The Man, The Myth, The Yeti: Who is Shawn Honaker?
photos and article by Ben Owens
“I was invited to this little hash party. And so we were smoking some really good hash. We were smoking some King Hasan out of Morocco and…just some amazing old school hash; slab hash. And I kept seeing this guy walk around and he had this big-ass bong in his hand…and I kept hearing him say ‘Bong-a-Thon, Bong-a-Thon.’ So, finally, I stopped him, and I said, ‘What the hell is Bong-a-Thon?’ ‘Oh man, the deal is it’s this party that started in 1974 and it’s a big smoke-off and everyone parties…[but] we don’t throw it anymore.’ I said, ‘I’ve got a 160-acre ranch in Fairplay, it’s up at 10,000 feet.’’” And so begins one of many colorful and unique stories from the man behind Yeti Farms, Mr. Shawn Honaker.
To some, Honaker is the man who hosted the clandestine smoking competition known as Bong-a-Thon on his Park County ranch for five years, setting the record for fastest quarter smoked in an incredible six minutes and 23 seconds. To others, he’s the man that turned Siloam Road in Pueblo County into the bustling recreational cannabis farming community that it is today. And yet, the imagery often associated with a Yeti, the mysterious mountain-dwelling creature that finds pleasure in the back-country, is aptly the most accurate depiction of Honaker and his passions: keep it simple and take it back into nature.
Honaker grew up in the rural Midwest in the ‘90s, where his stepfather was a police officer for more than 20 years. Needless to say, cannabis wasn’t a prominent part of life. Having filed his first tax return at the age of 11, and every year since, hard work has always been very important to him. When it came time to go to college, he paid his way, coming out without any debt to pay off. But he never actually received his degree, dropping out just six months before graduation. “In my head I made a very simple financial decision and that was [that] I don’t need a damn degree to get a job.” At the time, a good friend of Honaker’s who had graduated with the same degree was making less in a year than it would cost Honaker to finish his degree.
Fast forward a few months and Honaker had moved on to a job at Bank One in Denver as a corporate financial planner while doing outside sales for a few other companies. Having done well in this role, he was able to buy his first home in the city at the age of 22. He quickly realized that city life was not for him, and sought out solace in the mountains doing a variety of jobs; car sales, granite and tile work, even laying a Japanese soak tub in Phil Collins’ house. By 26, he’d ended up working the oil fields in western Colorado.
After a few years working the fields, Honaker started his own oil field service company that operated 24/7, 365 and was responsible for 29 oilrigs with more than 70 employees and over 100 subcontractors. This was early 2008, and the prognosis for the economy was slowly turning. Sensing a change in direction, and having the opportunity for a buyout, Honaker took the chance that April and sold all of his holdings in the oil field industry in western Colorado. Not six months later, the economy was in disarray.
Growing up in the Midwest, alcohol was prevalent in Honaker’s household while cannabis was demonized. This ever-present aspect of alcohol came to an abrupt halt after Honaker realized that every oil deal was signed at a bar or strip club, and that he was slowly slipping toward alcoholism with each deal. After leaving the bar one night, Honaker swore he’d never touch the substance again. At the time, he was dating a “hippie chick” from southern Alabama who insisted he try cannabis. He’d only tried it once or twice in high school and again in college, but after that sampling, it took him about a month to smoke his first eighth. He hasn’t had a drop of alcohol since.
“Cannabis made everything easier; I found cannabis to be nuclear powered rocket ship to galaxies I didn’t even know existed on this earth. And it just started to open up a lot of doors for me. Business became easier. Meeting with people became more fluid. And I kept doing more and more of it.”
Not long after, Honaker’s good friend, a Vietnam veteran, posed the question, “How come when I smoke marijuana, sometimes I wake up and sometimes I sleep?” When Honaker didn’t have an answer, his friend responded, “Then fucking find out.” So, Honaker booked a ticket to Amsterdam for the High Times Cannabis Cup, telling his work he was going home for Thanksgiving, and telling his family he was working through the holiday. In Amsterdam he met Milo of Big Buddha Seeds and Arian of Greenhouse, along with many others who helped explain the difference between sativa and indica, and he immediately began poring through the books he’d purchased on his travels.
Upon his return, Honaker started cultivating; driving up to British Columbia to buy a BC Northern Lights BloomBox and meet with the team that made the apparatus. He also became one of the first people in the state of Colorado to own a professional trimmer. He managed his business during the day while growing at night to de-stress, which afforded him the ability to smoke more than he would if he were buying it at the going rate of the time of $400 per ounce.
Eventually, Honaker’s smoking outpaced his modest hobby grow, and he needed a way to expand capacity. He buried a shipping container and began growing in this much larger space. Faced with excess product, he’d offer his extra medicine to dispensaries if they had the demand. This led to recognition of, and a demand for, his growing techniques that eventually grew into partial ownership of a dispensary in western Colorado. For two years Honaker partnered with a small shop owned by a husband and wife, focusing solely on indoor grows. But his passion was elsewhere.
At this point, Honaker had begun to grow outdoors, developing a proprietary blend of soil by comparing and mixing all of the soils available on the market. After his second year of cultivation, he’d found a winning mixture that allowed a single plant of Girl Scout Cookies to produce just over 8.76 pounds of dry material. At the time, that was a $24,000 plant that cost just under $300 to grow. He realized he was onto something, but his partners were focused on building out a new indoor grow in a brand new warehouse. So he took a buyout, and began to throw everything he had into greenhouse and his outdoor grow techniques.
Right around this time, 2009-2010, Honaker was introduced to BHO, or butane hash oil. Having hosted Bong-a-thon, participated in and won multiple competitions, and generally being known as a heavy smoker, he instantly fell in love with the potency and clarity of the high that BHO produced. Immediately after trying it, he was shown how to make extracts using 100-gallon cylinders and n-butane in a professional setting. “I’ve never used a tube, I’ve never used a can; I’ve never purchased a can…I’ve never been to Multi Line and bought a case of butane.” He started with the best of the best, and that’s where his technique began to evolve; driven by a desire for increased purity and techniques that cooked out any residual solvents. Back in the day, there weren’t sesh’s and cups every night, Honaker explains. There were high-end, secret events that you had to be invited to, and he’d go and get everyone “super duper high.”
“I don’t dress up for people, I don’t change who I am for anybody. I don’t give a shit who you are. I wear boots, jeans and a t-shirt every day of my life, that’s just how I live my life…so I’m a noticeable guy [especially in a room of] tuxes and ballroom gowns.” He’d lay out two “flats” of hash (about two pounds of BHO, all different flavors) in ball jars, dab out a whole party of 300 people, and then drive four hours back to his residence in the mountains. That’s where the idea of the Yeti really began to take shape.
Life of a yeti: he doesn’t come to town; he stays in the mountains.
Many of the popular products only recently finding their way to the market are things that Honaker was pushing out of his small extraction setup years ago, people just hadn’t figured out why his extracts looked the way they did and had the effect that they did. “People would say, ‘Dude I just don’t understand why I’m so high. I don’t get it.” Now, we know a bit more about this technology and why these extracts produce much more intense effects.
Having left his dispensary partnership and fresh into an early retirement, thanks to the sizeable buyout of his oil field company, Honaker set his sights on Pueblo County. He bought the property that Yeti Farms stands on today on Siloam Road, a 55-acre plot with a 35-acre tract next door. He runs a tight ship; no nutrients, herbicides or pesticides are allowed anywhere on his farm. “We do everything organically. If the grasshoppers come…if they eat ‘em, they eat ‘em. I grew up in the Midwest in Indiana, and that’s all part of the gig. If bugs eat them, they eat them. That’s part of being a farmer. I’m willing to roll the dice as a cannabis farmer.”
In this same tradition of farming, Honaker has an innate belief in the value of outdoor cultivation and believes that there is no value in separating the parts of the natural plant. “I didn’t believe in the future of indoor cultivation; [it’s] not sustainable for me…I’ve never had sweet corn from a warehouse that tasted good.” As the first hydrocarbon extraction company in Pueblo and one of the first large-scale outdoor cannabis farms, Yeti has continued this dedication to keeping it simple. They use the entire plant; fan leaves, sugar leaves, and buds, are all put into a bag together to purge for two weeks and then cure for upwards of two months. After that, the material is ground and extracted into budder, shatter, and a variety of other forms of concentrate. In addition to offering processing services for other brands and growers, Yeti Farms’ Blonde Sugar is their premium line of in-house, organically grown and extracted concentrates. “The Best Damn Dab in the West” is a full plant extract available at a variety of dispensaries throughout the state such as PotCo, Standing Akimbo and Three Rivers Organics in Pueblo.
The in-house standards that Yeti Farms uses for their products are very strict, 50 times stricter than the state’s standards, to be exact, says Honaker. No product leaves the facility if it tests over 100 parts per million for residual solvents (the state’s threshold is 5000 p.p.m.). If any sample tests above this, it is reprocessed and retested at Yeti Farms’ expense. This dedication to quality is why Honaker is in no rush to jump onto the latest trends. “We’re trying to find out what is the cool hype that will go away, and what is the thing that will stay the distance…Seems to me, when all the cool kids line up to do something, and it is the new hype, you either want to wait, or not do it… This is a long race; it’s a damn marathon. Let’s take our time.”
“We don’t get involved in the local politics around us”
Honaker is cautious to differentiate between his economic and political outlooks on the industry. While he believes he is very fortunate to be in a position to provide guidance to various agricultural groups in local, state, and national organizations, he is very clear about one thing: what he is doing is illegal on the federal level, and has been for the whole time he’s been doing it. So, he isn’t worried about how the administration change will affect his business. “If they’re going to close me down, I’m going to have to do something else anyways…Right now, I am operating illegally under federal law. These things honestly don’t ruffle my feathers and I highly suggest to the rest of the industry that it not ruffle yours.”
Locally, Honaker tries to stay out of politics, but there have been some issues that have caught his attention. In particular, a recent ballot initiative that sought to ban recreational cannabis cultivation in Pueblo County, which would have had dire consequences for Yeti Farms and other businesses in the area. To an extent, Honaker understands why people point to him as an example of the cannabis takeover of the area. When he moved into his farm, there were maybe twenty or so growers in the area, now there are licenses pending for upwards of 200. And this has him discussing the economics of oversupply with his fellow residents and business owners. “There’s a local outdoor farm selling pounds for $560 … If they’re doing that right now, this year… I’m really worried about where the future of this industry is going to go for all these growers that don’t have a license to get rid of any single thing but trim or flower. That’s all they can do. They don’t have resource to get rid of it [in any other form].”
To address this problem, Honaker is working on a few projects that would allow these businesses to contract out their material and split profits with processors. He’s constantly on the lookout for ways to help everyone in the industry stay afloat.
The authenticity of Honaker’s passion for quality drives home the underlying motif that a product speaks for itself. Yeti Farms barely advertises, and relies heavily on the reception and recommendations of its products by budtenders at its retailers. Honaker says that he’s the guy that comes in, has a great conversation with the team, and before they even know it, lunch is on its way to the dispensary. “I’m not doing it to kiss your ass. I’m doing it because you’re good people and you work very hard for me and you don’t get a paycheck from me. So let me buy you lunch or let me buy you ice cream.”
“I got to meet thousands of people that were all like-minded.”
Having hosted Bong-a-Thon on his property for five years prior to Park County officials shutting him down, Honaker is a self-proclaimed “old guy” at cannabis events, but enjoys the company and conversations of the many people he continues to meet throughout the industry.
So where does the Yeti go, and what does he do to escape the day-to-day? Honaker’s sanity finds reprieve beyond bongs and bud, to the adrenaline-inducing activities that some never engage in. When he’s not on the farm, you can find him entrenched in some combination of his current passions: cannabis, back-country snowmobiling, and free-dive spear fishing.
“When you’re under the water, and you’re holding your breath in an element where the fish now have the advantage. They’re in their element and you are not necessarily supposed to be there, that adds a new level of adrenaline. There’s obviously sharks, barracudas, stingrays; a lot of things that can make your life go bad pretty quickly. As my mind races through everything that I’m trying to achieve [I] try to find that one fish or that one lobster. It won’t allow me to think of anything else. So that’s where I really draw my happy place from is when I can’t think about anything but what I’m doing at that exact moment.”
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