While Lawrence Brooke is an outspoken proponent of medical marijuana, he touts his strong base of customers who grow food and flowers and doesn't promote his products for growing pot.
He has reason to be wary.
In 1988, federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents showed up at his business, General Hydroponics in Sebastopol, and demanded he turn over a list of his clients and all business files.
"They were trying to get to the growers through the hydroponic stores," said Santa Rosa attorney Chris Andrian, who represented Brooke and other hydroponic retailers at the time.
But Brooke was prepared. His East Coast contacts warned him about the sweep, which targeted hydroponics shops nationwide, and he had moved all of his records off-site.
It took about 10 years, but Brooke prevailed in court. Now, the DEA focuses on large-scale pot growers as well as dispensaries and their landlords, Andrian said.
Brooke knows his business benefits from marijuana.
And hydroponics is booming.
He can't fill orders fast enough from his factory in east Sebastopol, a metal structure bigger than four football fields and surrounded by small farms and vineyards.
He recently bought a private six-seater jet and plans to expand the business are under way.
In 2010, he bought a 166,200-square-foot warehouse off Corporate Center Parkway in west Santa Rosa that was built in 2001 by JDS Uniphase, but remained empty.
He'll keep organic production at his Vine Hill Road facilities in Sebastopol and move all other operations to Santa Rosa in the next few months.
It's a remarkable jump from Brooke's early days mixing nutrient solutions as a UC Berkeley student.
"Can you believe I started alone in a garage?" Brooke said.