Illinois is closing in on its first year of cannabis legalization, and as the industry continues to grow, more and more Illinoisans are trying to join the new legal job market.
Ben Pfeifer, a recent Southern Illinois University Carbondale graduate, is one of those Illinoisans.
With a Bachelors of Science, majoring in Horticulture Production, Pfeifer’s path for the Illinois Cannabis Industry was rooted long ago.
As a child growing up in Algonquin, Illinois, Pfeifer’s first memories were planting tomatoes and sugar snap peas in the garden with his mother. He loved getting his hands in the dirt.
“I will always remember the smell of the tomato stem or leaves when they get rubbed or moved, that green herbaceous smell takes me back every time and puts a smile on my face,” Pfeifer said.
Pfeifer continued gardening with his mother and helped his father with landscaping chores, but at that time, he did not consider it a career option.
“Plants were always my passion,” Pfeifer said. “When I was a sophomore, I decided I was tired of working random jobs and decided it was time to do something that I loved. That year, I got a job at Platt Hill Nursery (a well known twenty-plus acre nursery in Carpentersville, Illinois) where I eventually started to work selling nursery items and working in the production area, pruning, fertilizing, and propagating various nursery and greenhouse plant species. I ended up working for that nursery for five years. Five growing seasons.”
After finding out how much he loved working with plants, he knew that was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.
“I decided on horticulture as my major, and after visiting multiple schools, I fell in love with the outdoor/nature atmosphere of SIU,” Pfeifer said. “Even though it was a long six hours from home, I knew it was right for me. I fell in love with Giant City and the rest of the Shawnee National Forest.”
Pfeifer has tended his own garden, his “prized possession,” in which he has amended the soil for more than ten years.
“I grow everything in there,” he said, “heirloom tomatoes, tomatillos, all sorts of hot peppers, sugar snap peas, okra, squash, radishes, nasturtium, lettuce, onions, spinach, sweet peppers, a variety of different herbs, cut flowers, ect. You name it, I’ve tried to grow it before.”
For four years, he has tended a perennial asparagus bed and to several fruits.
“I have a little brother that is eight years old,” Pfeifer said, “and I love getting him to help me out and try a bunch of different vegetables. Each year, I do potatoes in a couple of fifty gallon-size pots. I flip them over on a tarp at the end of the season, and he digs in to find all of the hidden potatoes. It’s his favorite part of the growing season.”
While learning about horticulture in an academic setting, Pfeifer extended his love for plants into the Illinois Cannabis Industry.
“I had always been a cannabis user, but I had never thought that I would get the chance to do it as a career,” he said. “After medical legalization happened it started to come a little bit more into the picture. I always loved plants but never pictured cannabis as a viable career option.”
After putting himself in an opportunistic position, he applied for jobs with new Illinois cannabis cultivators and was hired for a part-time position almost immediately.
“After recreational legalization happened, it started to become more apparent to me that this is what I want to dedicate my future to,” Pfeifer said. “Quality is number one in my book, and I want to be able to put a smile on someone’s face and know that I’m giving them something that is reliable and as safe as possible to consume. I honestly believe in cannabis as a medicine.”
Pfeifer has been a registered medical patient in Illinois for nearly a year and as such also grows his own medicine, cultivating more than twenty plants.
The advantages of growing his own medicine are that he knows exactly what goes into it, from seed to harvest, and he can do it at a fraction of cost that dispensaries charge.
“This is also a huge part in helping me with my growing techniques,” he said. “I am able to have firsthand experience every second of the day and can manipulate it or try new things whenever I want. As much as this is a science, it still comes down to a lot of trial and error, and I’m able to do that on a small scale in my own home.”
After graduating with his Bachelors of Science degree and with industry experience, Pfeifer prepares to take his next career step into a full-time position in the Illinois cannabis industry.
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