Side Quest: a Journey to Utokia

Written by Kayl Wohl, Photographed by Alex Hernandez

Harvest Edition, 2024.

In a fantastical adventure where dragons soar and dungeons beckon, two characters conspire against traditional paths of mundane conquest to pursue growing herbal remedies amidst the Oregon cannabis rush. Their love story tucks them away in Canby, Oregon, where they cultivate a utopia safeguarded by tricks-for-treat goats who are shuffled into the apple orchard by herding dogs. Much like the mystic realms of “Baldur’s Gate,” the land of Utokia seems to harbor secrets only the worthy would unveil.

Utokia Farm is one of Oregon’s few suppliers that attract the cool kids and the geeks to the same smoke circle. From fighting a successful lawsuit protecting Oregon growers to saving shelter cats, Utokia is standalone for its success in creating a mystical cannabis world of escape. Utokia’s elegant and illustrative branding is a unique and thoughtful pairing that exists nowhere else in the industry.

The magic begins in an indoor forested ecosystem that’s tended to by Holly Hillyer. Every day, she steps into full-body protective coveralls like a scientist ready for beaker wizardry. While the humans sleep at night, the plants thrive under beaming, full UV-spectrum lights atop rolling irrigation benches she designed and welded. Every detail of the plants’ lives is curated by Hillyer’s years of experience and passed-down knowledge from her parents.

She wasn’t always pruning cannabis leaves or introducing safe predator bugs to indoor spaces as a sustainable agricultural practice. Cannabis consumption wasn’t even present in her life until she obtained a medical card after a horseback riding accident, two broken wrists and subsequent prescription painkiller withdrawals.

Holly’s husband, Adam Teuscher, the Master of Coin of Utokia, once found himself in frequent daydreams of a life more like that of his “Breath of the Wild” screensaver. The two were lying on the office carpet when their “brainchild” was inspired by their shared lives of loving and playing video games together since they were 18.

“We were envisioning being in this world of escape,” Hillyer said. “We get to play games, like ‘Frosthaven’ and ‘Dungeons and Dragons’, watch movies, get inspired and then bring that into a job that we enjoy doing.”

Growing cannabis turned into a long-time passion for Hillyer, and she knew she wanted to focus on making high-quality flower and have fun along the way. The couple hand-rolls every pre-roll and inserts in each a collectible trading card featuring Oregon locals’ artwork, aiming to make the consumer experience a collective adventure. Teuscher creates creative fiction stories for their quests with a passion for forwarding the funds to nonprofit initiatives. The recent “Crazy Cat Lady Adventure Quest” raised $1,000 for Cat Adoption Team, a Portland cat shelter, in just a couple of months. The quest allows consumers of their product to solve a mystery while collecting cards as part of the quest reward system.

“The cards are all from the viewpoint of the ‘Master Herbalist’ — essentially me since it’s a grower — who’s going around and this different world of ‘Utokia,’ and stumbling upon different creatures and plants and writing her observations,” Hillyer said.

The master herbalist’s observations pave paths in Utokia as Hillyer and Teuscher provide new strains to the market or experience different industry players impacting the universe of “the game,” or the experience of consuming their cannabis.

Just as every game has its governing rules, the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission (OLCC) became the rule-setter in the real-life game of cannabis cultivation for Utokia. This entity approves packaging, advertising and branding-related paraphernalia, and a concern is how these trading cards could appeal to children. Every card must be sent in for review. Oftentimes, Hillyer and Teuscher have to make alterations, such as adding a third eye to the “Spidermite” card, to make it less representative of real-life creatures. These industry nuances impact everyday Utokia. The limited-release card “The Conservators” plays into this vision: the secret group “collects and preserves cultural relics and creatures from different worlds.” This mysterious presence raises questions for occupants of Utokia, but with other cards in the deck, such as the “Sunset Seeker,” we are reminded of our “boundless wisdom” as we continue our adventures.

Coupling gamers with cannabis is a longtime pairing as many gamer communities throughout decades have seen table-top worlds and boss battles featuring clouds of smoke. In tandem, both cannabis and gaming spaces have been historically male-dominated. At Utokia, anyone and everyone is invited to partake. Utokia works to expand this subculture of stoner gamers by redefining who is part of this niche and its implications within the cannabis industry. While not all cannabis users play games, anyone of all ages can find joy in adventure or retreating to mythical worlds safe from our real-world beasts and villains.

The farm owners are making headway on their slew of complex side quests to remove friction from business processes. Practicing organics felt attacked, but the master herbalist is wise and headstrong with her operation. A mold pathogen, named Aspergillus, is being heavily debated in the Oregon Court of Appeals. In March, the OLCC mandated testing for the fungus, which is found in most natural environments due to its presence in soil, decaying plants and in the air. Hillyer saw the faulty justifications and an overall lack of science linking Aspergillus to cannabis and began to organize. Utokia set off with the support of many other Oregon growers to sue the OLCC — and won. A temporary stay has allowed Utokia and other farms, even those once failing tests, to continue on this harvest season. With their sound research to defend their crops, the farmers won a small victory as the future of testing regulations is determined (Editor’s note: please see more about Aspergillus in later pages of this edition.)

Utokia is escaping the madness by diving into their quests, cards and adventures while simultaneously preparing for and undergoing harvest. Their two-person operation grows from seed to sale in small batches, usually four to five strains at a time. According to Hillyer, the amount they’re able to produce in a season is far smaller than what most produce in a week, and quality is never compromised for quantity. Their theme will always stay intact despite the ongoing commitment or momentary doubts of wanting to pivot from solely providing flowers and pre-rolls.

“We’re so small that [the cards] take up a lot of our time and we could just be pumping out double our size and grow more weed,” Hillyer said. “It would probably be more profitable to stop making them, but we wouldn’t be passionate about it.”

At the time of harvest, Hillyer and Teuscher cut and dry full branches, being careful to minimize hand and surface contact in the process to preserve the trichomes. After 10-15 days in the dry room, the flowers are trimmed off of the full branch directly into the same curing jars that are supplied to about 60 dispensaries in Oregon. Currently, they can be found at Next Level Wellness and SpaceBuds.

The future of Utokia is looking fruitful with a new quest underway. By accessing the website, thrill-seekers and storytellers can gather around to follow the tale as they smoke cannabis and make new discoveries in their own worlds and in our Utokian society.

“Even if like 10 people decide to partake in this weird crazy thing that we thought of, that’s totally worth it for us,” Hillyer said.