energy-efficient ways. Working with fellow inventor Andres “Dre” Chamorro III through various concepts and designs, Atwood developed a prototype of a device that trains tall plants to grow horizontally with minimal human oversight.
“Trella’s plant training device was created to be a sustainable indoor farming solution for a variety of tall plants, like cannabis, peppers and melons,” Atwood explained. “The first step on that journey was to change the landscape of indoor farming by diversifying what can be grown indoors.”
Throughout product development and Cannabiz building her team, Atwood simultaneously keeps her eye on the future with concerns that entrepreneurs in established industries generally don’t have. In order to further refine their plant training device to optimally grow cannabis, Trella will need a cultivation license issued by the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission (CCC).
“We need a space to grow cannabis safely and securely for product testing purposes,” Atwood said. However, based on the current licensing structure through the CCC, Trella will need a recreational cultivation license to facilitate their product development.
But two major roadblocks stand in the way of Trella being able to grow on Cape Cod: In addition to securing a license to cultivate through the CCC, Trella must acquire property in an approved zone, and obtain a community host agreement (CHA) from the town in which Trella would build their facility.
“It’s a challenge not unique to Trella,” Atwood added. “The bans and inadequate zoning – even for businesses with no intention to sell any marijuana – will make it difficult for any small business in the cannabis space to establish itself and create jobs on Cape Cod.”
Recently, Atwood testified at several planning board and town council meetings to help Barnstable town leaders and residents understand the implications that bans of marijuana business licenses could have on Cape Cod’s commerce hub. She encouraged town leaders to think of the future and how bans on licenses that businesses like hers need to operate would affect the economy and jobs on the Cape. “As a CEO, I have to think ahead and I have to make decisions,” Atwood said. “I ask myself where the best place is with the most likelihood of success for Trella to acquire land properly zoned for cannabis, so I can refine and bring my invention to market. When I look at the Cape’s current proposed zones and map, the real estate opportunities are minimal. Unfortunately, the likelihood of our business and the jobs we’re creating staying on Cape Cod is diminishing.”
Focused on the future
As Trella awaits completion of the curing and laboratory testing processes for the first cannabis plant harvested from their fourth prototype, they’ve replaced cannabis with a tomato plant to perfect the device for fruit-bearing plants. Atwood is also preparing for upcoming town meetings in Orleans and Eastham, which have yet to finalize their adult-use cannabis zoning. She also continues advocating for the cannabis industry and empowering other entrepreneurs and people of color to get involved, regardless of their professional or educational background.
“I couldn’t have envisioned that this is where my engineering degree would bring me,” Atwood said. “And I couldn’t be more proud or excited to apply it to the development of a device and company that can revolutionize how we grow not just cannabis but other plants and food.” Time—and the outcomes of upcoming town planning meetings across the region—will tell if this cannabis innovator will remain on the Cape. To learn more about Trella Technologies, visit https://trella.io
Cannabis Innovators: Aja N. Atwood
By Beth Waterfall