Houweling’s Tomatoes is closing its 125-acre Camarillo greenhouse and selling the facility to a cannabis grower — a deal made possible by a Ventura County ballot measure last year that was sponsored and supported by a company affiliated with Houweling’s.
Houweling’s, an indoor tomato and cucumber grower that has been in the Camarillo area since 1996, will lay off 486 employees and cease operations at the facility by the end of September, according to a notice filed with the state of California and county of Ventura in June.
The layoffs will begin Aug. 8, Houweling’s said in its letter to the state and county. California’s Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, or WARN, requires companies to notify state and local governments of plant closures and mass layoffs.
Representatives of Houweling’s Tomatoes, including proprietor Casey Houweling, did not respond to requests for comment.
The company’s WARN filing states the facility will be sold to a new owner. That buyer is Glass House Brands, a Carpinteria-based company that is one of the largest owners of cannabis farms and dispensaries in California. Glass House Brands recently went public on the Canadian stock exchange through a Toronto-based special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, in a deal worth $567 million.
Graham Farrar, the co-founder and president of Glass House Brands, told the Business Times the Houweling’s deal is currently in escrow and is worth more than $100 million.
Glass House expects the deal to close in the third quarter of 2021, using cash on hand.
As soon as the deal closes, Glass House will begin converting the tomato and cucumber greenhouse for cannabis cultivation, Farrar said, which will result in the upgrade and retrofit of approximately 1.7 million square feet.
Once complete, the 5.5-million-square-foot facility will be the biggest cannabis greenhouse in the state of California, Farrar said.
“We are excited about the future of cannabis and creating brands consumers love and we believe California is the appellation of cannabis in the entire country,” he said. “If you can win in California, you can win anywhere. We believe the walls around cannabis will come down and when they do, we will have a supply chain to service California and the rest of the country.”
The Houweling’s greenhouse is at 645 Laguna Road, just outside of Camarillo. That puts it in the unincorporated area of Ventura County, where cannabis can be grown legally, thanks to Measure O.
Measure O, which passed with 57% of the vote in November, was put on the ballot and funded entirely by one group: Ventura County Citizens for Responsible Cannabis Cultivation, sponsored by Glass Investments Projects, Inc. The only donor to the committee was Glass Investments Projects, which contributed just under $2 million to the campaign for Measure O, according to campaign finance filings with the county of Ventura. There was no organized opposition to the measure.
Glass Investments Projects is not connected to Glass House Brands. But it is connected to Houweling’s.
Casey Houweling is listed as the inventor on three U.S. patents registered to Glass Investments Projects. All of the patents are for inventions related to climate control in greenhouses.
The ballot measure that Glass Investments Projects campaigned for states that commercial cannabis can only be grown in pre-existing permanent greenhouses or indoor facilities. Measure O limits total cultivation in the county to 500 acres, but a study by a consultant to the county of Ventura found that only 220 acres in the county actually meet the measure’s requirements.
That means the 125-acre greenhouse owned by Houweling’s could account for 56% of the available acreage for cannabis cultivation in Ventura County.
Houweling’s Tomatoes also has greenhouses in Utah and British Columbia, Canada. The Canadian location grows cannabis under a partnership with a Canadian company called AgraVentures, according to news releases from AgraVentures.
The greenhouse in British Columbia is 2.2 million square feet, around half the size of the one in Camarillo.
Farrar said Casey Houweling will be working with him as a partner as Glass House converts Houweling’s greenhouse for cannabis cultivation. Farrar said the two have been friends for several years, and he considers Houweling to be “a good guy when it comes to growing.”
Glass House already farms about 500,000 square feet of cannabis in Carpinteria and owns retail dispensaries in Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Santa Ana and Berkeley.
The company began trading on the Toronto-based NEO Exchange on July 5. Its stock shot up 26% on Aug. 4 and was trading at $7.25 near the end of the trading day.