Climate Change and Cannabis: The Scary Truth

This Northern Hemisphere summer is witnessing an arc of fire sweeping across continents—and scientists view it as a grim harbinger of a very challenging future on Planet Earth. Anthropogenic climate change is the critical factor driving the conflagrations. Enter: climate change and cannabis.

United Nations Secretary General António Guterres told ministers from 40 countries meeting to discuss the climate crisis in Berlin on July 18: “Half of humanity is in the danger zone, from floods, droughts, extreme storms and wildfires. No nation is immune. Yet we continue to feed our fossil fuel addiction.”

And from Northern California to the Rif Mountains of Morocco to the Balkans and Himalayas, many of the areas hit the hardest are world centers of cannabis cultivation. This clearly poses special challenges for an agricultural sector still struggling to win the legal space necessary for responsible and ecologically sound practices.

California Fires

Large areas of Northern California’s cannabis heartland, the Emerald Triangle, have been devastated by wildfires in recent years. This year the Triangle—generally defined by the counties of Humboldt, Trinity and Mendocino—has thus far been spared. But fires encroach ominously on the enclave. Making national headlines is the Washburn fire in the Sierra Nevada, which has penetrated Yosemite National Park and threatens the famed Mariposa Grove, which protects more than 500 ancient sequoias.

But there have been fires closer to the Triangle. In mid-July the Peter Fire in Shasta County, which borders Trinity on the east, consumed over 300 acres, with three homes among several buildings destroyed in the town of Anderson. Then, in late July, the McKinney Fire in Siskiyou County, bordering Trinity on the north, became the biggest of the year so far, consuming 55,000 acres of the Klamath National Forest.

UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain tweeted that the Peter Fire “is another example of a fire in the wildland-urban interface that will likely have a modest final footprint but has the potential to be quite destructive within that footprint, given the number of structures in the path.”

Taking a regional view of how this year’s fire season is playing out, Swain tweeted: “Late-season precipitation kept things fairly damp across much of the northern third of California through late June… This helped suppress early-season wildfires across much of the state, although activity has recently picked up and…fuels (heavy brush/dead and down tress) are now at or near record dry levels once again.”

This alarming climate change and cannabis landscape can only be met with trepidation in the Triangle. In 2020, the August Complex, centering on Mendocino and Trinity, passed the one-million-acre mark, prompting coinage of an entirely new term: “gigafire.” In cannabis-producing homesteads, growers (both licit and illicit) were faced with the dilemma of whether to evacuate or stay to protect their crops. Many chose to resist evacuation orders, at great risk to themselves.

And last year, fires in Siskiyou County exacerbated social tensions over a recent influx of Laotian immigrant cannabis growers. One Laotian man evacuating from the fire zone was killed by police at a checkpoint, leading to protests. This June, Siskiyou again saw wildfires, although they were contained fairly quickly by CalFire responders. 

The Mediterranean to the Himalaya

A fire fighting water bomber dropping water on a forest fire on top of the Kozjak mountain in Croatia.

The climate change and cannabis scenes from Northern California are now reflected in northern Morocco, where wildfires have this month consumed more than 1,500 hectares (3,700 acres) of the Rif Mountains—the world’s most significant center of illicit cannabis cultivation. The provinces of Larache, Ouezzane, Tetouan and Taza—where Berber farmers produce hashish for the European market—have been devastated. Homes and farms have been lost to the flames, as well as large swaths of pine forest. Thousands of residents have been evacuated and, clearly, the state of global warming and marijuana is dire.

The most significant zone of illicit outdoor cannabis cultivation within Europe is the Adriatic coast of the Balkan Peninsula—also now being threatened by flames.

Wildfires in Dalmatia, the coastal strip of Croatia, have damaged ancient olive groves—as was noted with dismay by the olive oil trade journals. We may assume that illicit cannabis grows in the region have also been impacted. And further down the coast, in Albania—Europe’s largest producer of illicit cannabis by far—is witnessing wildfires, especially in the Mount Çika area of the south. Greece is sending emergency aircraft to help Albanian authorities fight the blazes.

These North African and Balkan fires are linked to the same extreme heat wave that has also meant devastating fires across large areas of Spain and France.

But the climate change and cannabis phenomenon stretches well into Asia. Fires began in Siberia in May, and Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered prompt measures—fearing a repeat of the destruction in the 2021 fire season. “We cannot allow a repeat of last year’s situation, when forest fires were the most long-lasting and intensive of recent years,” Putin said.

Kathmandu, Nepal’s air quality is now considered one of the worst in the world. PHOTO Ingo Bartussek

And fires are also sweeping Asia’s hashish hub of Nepal. Hundreds of fires across the country’s mountains caused Kathmandu’s air quality to become one of the worst on the planet in April and May. Scientists said the forest fires across Nepal and parts of northern India were the worst in the past 15 years. The European Union’s Copernicus Atmospheric Monitoring Service (CAMSreported in April that fires in India’s Uttarakhand state, bordering Nepal, emitted nearly 0.2 mega-tons of carbon in the past month, a record since 2003. Of course, fires linked to global warming also exacerbate the greenhouse effect by releasing carbon into the atmosphere, in a vicious cycle.

The fires in the Himalayas ended with arrival of monsoons in June. But this carries its own risk. Dozens were killed in India and Nepal during last year’s particularly heavy monsoon season. In another vicious cycle, lands where forests have been destroyed by fire are vulnerable to erosion and even the collapse of whole mountainsides when the rains finally come.

Kathmandu’s National Disaster Risk Reduction & Management Authority now warns that two million Nepalese are likely to be impacted by floods and landslides this monsoon season. Among those at risk are clearly many cannabis growers—who persist in their centuries-old pursuit despite fruitless efforts by the authorities to eradicate their crops.

This year’s monsoons have already brought disastrous flooding to Pakistan, where some 170 have lost their lives over the past weeks.

Cannabis Forests in Africa and South America

Cannabis plantation in Morocco’s Rif Mountains. PHOTO Stefano Zaccaria

In some places, cannabis cultivation appears to be actually contributing to the vicious cycle. In past years, forest fires in Morocco have been blamed on cannabis growers, who often start small fires to clear land for their crops.

Another major African marijuana producer is Kenya—despite having some of the harshest cannabis laws on the planet. February 2019 saw a huge wildfire that engulfed some 80 square kilometers of bamboo forest in a critical watershed of the Mount Kenya area. Authorities similarly blamed the blaze on outlaw weed growers clearing land for their crops.

Small peasant producers around the world typically use fire to clear wooded lands—whether they’re growing cannabis, corn or cassava. But for climate change and cannabis the impacts are compounded by its illegality.

In many countries of the Global South, peasants displaced from the agricultural heartland by big landlords and agribusiness are left to clear forests for their fields. But with cannabis, the threat of eradication and criminal charges provides an extra imperative pushing growers into marginal forested areas. This dynamic is certainly also seen in Paraguay, which in recent years has overtaken Colombia as South America’s top cannabis producer.

In January 2022, during the Southern Hemisphere summer, wildfires swept through southern Paraguay, consuming10,000 hectares of forest and grasslands. Some 200 head of cattle and sheep were lost, and grim videos showed the burnt and rotting carcasses of livestock strewn across the plains. As in California, this devastation is becoming an annual occurrence in Paraguay.

And the origins of the fires have again been traced to outlaw cannabis growers. In Paraguay’s 2020-21 summer, thousands of fires were registered across the country. The non-governmental organization Guyra Paraguay, which tracks forest fires, stated that all of them had been deliberately started, either “for agricultural reasons or to grow marijuana.” (Of course, growing marijuana is an agricultural reason.)

In October 2020, the Ministry of Environment announced that armed men linked to cannabis cultivation in southern Paraguay’s Caazapá National Park had prevented firefighters from containing the blazes in the area. The Paraguay fires are part of a larger dynamic of regional cannabis and climate change across South America, with the Amazon rainforest turning into savanna as canopy is lost and groundwater depleted, and, further south, the savanna turning into desert.

As Carbon Brief website sums up this process of desertification: “The combined impact of climate change, land mismanagement and unsustainable freshwater use has seen the world’s water-scarce regions increasingly degraded. This leaves their soils less able to support crops, livestock and wildlife.”

Legal agro-industries are certainly driving this as well, and can operate outside the law, especially in remote areas. Brazil’s cattle barons notoriously maintain their own paramilitary forces to usurp lands from peasants and indigenous peoples. But cannabis growers are effectively forced to operate outside of the law, to push the agricultural frontier deeper into the remaining forests, and to deal with militarized cartels instead of legitimate brokers. 

An Ecological Ethic for Cannabis Culture

A permaculture hill mound. PHOTO Naya Na

Back in the Emerald Triangle, a legalized cannabis cultivation sector faces the challenge shaping a sustainable model in a fire-prone region.

Lelehnia Du Bois is the founder and chair of Humboldt Grace, a community empowerment organization for the counties of the Triangle. Among its activities is the Fire Recovery Project, which raises funds for local families impacted by the conflagrations caused by climate change and cannabis. Du Bois is also involved in the Back-to-the-Land Project, which documents the history of the hippie colonists who first brought cannabis to the region in the late 1960s.

Du Bois is herself the offspring of the back-to-the-land generation and has been a licensed cannabis grower since 2005. Du Bois says she has seen the local climate change over the years she has lived in the Triangle. “It’s a lot warmer and drier than in my childhood,” she tells Cannabis Now. “I’m on the coast and the redwoods have brown in them, in the needles. I’ve never seen that before; it’s incredibly visible.”

She recalls that in her youth, folks would facetiously call the coastal fog “Humboldt County sunshine.” She adds: “The 30-somethings these days don’t even know what that means.”

Many of the area’s cannabis growers are trying to adapt. “We’re seeing a lot more people dry-farm, going back to the old sustainable methods—or regenerative, as they say today.”  Dry farming refers to cultivating without irrigation, drip system or other water diversions, but taking measures to preserve soil moisture. Du Bois points to the use of hügelbeds—a concept borrowed from European permaculture, in which crops are grown in mounds of decaying wood topped with compost and soil. The beds are designed to capture water as well as to fertilize.

“As a culture, we’ve gotten used to thinking the new ways are better. But as we go deeper into crisis, were learning to go back to the old ways, where you work with nature rather than extract from nature,” Du Bois says.

Some growers are simply using less than their allotted square footage of land under their state license. “That allows us to use less water, while growing a smaller amount of better medicine,” she says.

Duncan McIntosh is a former licensed cannabis grower in Trinity (he recently switched to strawberries and tomatoes) who is a county planning commissioner and president of the North Fork Grange—representing farmers along the north fork of the Trinity River. Today, this overwhelmingly means cannabis farmers.

He too notes how the local impact of climate change and cannabis has shifted. “Fires have been ravaging the Pacific Northwest for the past ten years, and it’s getting worse and worse. Last year, the Monument Fire burned a third of the county; the year before, the August Complex burned a third of county. Farmers lost water tanks and sheds and water lines to water their gardens.”

“Where fires used to burn tens of acres, they now burn hundreds of thousands of acres,” he adds. “The winters aren’t as cold as they were. The old-timers say the river used to freeze over—that never happens anymore.”

In McIntosh’s view, the effects of the greenhouse effect are “amplified by mismanagement of the forest.” Ironically, the dogma of total fire suppression has allowed undergrowth to build up, providing fuel for the devastating conflagrations of recent years and impacting global warming and marijuana.

The North Fork Grange is now managing the 80-acre Junction City Community Park with oversight of the Trinity County Resource Conservation District and a grant from CalFire. “We’re eliminating underbrush, relieving pressure on the groundwater to make the standing trees healthier and more robust, and more likely to survive fire,” McIntosh says.

They’re planning controlled “low-intensity” burns on the site to take out the remaining brush, after the bulk of it has been manually removed. This is to be undertaken together with the Watershed Center, a local environmental group, and the county fire department.

McIntosh calls the project “a rekindling of our connection with the element that’s fire, which is as much a part of our environment as water. The war on fire has been about as successful as the War on Drugs. It’s only amplified what they’re trying to suppress.” He’s hoping the US Forest Service will take up the idea for the much larger areas of the county that lie within the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.

“We’re trying to get back to responsible stewardship of the land, from an economy of exploitation going back to the Gold Rush,” McIntosh says.

Du Bois portrays such efforts as part of a deeply rooted ecological ethic in the Triangle. “The back-to-the-landers who grew the weed before we called it ‘cannabis’ moved up here to be a part of nature, to live with the cycles, rather than destroying the place and being takers and extractors,” she says. “That’s what’s allowed us to care the plant for so long.”

The post Climate Change and Cannabis: The Scary Truth appeared first on Cannabis Now.

How a Cold Spring Stunted Cannabis Seedlings

“It’s farmin’” I like to say every time there is a minor crisis or impending disaster brought on by the weather, a broken water line in the irrigation system, or a broken water pump on the tractor. And just when you think you’ve made every mistake or solved every problem about growing the crop, some new crisis needs to find a solution, right away. This year, we dealt with the challenges of an unusually cold spring which led to stunted cannabis seedlings and delays in the grow cycle.

Last year’s crisis involved the delicate cannabis seedling starts which were being eaten by a family of field mice living under some boards we had laid on the ground to create a level floor for the 2- and 3-gallon pots. The exposed tender starts were like a salad bar for the mice, and they chowed down, consuming nearly one quarter of all the starts. To solve that problem this spring, we put all the pots up on tables and put the table legs in bins with water. To save on potting soil, we used 4-inch mini pots filled with a mixture of coir, rice hulls and worm castings.

Challenges are bound to come up when growing outdoors in the sun, and moving with the ups and downs of Mother Nature. We are always learning and growing alongside our garden.

A Rollercoaster of Rain and Sun

In early April, as soon as we cracked our seeds and put them in the planting medium, the weather literally ran amok. It was a weather rollercoaster. First rain, then hail, then snow, then brilliant sunshine and 70- or 80-degree temps, followed again by rain and below freezing nights. This unusual pattern continued through the spring.

Only later did we realize that the tiny pots were a mistake, due to the freak weather—there was so little medium in the mini pots that the temperature around the roots fluctuated to the extreme weather changes. A two- or three-gallon pot might have protected the roots better.

At one point I considered getting heating pads to put under the tiny pots, but I decided not to because it would require a running generator all night. Besides, it was bound to warm up soon. Well, it didn’t warm up. In hindsight, we probably should have bought the heating pads when I first thought of them.

As anyone in Northern California can attest, the weather in 2022, from January on, was unprecedented. Actually, it wasn’t January—it was really “June-uary,” as the weather was so hot and dry. February, too, got a new name as the heat and dry continued: “Febru-uly.” It was the most days without rain in those two months for as long as records have been kept. Climatologists looking at tree rings and glaciers proclaimed it the driest three years since 821 CE, twelve hundred years ago. So, the last thing we expected going into planting season was cold.

Moving With the Changes

To deal with the unpredictable weather, a long tunnel was erected with rebar, PVC and greenhouse plastic. A propane heater was brought in for the frigid nights, but at times there was such heavy condensation on the inside of the greenhouse fabric that a dehumidifier was needed. That meant using a generator, so it was kept to a minimum. Then again, sometimes it got so warm and humid during the day that the sides and ends had to be opened up.

But the next morning at 4 a.m., it would be 26 degrees. The poor little sprouts—at first only the rounded cotyledon leaves, then the first pointed saw-toothed single leaf—nearly froze to death. In the morning, it was noticed that the tiny stalks had turned a pale pink purple from the cold.

A day or so later, the sun would come out, and it seemed like it was starting to warm up again. Spring was finally here! Boom! But the next day brought grey skies and rain. In mid-May, we even got snow. Then. It was then suddenly 80 degrees again, followed by another cold spell, alternating all through May and on into June. It even rained on the Fourth of July.

Lessons Learned

Despite the delays, these plants starts are now happily growing in the Moon Garden at Swami Select. PHOTO Nikki Lastreto

The poor plants were cold, confused, anxious and stunted, and we were going crazy trying to keep up with the changes. I guess the lesson is that we should have bought the heating pads early on and used the generator anyway, but I am trying to be a friend of the environment and run a legal cannabis business at the same time.

The good news is that we did get the rain we so desperately needed to ease the drought. After the super dry June-uary and Febru-uly, at the beginning of May our pond was not yet full, and the impending drought looked dire. Thankfully, all those late rains did finally fill Lake Rubbadukky up to the culvert.

Other farmers up on Bell Springs, and all over the Emerald Triangle, have likewise been affected by the cold, rainy weather. One friend said he had never planted such small cannabis starts. I answered, somewhat sardonically, that it was really just part of the conditions of our terroir, one of the natural stresses which makes our weed special.

Even the owner of Eel River Hay up in Fortuna, where we get our organic straw for mulch, was saying that the alfalfa and quinoa crops up in Humboldt County have been stunted and will produce their smallest yield ever.

Our cannabis starts were so tiny that we had to delay the gender testing from Leafworks. The inclement weather also delayed work on preparing the beds for planting. Pouring rain is not the best weather for the crew to work in the garden.

Now, as I write this in mid-July, the little girls are safely tucked into their beds in the garden. After several soil drenchings with compost tea brews and foliar feedings, they are starting to bush out and spurt up with their top fan leaves praying to the sun.

Even in a “normal” year our plants tend to be smaller, which we kind of like, as they are often more potent and more aromatic. We’ll see how big they get this season, but we know even these stunted cannabis seedlings will be amazing. As the saying goes, “stressing the plants brings out their innate quality.”

And as John Dryden (1631-1700) said, “Mighty things from small beginnings grow.”

The post How a Cold Spring Stunted Cannabis Seedlings appeared first on Cannabis Now.

Mendocino Craft Farmers Auction Celebrates Cannabis & Community

Sometimes, we all feel that the time has come to move on, to push the limits, to graduate to the next level. That’s what it felt like on July 16, at the inaugural Mendocino Craft Farmers Auction. The time had finally come to honor the world class legacy and craft cannabis farmers in this remote part of Northern California, while at the same time giving back to the community. The purpose of the auction was to raise money for the Redwood Community Services Crisis Hotline Program while also raising consciousness about the premium cannabis grown in this region. It was an ideal way for cannabis and community to come together and help one another.

For decades, clandestine growers were hidden in the hills of Mendocino County. That’s when weed sold for $4,000 per pound and lots of money in the county was spent on things like buying new trucks and building new homes. Upon legalization, many of us chose to take the leap into the regulated market, remaining faithful that it would recognize the value of pure sungrown flowers from the Emerald Triangle. However, it has been an uphill battle and many small farmers have perished from the struggle to survive. 

Struggling in Style

While the vision of a cannabis auction was formed several years ago, it has taken this long to realize that even if we must struggle, we can do it in style. And even if we aren’t getting rich as craft farmers, we still can contribute to local causes. It’s a way to say thanks for all the great years when we did profit from living off the land in this blessed county which produces such top-grade cannabis flowers. If Napa County can celebrate its terroir, which is ideal for world class wines, so can Mendocino growers tout the cannabis cultivated in their county.

It all started when Jim Roberts and Brian Atkinson of the cannabis brand Bohemian Chemist offered the ideal venue: The Brambles, an event center under the Redwoods, located in the picturesque Anderson Valley in southern Mendocino County. After several months of planning—which included finding the perfect caterer, an amazing fast-talking auctioneer, plus collecting a vast array of items to be auctioned—the vision became clear. This would be a gathering like none ever seen before in Mendocino. This was not a rodeo, not a music festival and not a picnic at the beach. This was a classy affair. It was “mendo chic,” as we like to call it.

A “Mendo Chic” Celebration 

It was a warm summer night for the first Mendocino Craft Farmers Auction. The evening began with appetizers and local wines served while guests perused the several tables displaying both silent and live auction items. Ganjier-In-Training Isabella De Chard, the “Joint Girl,” wandered through the crowd with a tray of nicely rolled joints and matches, making sure everyone was well-lit. As guests made their way to the tables for supper, they were offered small sips of HVY, the perfect cannabis tincture aperitif, which lifted the whole group to another level. A lively yet leisurely supper ensued with festivities conducted by Michael Katz, the Executive Director of the Mendocino Cannabis Alliance.

Isabella “Joint Girl” ensures everyone is taken care of. PHOTO Shannon McInerney

During dessert, Sarah Livingston, the Director of Crisis Response at Redwood Community Services, spoke briefly about the charity that would be receiving the night’s proceeds and how the guest donations would be used. 

“We take what was an unfortunate event or experience for these people and then turn it into an opportunity for them,” Livingston said. “Events like this make these opportunities possible.” 

Live Auction Highlights

Nikki Lastreto of Swami Select at the auction table. PHOTO Omar Figueroa

At last, the live auction began, and it was lively indeed. The highest bidders (in more ways than one) were often well rewarded for their generosity. Upon the guidance of top cannabis attorney Omar Figueroa, we found a way to do this within the legal parameters. After the fortunate bidders paid for their items, they were directed to a table where they discovered that their generosity was matched by growers who shared from their Private Reserve, meaning flowers from their personal gardens. Such a sweet surprise!

“To be amongst such impressive growers, and such an elevated energy was truly a privilege.  The Brambles was full of inspiration and love tonight,” said musician and artist Bob Bralove. 

Indeed, many of the county’s premiere cultivators attended, including several winners in the California State Fair and Emerald Cup Awards ceremonies. Some of the farms represented included Lost Paradise Organics, First Cut Farms, Emerald Spirit Botanicals, Swami Select, Martyjuana and Happy Day Farms. Several donated farm visits and tours, which were won by lucky bidders at the auction. Shauna and Mike Harden of Sonoma Hills Farm, for example, came up from Sonoma County to enjoy the festivities and donated a generous luncheon for 10 at their beautiful farm.

Certified Ganjier Justin Hoegenauer observed the variety of attendees, from mountain growers to city cannaoisseurs, and commented, ”It’s a community here of legends who have grown the plant and respected the environment for a long time. Everyone deserves the opportunity to experience sungrown cannabis.” 

The evening wrapped up with DJ Mo Magic—also a longtime cultivator—getting everyone up and dancing under the stars. Many stayed right on site in the luxurious hotel rooms and some even chose to camp at the next-door campground. “Omar and I set up our tents and slept under the Redwoods rather than risk a dark and windy drive back to Sonoma County. I woke up this morning refreshed and bathed in the sounds and scents of the forest,” said attorney Lauren Mendelsohn.  

If you are feeling major FOMO right about now, know this was just the first Mendocino Craft Farmers Auction. It was way too much fun not to repeat. We want to welcome more adventurous cannabis enthusiasts to experience the Emerald Triangle in style, while giving back to those in need. Cannabis with a cause is a beautiful thing.

The post Mendocino Craft Farmers Auction Celebrates Cannabis & Community appeared first on Cannabis Now.

Frenchy Cannoli’s Legacy Still Aligns With the Farmers

One of the most precious things the pandemic took away from each and every one of us was our ability to gather together. This absence of community these past few years is something that feels more acute in the world of weed. After all, we’re the originators of puff, puff, pass. To truly love the cannabis plant often includes a strong and unselfish desire to share that love with others. Departed hash master Frenchy Cannoli knew this better than most. Not only was he aligning with other artisans at the top of their craft to present hash as the ultimate expression of what cannabis can be, but he was also a master of bringing people together to collectively enjoy the fruit of the farmers’ labor. At the recent San Francisco, California premiere of a film based on his life, a friend reminded me of the many times Frenchy gathered us all together around the hookah. He’d stand in the center and apply the hash to the foil above a hot coal while everyone lucky enough to secure a hose puffed together in a circle. In terms of smoking cannabis, the experience of joining a Frenchy hash hookah circle felt as ancient as it gets. We all gathered around a fire and, in this case, smoked pure fire in the form of traditionally pressed hashish. Within his extensive writings on the subject of hash, Frenchy outlines that our relationship with the cannabis plant dates back to around 80,000 to 90,000 BC, the same time as the earliest use of fire. Hash, in the form of resin hand-rubbed from the plant or charas, is the oldest cannabis concentrate, and Frenchy believed humanity may have discovered its benefits even before the nutritional qualities of cannabis seeds or the many uses of the plant’s fiber.

“The hash is the final expression of the genetics,” he explains early on in the film. “It’s all about the trichome.”

Frenchy always credited the quality of the hash he made to the farmers who grew the cannabis. In the film, Frenchy Dreams of Hashish, documentary filmmaker Jake Remington introduces viewers to meet many of those farmers within their element. Most of the farms Frenchy worked with professionally grow outdoors under the sun in Mendocino County, one-third of Northern California’s famed Emerald Triangle, also made up of Trinity and Humboldt counties.

“All my life, it has never been [about] who made the hashish or charas, but where it was made,” Frenchy wrote in Weed World Magazine. “It is the plant always and only. It is about how far you are willing to go for the dank.”

Before finding himself embedded within the cannabis community in Northern California, Frenchy traveled throughout hash-making regions across the globe. The film brings viewers into his world within the Emerald Triangle. It was a world many of us present at the movie premiere at the Marina Theater last week were also a part of. When Frenchy passed away in July 2021, social media feeds exploded with photos of him. It seemed like everybody knew him. His energy was infectious, and his love of hash was undeniable. It made you feel good just to be around him. Before the social isolation brought on by the pandemic, the cannabis community in Northern California and beyond was an extremely tight in-person clique. So much so that I can’t remember the number of times I ran into Frenchy at events. Sadly, I learned of his passing through a text and could not attend his small memorial service because of COVID-19. While the service was kindly also streamed online, it was heartbreaking to have to grieve the loss of my friend in isolation from my community, something many of us who have lost someone during this health pandemic have also had to experience.

The movie premiere held on the holiday for cannabis concentrates, July 10 or 710, began with a brunch at the parklet of a restaurant initially opened by blues legend Boz Scaggs. Outside on the San Francisco street, we all fired up joints and enjoyed concentrates, the delectable aromas of which attracted the attention of at least one passerby. This event marked the first time I was able to gather with many people I have not been able to see since the hash master’s passing and was a joyous celebration of life.

Courtesy of FrenchyCannoli.com

As a producer of an artisanal craft product, Frenchy was very focused on imparting the importance a sense of place has on a product. He compared his craft to that of a winemaker and honed in on terroir, the way a particular region’s natural elements such as the climate and soil affect the tastes of agricultural products. In the same way Champagne is recognized as one of the best places to produce sparkling wine, he worked tirelessly to ensure people understood that one of the best places to produce cannabis is on the small farms in the Emerald Triangle. The film serves as a way to bring more people than ever before onto those farms. The older couple I sat next to at the premiere had never met Frenchy but were interested in old-school hash and had learned about the screening online. Inside the theater, they were able to travel into the forest of massive cannabis trees at the Mendo Dope grow and watch Leo Stone of Aficionado hand-pollinate his plants. Aficionado brought Frenchy to prominence within the cannabis community by betting on his hash making as a way to market the quality of their cannabis genetics.

“The way we work together is a little bit like a winemaker works with a vineyard,” Frenchy told me in 2019. “When you go to a dispensary and you show the flower and you show the resin that is growing on that flower, the guy is not going to look at your flower the same way. If you sell a package that brings credit to the person that gave you that resin, the game changes.”

After our initial meeting, I expressed to Frenchy that I’d like to write a story on the process of how to make hash and asked him to show me. He explained that it wasn’t a quick process and later invited me to participate in one of his Lost Art of the Hashishin hash-making workshops. These classes are depicted in the film as Frenchy stands before a room of students and expands upon the process of agitating the trichomes from the cannabis trim in the same way a farmer shakes off ripe fruit off a tree. When it’s perfectly ripe, it only takes a bit of agitation for fruit to be collected, and Frenchy felt similarly about the process of making hash. The ice isn’t doing the work, he explains in the film, it’s the current of the water that gently plucks the trichome from the plant matter. He would collect those trichomes and then—very important to his hash-making process—press them together. The pressing of the trichomes with a bit of force and mild heat condenses the glands into a solid mass and is the only way Frenchy felt anything called “hash” should be presented. He would roll the trichomes he collected into the shape of cannolis—explaining how he got his name—or Nepalese temple balls.

Courtesy of FrenchyCannoli.com

Frenchy was the type of person whose eyes always smiled. He was charismatic, warm, and often laughing. In most photos you’ll see him the way we did most often, with a full wide smile and deep laugh lines. The multi-hour hash-making workshop at the Meadow headquarters that I participated in back in 2015 was the time I witnessed him being the most serious. He wouldn’t tolerate people in my class talking amongst themselves even after hours of intense instruction and called to his students to pay closer attention. Frenchy was undeniably devoted to his craft.

“If you’re not deadly in love with the resin, then you’re going to get lost,” he said that day.

Within the film, Frenchy’s genuine love for resin shines through.

“The way we treat that plant, the way we work with it, will define the future,” he says in Frenchy Dreams of Hashish.

For Remington, the documentary is an effort to “highlight the ethos of sustainable farming and dedication to quality sungrown cannabis shared by Frenchy and his farmers,” but it’s also a way to show how the California’s cannabis industry’s transition from a medical to adult-use marketplace have unfavorably impacted the survival of the small farms Frenchy championed.

“During filming, California’s cannabis industry experienced waves of change that negatively affected and threatened the livelihood of the small farmers Frenchy worked with,” Remington says in a press release. “This maelstrom of bureaucracy and hypocrisy forms the context of the film in which Frenchy and the farmers’ fight for quality—and survival—intensified.”

Even though he is no longer with us in person, Frenchy’s spirit and message to preserve the cannabis heritage of the Emerald Triangle remain through things like the film and efforts of the ones he loved, most notably his wife Kimberly Hooks, also known as Madame Cannoli, and his apprentice Bell. Watch Frenchy’s social media channels for information about additional film screenings.

The post Frenchy Cannoli’s Legacy Still Aligns With the Farmers appeared first on High Times.

Face of the Farmer: Sol Spirit Farm & Retreats

Trinity County sits at the top of the state of California. It’s one of three counties making up the Emerald Triangle, along with Mendocino and Humboldt. Trinity is the more rustic and rural of the counties, with a population of a little less than 13,000 with a sizeable number of craft cannabis farmers up in the hills. Walter Wood and Judi Nelson of Sol Spirit Farm consider themselves Trinity homesteaders. For more than two decades, they’ve been farming off the grid on the same spot on the south fork of the Trinity River, located in the northern part of the Emerald Triangle.

“Homesteading off the grid means doing everything yourself,” Walter says. “It means when the power goes out or the water stops flowing—we deal with it. We aren’t connected to the city water, like some of the larger growers. We make everything happen ourselves by our own hands. That’s really the crux of being a craft cannabis farmer: how hands-on you are in every step of the process.”

Their home is a product of their local environment. The straw bales that comprise the main house were sourced from 120 miles away, the earthen floor was made from the ground beneath and the trees were felled from the property. Homesteading, he said, also means living a righteous and sustainable life, keeping the footprint as small as possible, being mindful of the earth as a precious commodity to be cared for. 

He says his personal inspiration for working on the land began when he was very young, growing up in Los Angeles.

“My grandparents gardened one acre in Los Angeles,” he says. “My grandfather was a horticulturist and an etymology hobbyist, with a large bug collection under glass. When they were getting older, I cared for their fruit trees, which included avocados and oranges. It gave me a strong connection to the earth.”

Farming for Health

Walter’s foray into cannabis began in 1992, when he was 20 years old and working for Los Angeles Water & Power. Diagnosed with a permanent back injury, he was initially prescribed, what he refers to as, “heavy duty painkillers.” That’s when he discovered cannabis to be a better choice.

“Just by smoking cannabis it greatly reduced the spasms and pain much better than the pills,” he says. “Without the plant, the pain becomes unmanageable. I never found pharmaceuticals could help me nearly as much as the natural, healthy product I can grow myself.”

His cannabis prescription has been updated for more than two decades under California’s Medical Cannabis program that began in 1996, making the Golden State the first to legalize cannabis for medicine in the country.

The Grateful Dead, Weed & Romance

Co-founders Judi Nelson and Walter Wood. PHOTO Rowan Nelson-Wood

In 1995, shortly after Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead passed, Judi and Walter met at his memorial in LA. After the event Judi wanted to attend a Rainbow gathering down in Mexico and someone asked Walter if he could work on a bus for the group of nine to travel there together.

“We never found the gathering,” Walter says, laughing, “but we had a great time together and smoked a kilo of bud in no time, as we trekked down to Michoacan and back. The entire trip took three and a half months—long enough to get to know each other on a bus in close quarters.”

During the trip, Judi and Walter became a couple and eventually ended up in Baton Rouge where Judi was working as a temporary traveling physical therapist. They immediately noticed a serious lack of cannabis in Louisiana, with Walter educating himself by reading Ed Rosenthal’s 1990 version of the Marijuana Grower’s Handbook.

“There were no grow shops or specific equipment for growing available at that time, so I went to the hardware store and bought two porch lights, one 250 watts, the other 150 watts, then made a homemade hood and I immediately became addicted to growing cannabis.”

After a stint in Arkansas looking for land and another relocation with Judi’s work, they were pulled over with guns drawn and arrested for a dirty pipe, clean glass pipes and glass blowing paraphernalia Walter had been working with—misdemeanors, all. With no scent of cannabis in their 1972 Westfalia hippie van and only the scent of incense burned, with Walter’s dreadlocks down to his waist, the two felt they were definitely profiled in the ultra-conservative state. 

Walter pleaded guilty so Judi wouldn’t lose her physical therapist license. In court, the newly graduated officer admitted that he learned incense is used to cover up the smell of cannabis, and he had no evidence as cause for pulling them over in the first place. Consequently, the couple was released with $2,500 in bail and no time served, but Walter did lose his driver’s license for six years.

The experience scared them off the road and helped them make the decision to relocate to the more progressive state of California. They landed initially in Humboldt County in the City of Arcata—otherwise known as ’60s by the Sea—and began growing in a residential neighborhood in an attic space of a 500-square-foot house.

But growing indoors wasn’t sustainable, and soon the Woods would be called into the woods.

Life on the Farm

They hadn’t even looked at the farm they now call home due to rumors of meth use from its tenants and a lack of water on the property.

“We’d been looking for a couple of years and this place had been for sale the entire time,” Walter said. “Without a source of water, we didn’t feel it’d work for us, but after a 200-to-300-foot hike up the hill, we found the end of a pipe, we were hopeful. It wasn’t at a spring, but then we found a hand-dug trench in two or three inches of water. Hand digging trenches on the side of a mountain just isn’t done any more.” 

This find told them that back in the 1930s, when it was common to hand dig to a spring, water was there, with the pipes long abandoned. After they purchased the property they received a deed to water rights to the stream that had been dug out long ago.

“Water’s everything,” he said. “We also practice rain water catchment, but we’d have never bought this place without access to a spring.”

Sol Spirit is an organic, sustainable and regenerative farm producing award-winning, sungrown craft cannabis.

“Our intent has always been to source as much of our calories from the farm, living off the land as much as we can,” he says. “Practicing regenerative farming techniques makes all the difference to the quality of flower we produce—and the food we grow for ourselves and our guests.”

According to greenamerica.org, regenerative agricultural practices include using cover crops, reducing tiling, rotating crops, spreading compost and moving away from synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and factory farming.”

“We also practice what’s called Intensive Rotational Grazing, with our chickens and pigs, conditioning the soil as they graze,” Walter says.

Sol Spirit craft cannabis
Smelling the flower. PHOTO Walter Wood

The farm has won many awards, including from The Emerald Cup, The Grow Off and WeedCon. Important to note, The Emerald Cup has never been awarded to a cannabis farmer for a high THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), but rather for the overall profile of the plant—meaning the complex bouquet, derived from the sun and the rich, loamy soil to the North.

“Earth Conscious Cannabis” is the farm’s slogan, with Walter saying that most of the regulations under the legal market seem out of step with the farming of, and the harmless nature of the plant.

Growing in native soil, Walter says, allows the plant to fully express the terroir that’s made the region famous and the flowers fragrant. Cultivars such as Sol Cookies, Sol Shine, Mother’s Milk and the classic Sour Diesel don’t disappoint.

“Our hope is that the small, craft sungrown farmers’ products are realized for their quality sooner than later, so that we can survive corporatization and commodification of this sacred plant,” he continued. “We can’t compete with big agriculture on prices, and they can’t compete with us on handcrafted quality—that’s a fact.”

In keeping with its environmentally conscious mission, Sol Spirit Farm’s products are all hand packaged using recycled glass containers, with ocean recycled plastic lids and compostable labels, with them winning First Place for the 2022 Emerald Cup for Eco-conscience Packaging.

Glamping to Sustain

Sol Spirit Retreats’ glamping tents. PHOTO Sharon Letts

Subsidizing the family cannabis farm looks a little different than the average American farmer’s subsidy from the federal government. With no Farm Aid for cannabis farmers, many are getting creative in the way they use their space and the farm.

In an effort to open up to the community at large, while providing a much-needed additional income, the couple started another branch of the business: Sol Spirit Retreats. Judi turned a flat meadow into glamping grounds, offering up overnight stays in well-outfitted bell tents, with real beds and linens. As a plus, each tent has its own private bath nearby with hot running water and fluffy towels.

“All our meals are farm to table,” Judi says. “We use organic eggs, produce and livestock from the farm, and locally sourced goods from other farmers in the area.”

Zucchini noodles, marinara sauce, pesto and salads all come from the garden. Nearby are the iconic Willow Creek peach farmers; Jacque and Amy Neukom’s dry-farmed peaches along the Trinity River are used in cobbler.

“Our favorite is cannabis-infused peach ice cream,” Judi says. “I use our Blueberry Muffin flower (Humboldt Seed Co’s genetics) for the infusion. We don’t grow carrots on the farm, because up the road Willow Creek Farms grows the best carrots you’ll ever taste.”

Preparing fresh food from the land. PHOTO Sharon Letts

Breakfast might include locally sourced fruits, bacon from their own sustainably raised (and loved) pigs, and eggs from their own free-range, organically fed chickens. Stays include guided tours of the farm by Walter, a master cultivator, with guests enjoying seeing how the farm clones, plants, grows, harvests and manicures their flowers for market. 

Guests can also take advantage of river rafting on the nearby Trinity River, or attending a Zumba, Yoga, or Pilates class for an additional fee. Judi has more than 25 years’ experience as a physical therapist and is an expert practitioner of myofascial release techniques, plus a Pilates and Zumba instructor, offering classes at Trinity Herbals & Wellness Center.

Last July, Sol Spirits Retreats organized the Emerald Triangle Revealed Tour, which is a three-county, five-day retreat including stays in Southern Humboldt, on the coast of Mendocino. They worked with vintners and other farmers to organize 420-friendly stays, bringing people up to see the Emerald Triangle and experience the lifestyle that’s been hidden for decades due to the failed War on Drugs.

”The plant is sacred medicine, and it’s a huge part of our lives,” Walter says. “Our mission is to take cannabis out of the closet and grow some of the best medicine in a regenerative way, as part of a dynamic, multifaceted, small family farm. In opening up the farm to overnight stays, we hope that our guests will come away excited and inspired to join a regenerative future—or at least finally understand what our lives are all about up here.”

The post Face of the Farmer: Sol Spirit Farm & Retreats appeared first on Cannabis Now.

Burn Coast: The New Great American Weed Novel

Contemporary literature rarely touches on the topic of cannabis, mostly because, like other industries, they’re frightened. By “they” I mean publishers, authors, readers. After all, it is still federally illegal (which you’d think would give it more publicity, like bank robbery). However, earlier this year, the folks over at Unnamed Press published a book by Dale Maharidge, and I would recommend that anyone else with a weed novel hold off for at least a year or two, because I can quite confidently say that it won’t be as thorough, thrilling, and true to the cannabis space as Burn Coast.

The book takes place in the Emerald Triangle, on a fictional ridge nestled behind the Redwood Curtain. It jumps back and forth in time between the 1960s, when a group of outlaws settled there to grow weed and live in/ooze peace, and the present, after their hippie daydream has been invaded by the dark cloud of big money.

The story follows Will Specter, a middle-aged journalist who built himself a cabin there in the ‘90s, as he searches for a missing woman named Zoë Vanderlip, one of the original pioneers of this community. We also meet Will’s closest thing to a neighbor and friend, Daniel Likowski, who is a cross between the Marlboro Man and Jay Gatsby, with an onionesque identity. Zoë’s son, Klaus, is worth mentioning too, “his expansive greenhouses having made him the largest employer in the valley”; Klaus has also been accused of raping or assaulting three women, most notably, a Bulgarian trimmer by the name of Tammie.

We do a deep dive into each of these characters’ histories, all equally exciting and unexpected. Zoë, for instance, grows up on the East Coast, then runs off to Germany as an act of rebellion after discovering that her father, a general in the U.S. military, helped sneak Nazis into America. She has Klaus with a West German draft resister; the three of them move to the States in order for the child to receive a “proper education,” and for him to be “closer to the natural world, removed from the society that was collapsing”; soon thereafter, their relationship falls apart and Zoë becomes a single parent. Likowski, a purist who believes in the incontestable beauty of sun-grown cannabis, mentors Klaus and teaches him how to grow.

“Depping” (i.e. light deprivation) plays a major role in the novel. It is the distinguishing factor between old versus new world cannabis, similar to winemaking. And speaking of alcohol—this is semi-unrelated to the book, but—I find it interesting that we exist in a moment when the next Jim Beam or Jack Daniels is out there somewhere, growing weed.

There are many cultural references throughout Burn Coast, including Abbie Hoffman, Dick Gregory, and Joan Didion; Timothy Leary even makes a cameo, discussing the “heightened state of ‘aesthetic receptivity’ that acid gave him.”

Burn Coast is a how-to guide to storytelling (so those of you who want to write fiction, I would definitely say check this one out, because as the old saying goes: you can’t write unless you read). Through the eyes and mind of Will Specter, we see how—and how not—to report. We learn how to grow—mind you, it is a novel so you won’t become a legacy grower just by reading this book, but you may learn something useful, for example: “Rent a big house, at least three bedrooms, so you can go full throttle. Put white window shades in the front, then gaffer-tape black plastic behind them so from the outside nothing looks wrong … You’re gonna burn through juice; they say they don’t, but they look for big spikes in bills. Suddenly the electric bill goes to like eighteen hundred bucks a month. I never rent more than twelve months.”

On top of that, the book is overflowing with beautiful language—occasionally, it’s too good to the point that it makes me upset: “Deaths from sudden violence are often preceded by the exquisitely ordinary. Teeth are brushed. Clothes to be worn are chosen from a closet. Shoes are tied. In an overseas nation riven by war, you wake up each day expecting to die, and these small things are appreciated as they are accomplished, if only for the fact that you are alive to do them. Americans are robbed of this joy because of the illusion that the United States is not a conflict zone. No victim of a mass shooting expects to die going to school to learn, a club or outdoor concert to dance, a cinema complex to watch a film, a church to worship, a small newsroom to report on local events. It’s the same for individual victims of violence: The convenience store clerk shot dead by the robber. The unarmed black motorist stopped by the cop for a broken taillight. The inner-city mother watching television in her house, in the path of an errant bullet fired two blocks distant…”

Burn Coast is an off-the-grid mystery, and like all the best mysteries, it continues to unravel and bloom with each conversation, each clue, until the very last, smoke-filled paragraph.

Courtesy of Unnamed Press

The post Burn Coast: The New Great American Weed Novel appeared first on High Times.

Face of the Farmer: Sunshine Cereceda, Sunboldt Grown

Stepping out of the unregulated medical marijuana market in California and into the world of legal, adult-use cannabis, with licensing and high taxes to follow, has been no small feat for most farmers in Northern California’s hail from the Emerald Triangle, which includes Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity counties. Considered by many as the cannabis capital of the world, this is where many of the cultivars we enjoy were first developed.

One such Southern Humboldt County farmer, Sunboldt Grown owner Sunshine Cereceda, was comfortable in the medical marijuana space, using the cooperative model where patients supported farmers. There, she developed and branded cultivars of her own, like Loopy Fruit, Wanderlust, Delphina and Redwood Summer.

Cereceda saw the writing on the wall with issues of legalization for the small farmers to the north, and her message is the still the same: Farmers need to brand themselves, their farms and their cultivars in order to effectively compete and be known.

They also need to do away with the middleman—or the “Bro Distro”—as Cereceda dubbed them. This refers to the old-school method of moving material and product on just a handshake, with the small farmer at home often getting the short end of the deal. It worked to a point back in the day, but today trust is being exploited by what she calls “corporate sharks.”

“Cannabis has always sustained us, even through the hard times, so why is it not going to get us through now, after all these years?” Cereceda asks. “In my mind, the small cannabis farmers need to change their mindset. They need to do away with all the bad habits developed in the past unregulated markets in order to move forward.”

Cereceda went on to explain that in the days of prohibition, they were functioning without a future. But now, small cannabis farmers can leverage their own history as they legally build their businesses. 

“Rookies and bad habits built the industry during prohibition. From my roots in activism, I understand the challenges of the messenger,” she said. “But we have this product that’s already branded from our region—we’re known as rockstars in the industry. There’s no stronger cannabis community in the nation. We’re just in transition. It’s a learning curve, to say the least.”

Born Into Activism

Cereceda’s mom brought her to Southern Humboldt from her birthplace of San Luis Obispo, CA, when she was seven years old. 

“I was raised by an activist,” Cereceda says. “My mother organized and protested nuclear energy and weapons. She was there during the Diablo Canyon rally in 1978 with [CA Governor] Jerry Brown—she was one of the organizers.”

Part of her mother’s advocacy included protecting the redwoods, and Cereceda followed in her footsteps, majoring in geology at Humboldt State University. “I studied geology mostly because it’s Mother Earth, and I wanted to understand the earth” she said. “I thought it was all about plant life, but then I realized it was the rocks and the earth itself.”

The degree led her to work on road inventories for Humboldt Redwoods State Parks, followed by a gig with Pacific Watershed Associates. 

Watershed stewardship is an important issue in California and is directly tied to the health of the forests and rivers. For decades, the watershed was largely ignored by small and large-scale cannabis operations from both the unregulated medical and illicit markets during the days of the Green Rush. They would reroute water coming down the mountains to suit their needs, with unpermitted roads crisscrossing the hills, making it nearly impossible for literally hundreds of hill farmers to come into compliance today.

It’s important to note that the erosion of the roads is also a direct result from the timber industry, now expected to be corrected and paid for by the farmers.

“During a town hall meeting prior to legalization, water experts were brought in to let us know that, even in a drought, we could gather enough water to care for our crops using rain-catchment systems,” she said. “Cannabis farmers have taken the lead in responsible water use for agriculture in the state.”

For the Love of Farming

Responsible agricultural practices are key in sustainable and regenerative farming, which is what the Emerald Triangle is known for. But it’s not enough to compete in an overregulated market, where the farmer feels the brunt of taxation—not only on the farm, but also on the shelf, as retailers bump their losses down to the farmer at check-out.

“Farmers are at the end of the line in a capitalistic system, and we carry the tax burden as it gets kicked down from retailers and brands that buy bulk and package it themselves,” Cereceda says. “I’m lucky that I have good retail partners, but that took time and consistency to establish. If you’re still using your Bro Distro, you’re losing a big chunk of income.”

With the promise of distributors and umbrella brands representing farmers a clear disappointment—garnering a mere $400 to $500 per pound—Cereceda says it’s time for farmers to represent themselves in the marketplace and build a brand.

Doing all the work herself with her team, from seed to shelf, including packaging, Cereceda said she’s been able to get $1100 to $1200 per pound.

“Farm management skills [and] managing workers—it takes a lot of years and a concentrated effort to be good at it, and that all adds to your bottom line” she says. “You can’t just get a license and think it’s all going to work out alright with your output. Historically, we pay for our operation out of each harvest, but that’s like working paycheck to paycheck with no guarantee your next crop will be moved. Our distribution right now is weak.”

Reducing risk plays a big factor in succeeding in the regulated market, and Cereceda says the more a farmer opts out of their own work, the less they’ll make. It’s just common sense.

“How about growing what you can move yourself?” she asks. “This is capitalism, count your blessings. This is how it works. The middleman will take all your profits if you let him. And your Bro Distro isn’t much better. It takes one year to grow a crop; it takes several years to grow a business.”

One distributor Cereceda speaks fondly of is Berner, CEO and co-founder of Cookies, with longtime Southern Humboldt Farmer, Kevin Jodrey in the mix.

“Berner is underrated,” she says. “He’s doing a great job supporting farmers and has gotten more customers off the black market on the streets and into shops than anyone else. He allowed so many black-market growers back in the day to prosper growing his genetics—they got brand recognition for his cultivars. Can’t say enough good about Berner.”

Berner is a stage name for San Francisco Bay Area hip-hop artist, Gilbert Anthony Milam, Jr., who branded his Cookies cultivar during the medical market in California. Cookies was made legendary after the Scouts of America forced him to shorten the name from Girl Scout Cookies to Cookies.

Branding a Life

small cannabis farmers

Showing the face of the farmer—telling their stories in today’s social media marketing mindset is everything.

The once shy Cereceda is now posting photos of herself on social media from the farm, holding her colas in the forest, telling the stories of how they were created and named—sharing her charmed farm life with the world.

Typically, it takes years to create a cultivar. It’s not uncommon for each farmer to have specific stories surrounding the work, the detailed variations of the flower, and the cultivar’s name, which often involves a sentimental or meaningful story from the farm.

Sunboldt Grown’s website beckons, “Taste the Redwoods,” noting all cultivars are grown in the loamy ancient soil, taking on nuances, just as in viticulture in the South of France and the growing of grapes for wine taking on the essence of lavender or rosemary nearby.

The plants are grown in the flood plain deposits of the Eel River, with no additional water needed. This is called dry farming, and the farmers refer to themselves as “terroirists” (from the French word terroir, meaning earth or soil), who allow for the place to be expressed in the flower they grow.

Cereceda’s crops are also grown by the cycles of the moon, not uncommon among farmers. In fact, the historic Farmer’s Almanac still provides lunar cycles as a planting guide. The almanac explains that just as the moon’s gravitational pull creates the tides of the oceans, it also promotes plant growth by creating more moisture in the soil. 

Sunboldt Grown cannabis

“Wanderlust was inspired by sailing on the ocean,” Cereceda says. “The word implies an urgency to be moving, to not settle in one place.”

From its website, Wanderlust is a hybrid of Blue Dream and Agent Orange, with flavors of lemon-lime zest and fresh Douglas Fir needles, finishing with a splash of orange juice. The smoke is medium-bodied with a dense, velvety richness. A ten-week strain, its delicate flower is sensitive to the cold.

“Redwood Summer is named after the campaign and initiative from 1990, to stop the clear-cutting of all old-growth redwoods,” Cereceda said.

The backstory to the Redwood Summer campaign is heartbreaking and personal to the region. Earth First! began the movement. It was led by Judi Bari during the Timber Wars that continued into the 1990s and ended when Bari and her partner Daryl Cherney were seriously injured after a pipe bomb was planted in their car. The cultivar is a tribute to Bari and the movement that continues to educate and protect the old growth forests.

Delphina was created by crossing Purple Nepal with Rebel Moon (NorCal Diesel). Cereceda uses this cultivar to make old-school, solventless, bubble hash as it yields high-quality resin. A sweet and savory aroma, it’s spicy, and the smoke is likened to breathing in the forest floor, delivering a deep state of relaxation and euphoria.

“Delphina is a Greek woman from Delphi, Greece, where the Earth Goddess Gaia was first celebrated,” she said. 

According to author Darian West, the Oracle of Delphi was considered the most influential woman of the ancient world from 800 BC until 393 AD, when her last recorded entry predicted the end of the Roman Empire, declaring, “All is ended.” Delphina proclaimed Socrates the wisest man in the world, predicted the rise of Alexander the Great and foretold the death of Nero.

Farmer as Influencer

Small cannabis farmers have a hard time getting out of the illicit market. For the most part, they can’t afford licensing; can’t move product; distribution is weak; taxes are high; and ordinances are unreasonable and/or ill-informed to begin with, causing undue hardships.

“Everyone is codependent in this space,” Cereceda says. “The handshake deals don’t work anymore. The days of your best buddy distributing for you are over.”

For the first time in history, cannabis farmers are feeling the brunt of growing the world’s most illicit and beloved herb on the planet. Just as with food farmers, they aren’t getting a living wage, with no subsidy from the US government to bail them out when times are hard, or the price per pound is too low to pay the bills.

“Everyone is borrowing on us, and we’ve been way too complacent about it for far too long,”’ Cereceda says. “On the other hand, this product—this cash crop—is from Mother Earth, and the fact that we’re doing as well as we are up here is just amazing to me. We need to own our right to be here and work smarter.”

The post Face of the Farmer: Sunshine Cereceda, Sunboldt Grown appeared first on Cannabis Now.

Face of the Farmer: Sunshine Cereceda, Sunboldt Grown

Stepping out of the unregulated medical marijuana market in California and into the world of legal, adult-use cannabis, with licensing and high taxes to follow, has been no small feat for most farmers in Northern California’s hail from the Emerald Triangle, which includes Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity counties. Considered by many as the cannabis capital of the world, this is where many of the cultivars we enjoy were first developed.

One such Southern Humboldt County farmer, Sunboldt Grown owner Sunshine Cereceda, was comfortable in the medical marijuana space, using the cooperative model where patients supported farmers. There, she developed and branded cultivars of her own, like Loopy Fruit, Wanderlust, Delphina and Redwood Summer.

Cereceda saw the writing on the wall with issues of legalization for the small farmers to the north, and her message is the still the same: Farmers need to brand themselves, their farms and their cultivars in order to effectively compete and be known.

They also need to do away with the middleman—or the “Bro Distro”—as Cereceda dubbed them. This refers to the old-school method of moving material and product on just a handshake, with the small farmer at home often getting the short end of the deal. It worked to a point back in the day, but today trust is being exploited by what she calls “corporate sharks.”

“Cannabis has always sustained us, even through the hard times, so why is it not going to get us through now, after all these years?” Cereceda asks. “In my mind, the small cannabis farmers need to change their mindset. They need to do away with all the bad habits developed in the past unregulated markets in order to move forward.”

Cereceda went on to explain that in the days of prohibition, they were functioning without a future. But now, small cannabis farmers can leverage their own history as they legally build their businesses. 

“Rookies and bad habits built the industry during prohibition. From my roots in activism, I understand the challenges of the messenger,” she said. “But we have this product that’s already branded from our region—we’re known as rockstars in the industry. There’s no stronger cannabis community in the nation. We’re just in transition. It’s a learning curve, to say the least.”

Born Into Activism

Cereceda’s mom brought her to Southern Humboldt from her birthplace of San Luis Obispo, CA, when she was seven years old. 

“I was raised by an activist,” Cereceda says. “My mother organized and protested nuclear energy and weapons. She was there during the Diablo Canyon rally in 1978 with [CA Governor] Jerry Brown—she was one of the organizers.”

Part of her mother’s advocacy included protecting the redwoods, and Cereceda followed in her footsteps, majoring in geology at Humboldt State University. “I studied geology mostly because it’s Mother Earth, and I wanted to understand the earth” she said. “I thought it was all about plant life, but then I realized it was the rocks and the earth itself.”

The degree led her to work on road inventories for Humboldt Redwoods State Parks, followed by a gig with Pacific Watershed Associates. 

Watershed stewardship is an important issue in California and is directly tied to the health of the forests and rivers. For decades, the watershed was largely ignored by small and large-scale cannabis operations from both the unregulated medical and illicit markets during the days of the Green Rush. They would reroute water coming down the mountains to suit their needs, with unpermitted roads crisscrossing the hills, making it nearly impossible for literally hundreds of hill farmers to come into compliance today.

It’s important to note that the erosion of the roads is also a direct result from the timber industry, now expected to be corrected and paid for by the farmers.

“During a town hall meeting prior to legalization, water experts were brought in to let us know that, even in a drought, we could gather enough water to care for our crops using rain-catchment systems,” she said. “Cannabis farmers have taken the lead in responsible water use for agriculture in the state.”

For the Love of Farming

Responsible agricultural practices are key in sustainable and regenerative farming, which is what the Emerald Triangle is known for. But it’s not enough to compete in an overregulated market, where the farmer feels the brunt of taxation—not only on the farm, but also on the shelf, as retailers bump their losses down to the farmer at check-out.

“Farmers are at the end of the line in a capitalistic system, and we carry the tax burden as it gets kicked down from retailers and brands that buy bulk and package it themselves,” Cereceda says. “I’m lucky that I have good retail partners, but that took time and consistency to establish. If you’re still using your Bro Distro, you’re losing a big chunk of income.”

With the promise of distributors and umbrella brands representing farmers a clear disappointment—garnering a mere $400 to $500 per pound—Cereceda says it’s time for farmers to represent themselves in the marketplace and build a brand.

Doing all the work herself with her team, from seed to shelf, including packaging, Cereceda said she’s been able to get $1100 to $1200 per pound.

“Farm management skills [and] managing workers—it takes a lot of years and a concentrated effort to be good at it, and that all adds to your bottom line” she says. “You can’t just get a license and think it’s all going to work out alright with your output. Historically, we pay for our operation out of each harvest, but that’s like working paycheck to paycheck with no guarantee your next crop will be moved. Our distribution right now is weak.”

Reducing risk plays a big factor in succeeding in the regulated market, and Cereceda says the more a farmer opts out of their own work, the less they’ll make. It’s just common sense.

“How about growing what you can move yourself?” she asks. “This is capitalism, count your blessings. This is how it works. The middleman will take all your profits if you let him. And your Bro Distro isn’t much better. It takes one year to grow a crop; it takes several years to grow a business.”

One distributor Cereceda speaks fondly of is Berner, CEO and co-founder of Cookies, with longtime Southern Humboldt Farmer, Kevin Jodrey in the mix.

“Berner is underrated,” she says. “He’s doing a great job supporting farmers and has gotten more customers off the black market on the streets and into shops than anyone else. He allowed so many black-market growers back in the day to prosper growing his genetics—they got brand recognition for his cultivars. Can’t say enough good about Berner.”

Berner is a stage name for San Francisco Bay Area hip-hop artist, Gilbert Anthony Milam, Jr., who branded his Cookies cultivar during the medical market in California. Cookies was made legendary after the Scouts of America forced him to shorten the name from Girl Scout Cookies to Cookies.

Branding a Life

small cannabis farmers

Showing the face of the farmer—telling their stories in today’s social media marketing mindset is everything.

The once shy Cereceda is now posting photos of herself on social media from the farm, holding her colas in the forest, telling the stories of how they were created and named—sharing her charmed farm life with the world.

Typically, it takes years to create a cultivar. It’s not uncommon for each farmer to have specific stories surrounding the work, the detailed variations of the flower, and the cultivar’s name, which often involves a sentimental or meaningful story from the farm.

Sunboldt Grown’s website beckons, “Taste the Redwoods,” noting all cultivars are grown in the loamy ancient soil, taking on nuances, just as in viticulture in the South of France and the growing of grapes for wine taking on the essence of lavender or rosemary nearby.

The plants are grown in the flood plain deposits of the Eel River, with no additional water needed. This is called dry farming, and the farmers refer to themselves as “terroirists” (from the French word terroir, meaning earth or soil), who allow for the place to be expressed in the flower they grow.

Cereceda’s crops are also grown by the cycles of the moon, not uncommon among farmers. In fact, the historic Farmer’s Almanac still provides lunar cycles as a planting guide. The almanac explains that just as the moon’s gravitational pull creates the tides of the oceans, it also promotes plant growth by creating more moisture in the soil. 

Sunboldt Grown cannabis

“Wanderlust was inspired by sailing on the ocean,” Cereceda says. “The word implies an urgency to be moving, to not settle in one place.”

From its website, Wanderlust is a hybrid of Blue Dream and Agent Orange, with flavors of lemon-lime zest and fresh Douglas Fir needles, finishing with a splash of orange juice. The smoke is medium-bodied with a dense, velvety richness. A ten-week strain, its delicate flower is sensitive to the cold.

“Redwood Summer is named after the campaign and initiative from 1990, to stop the clear-cutting of all old-growth redwoods,” Cereceda said.

The backstory to the Redwood Summer campaign is heartbreaking and personal to the region. Earth First! began the movement. It was led by Judi Bari during the Timber Wars that continued into the 1990s and ended when Bari and her partner Daryl Cherney were seriously injured after a pipe bomb was planted in their car. The cultivar is a tribute to Bari and the movement that continues to educate and protect the old growth forests.

Delphina was created by crossing Purple Nepal with Rebel Moon (NorCal Diesel). Cereceda uses this cultivar to make old-school, solventless, bubble hash as it yields high-quality resin. A sweet and savory aroma, it’s spicy, and the smoke is likened to breathing in the forest floor, delivering a deep state of relaxation and euphoria.

“Delphina is a Greek woman from Delphi, Greece, where the Earth Goddess Gaia was first celebrated,” she said. 

According to author Darian West, the Oracle of Delphi was considered the most influential woman of the ancient world from 800 BC until 393 AD, when her last recorded entry predicted the end of the Roman Empire, declaring, “All is ended.” Delphina proclaimed Socrates the wisest man in the world, predicted the rise of Alexander the Great and foretold the death of Nero.

Farmer as Influencer

Small cannabis farmers have a hard time getting out of the illicit market. For the most part, they can’t afford licensing; can’t move product; distribution is weak; taxes are high; and ordinances are unreasonable and/or ill-informed to begin with, causing undue hardships.

“Everyone is codependent in this space,” Cereceda says. “The handshake deals don’t work anymore. The days of your best buddy distributing for you are over.”

For the first time in history, cannabis farmers are feeling the brunt of growing the world’s most illicit and beloved herb on the planet. Just as with food farmers, they aren’t getting a living wage, with no subsidy from the US government to bail them out when times are hard, or the price per pound is too low to pay the bills.

“Everyone is borrowing on us, and we’ve been way too complacent about it for far too long,”’ Cereceda says. “On the other hand, this product—this cash crop—is from Mother Earth, and the fact that we’re doing as well as we are up here is just amazing to me. We need to own our right to be here and work smarter.”

The post Face of the Farmer: Sunshine Cereceda, Sunboldt Grown appeared first on Cannabis Now.

Growing Soil for Cannabis, the Regenerative Way

Soil preparation for the garden begins in the fall at harvest time, and the process is completed in the spring. Of course, the easiest thing to do would be to run out and buy bags of different powdered nutrients, premixed fertilizers or a bottle off the shelf that has all of these nutrients in their proper proportion—and maybe even says organic on the label—but where is the fun in that?

Here at Swami Select, in California’s Emerald Triangle, we source materials as close to home as possible. We’re trying to save the planet by moving agriculture away from petrochemical ingredients and revitalizing the soil through natural inputs and regenerative practices.

Benefits of Cover Crop

Cover crop at the home of Swami Select, in Northern California’s Emerald Triangle.

The basis of fertile earth starts with planting a cover crop of legumes and grasses just before or right after harvest in October and November, or in the early spring. Cover crop seeds are available in different formulas of premixed bags, often called Organic Soil Builder or OSB. Alternatively, some nurseries let you combine your own selection of seeds. Sweet pea, vetch, fava beans, alfalfa and ryegrass are some of the most common “green manure” crops.

The advantages of planting a cover crop in the fall are many: The soil is protected from erosion during the winter rains; beneficial plants prevent unwelcome weeds, malevolent fungi, bacteria or other pathogens from growing. Best of all, the bacteria around the roots of the cover crop legumes gather nitrogen in a form that can be easily utilized by the cannabis plant after the cover crop is harvested in the springtime. This is called “nitrogen-fixing.”

The cut plant material is then used as mulch or green manure. Alternatively, the cover crop can be turned over so the roots of the plants are up. But, it is better to just cut down the above-ground part and let it lie where cut to form a mulch.

It’s also beneficial to leave the stalks and roots in the bed after harvest so as not to disturb the microbiology in the soil that has developed during the growth cycle. The stalks are then pulled out in the spring when the cover crop is harvested, but by now, the finer ends of the roots have been composted into the soil, adding organic material. In addition, fungal hyphae have developed about the root ball. Cannabis prefers a predominantly fungal environment in the soil—like the trees in the forest—rather than a bacterial environment such as the meadow grasses.

The Theory of No-Till Farming

In the practice of Regenerative Agriculture, there is either “no till,” or tilling is kept to an absolute minimum, only mixing in the amendments in the topmost layer. The theory of no-till farming rests on the fact that different microorganisms thrive at different depths in the soil.

Bacterial life is most abundant below one-and-a-half feet, and if it is turned over and brought to the surface, the bacteria will binge eat all the available nutrients near the surface. Once all of the nutrients are gone, they die from exposure. This actually depletes the soil. If every different microbial life form in living soil remains in its optimum depth environment, the soil food web is not disturbed and fertility increases.

Disposing of soil after each harvest is a bad idea. With the right regenerative practices, each year you can improve the soil and its fertility, substantially reducing the costs and benefiting the environment by doing so.

Testing the Soil

Swami testing the soil.

Early spring is the time to take a soil sample. There are basically two kinds of tests: a mineral/chemical test or a biological/microbial test. The first assays the amounts of NPK and other elements the plant needs to thrive, such as calcium, magnesium, boron, iron, copper, zinc, molybdenum, sulfur, chlorine, manganese and nickel.

The biological test surveys the microbial life, identifying beneficial and detrimental bacteria, fungi, nematodes, ciliates, flagellates, amoebas and more. This test is three to four times more expensive, but it should be done when starting a new garden site, or if there are fertility or pathogen problems. Healthy living soil is more resistant to pests or pathogens.

Contact a local testing lab and they will send you information and instructions for gathering a soil sample to mail in. It is relatively cheap and definitely worth the price—without any soil tests, you are literally operating in the dark. The test should be done annually in different parts of the garden, which will give a baseline and guidelines for how to increase fertility over time.

Reduce Costs, Preserve the Planet With Living Soil

Making wood chips for cannabis soil
Swami making his own wood chips for their garden’s living soil.

How we create living soil is by using compost, worm castings, wood chips, manure, straw and alfalfa mulch, rice hulls and coir as soil amendments or top dressings. This year, we are using homemade biochar in the mix to help reduce our water usage. During the growing season, we make compost teas to energize and augment microbial life, and we also grow companion plants or trap plants as part of integrative pest management.

Bags of compost, worm castings, manure and other items can all be purchased at a nursery or from a local farmer. There are many different kinds of manure, but you want to be sure the animals haven’t been treated with antibiotics or other medications. Compost bins and worm bins can be made at home, but for a large cannabis garden, you will probably need to purchase these items, unless you have a large farm and can produce your own animal manure and straw mulch.

Once you have the soil tests with their recommendations, you can choose what amendments to add. If you are hoping to jump-start the garden, then you can use certain mined mineral products such as gypsum, glacial rock dust, greensand, oyster shell, Azomite (which is crushed volcanic rock and contains many necessary trace elements) and insect frass. I prefer not to use bone meal, blood meal or feather meal, primarily because they attract bears, but also because I am a vegetarian and wonder about the treatment of the animals in the slaughterhouses.

I have also moved away from using bat guano, sea bird guano and perlite. Although they are all effective in the soil, each of these has environmental issues. When bat guano and sea bird guano are collected, it disturbs the hibernating or nesting areas of the animals, threatening their survival. Additionally, imagine the working conditions for those who do the collecting: shoveling bat shit or bird shit all day.

Perlite isn’t approved because when soil with perlite is disposed of (a common practice for indoor and greenhouse farms), the perlite gets in the water supply and then into the stomachs of fish and other wildlife.

After a year or two, if you are adding the right organic ingredients, you won’t have to resort to these granulated additives. If you want to go hard-core regenerative, you can skip the mined mineral additives altogether and rely on wood chips, manure and compost teas. It will just take a bit longer. Wood chips are best made from your own trees. Leaves are gathered in the fall so they have the winter rains to stimulate the microbial growth in the piles.

After the cover crop has been harvested in the spring, it is time to mix all the aforementioned gathered ingredients into a big pile. Once all the amendments are thoroughly mixed—either in a wheelbarrow, cement mixer or tractor with a bucket—each plant bed should get an equal portion of the pile.

Water it in, then top it all off with organic straw mulch. You can start with the routine of a compost tea soil drench every ten days or two weeks. When you repeat this process every year, you end up making a layered lasagna of organic ingredients. After three or four years, the beds will become truly fertile with a living soil food web. Your plants and the Earth will thank you.

The post Growing Soil for Cannabis, the Regenerative Way appeared first on Cannabis Now.

Face of the Farmer: John Casali, Huckleberry Hill Farms

In the mid 1970s, by the time John Casali was five years old, his mother, Marlene Farrell, had relocated them from his birthplace of San Francisco to a farm in Southern Humboldt County.

Starting in 1967, more than 100,000 people gathered in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park and Haight-Ashbury district, where mostly young people identifying as hippies engaged in drugs, free love and anti-war activism. Deemed “The Summer of Love,” the social phenomenon offered the world a window into America’s growing counterculture. 

When the festivities ended in 1969, many traveled north to live off the land. Dubbed “Back to the Landers,” they settled mainly in three regions in Northern California: Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity counties, which all make up the Emerald Triangle. The area is known for its legacy farms that started the cannabis industry. That includes Casali who is still homesteading his mother’s property, Huckleberry Hill Farms, 50 years later.

John Casali of Huckleberry Hill Farms, a legacy, family-run farm in Humboldt County, California.

At Huckleberry Hill Farms, Casali’s mother grew their own food. She planted fruit trees and grape arbors that still produce today, alongside flower gardens woven throughout the idyllic hillside property. The garden isfilled with the history of the cannabis cultivars they’ve painstakingly produced over the years, in memory of loved ones now passed. 

Casali’s earliest memories are of those following his mother around the garden. “Cannabis was always part of our life from the very beginning, but it wasn’t the only crop on the farm,” Casali says. “I can remember running around with my mother as early as 10 years old, helping her cultivate the plant, but also tending to a grape arbor, fruit trees and the vegetable garden we ate from. Cannabis was just another crop that allowed us to survive and thrive in the country.”

Growing their own food, fishing commercially and logging and/or chopping firewood for others are just a few ways those living a rural life survived on the north coast of California and Oregon. Cannabis was grown on the side as a subsidy. Many produce farmers also grew cannabis in a don’t ask, don’t tell scenario that served them well for years. That is, until the helicopters came.

CAMP California

The Campaign Against Marijuana Planting, otherwise known as CAMP (1983 – 2012; 2015 – present) is a multi-agency law enforcement task force under the jurisdiction of the California Department of Justice that coordinates local, state and federal agencies, including Army soldiers and National Guardsmen, with a common goal of eradicating unlicensed cannabis cultivation and distribution in the state.

What CAMP did was federally fund, or subsidize, a bevy of local law enforcement for the failed War on Drugs. Just as with the failed DARE program taught in schools by paying police officers to teach kids about drugs, CAMP created a cash flow to otherwise lowly paid law enforcement, causing them to become dependent, and subsequently support, the failed War on Drugs at the polls. This only perpetuated the ignorance surrounding cannabis, a benign and beneficial plant.

No matter that California legalized medical cannabis in 1996, and had permitted adult-use since 2016. City, county and state agencies were guaranteed an income for raiding local, legal medical farms and associated entities for years under federal prohibition of the plant. With the combined funding, CAMP utilized helicopters in its multi-agency task force, forcing the plant–meant to grow outside in the sun–inside. 

This changed the face of cannabis farming for decades–if not forever.

The Raid

When he was 15 years old, Casali begged his mom to start his own farm. Not young enough to purchase an 11-acre parcel on his own, she co-signed, and he provided the down payment for a sweet spot along the Eel River in Southern Humboldt.

“Mom and I would compete for the best crop,” Casali says with a smile. “But then CAMP started in the ’80s, and by the early ’90s, my parents decided that fishing would be safer, so they left me to take care of the family farm.”

CAMP helicopters forced farmers to grow under trees and often underground in shipping containers to hide. The plant that once provided five or ten pounds at full growth out in the sun now produced substantially less in its hidden, stunted capacity.

But hiding wasn’t enough, and one morning just after sunrise, 30 federal agents arrived at the farm. They never handcuffed the farmer or his friend and neighbor Todd Wick who were both 24 years old at the time. Rather, they handed Casali a little yellow speeding ticket, saying they’d be back if they needed to talk to him further. Fourteen months later, they returned, offering up a hefty $275,000 bail for Casali.

“My mom put up the house and everything else she owned to get me out of jail,” Casali says. “For the next three years, Todd and I drove from Southern Humboldt to the federal courthouse in San Francisco to fight for our freedom as cannabis farmers—as good people, never wanting to hurt anyone.”

Some 100 supporters from Humboldt arrived for the sentencing that included mandatory minimums of ten years, all the way up to life. Casali and Wick surrendered in the summer of 1996, just a few months before California would vote to legalize medical cannabis in the state—the first to do so in the country.

“There was no appeal process based on the new medical laws,” he says. “Because we had no more money left to fight for both appeals, Todd went through the process and lost. After that, we were resigned to be in the system until we served our time.”

Farming In Prison

Because Casali and Wick were farmers, licensed and able to operate heavy equipment, much of their time served was spent working agricultural crops associated with the US Penitentiary at Lompoc, at around 12 cents an hour.

A little-known element of the failed privatized prison system is its eventual transferring of jobs that used to be done by private citizens. Not all jobs in America went overseas during the 1980s. Everything from manufacturing foodstuffs to shower doors to the 411 information line went to prisoners for pennies an hour—a travesty not often discussed in the politicking of job gains and losses in the US.

Since the Lompoc prison camp didn’t have a residential drug program, Casali was transferred to Nellis Airforce Base, where he said he actually learned something about drugs and addicts.

“While the program didn’t apply to me and my cannabis use or farming of it, I learned a lot about true addicts out there, and how they really lose their ability to control what they consume and how much,” he says. “Personally, I don’t believe cannabis falls into that category at all.” 

Casali added that, ironically, the prison system is loaded with offerings of any drug desired, and it’s up to the prisoner to abstain or face consequences of a higher security stay with less privileges.

After serving eight of the ten-year sentence for good behavior, Casali was released to a half-way house in the Tenderloin, San Francisco’s notorious (and worst) neighborhood. He then came back home to Humboldt and began farming his beloved cannabis once more, under California’s newly established cooperative medical cannabis compassionate care program.

“I had 50 people here in this community waiting to help me get my life back in order,” Casali said. “Everyone here knows it could have happened to anyone.”

Call it a barn raising at its finest, the struggle’s nothing new to cannabis farmers across the country in newly legalized states. They support each other while fighting issues of inequality, exorbitantly high taxes and ridiculous ordinances at every turn.

These farmers struggle through the same challenges as our food farmers—drought, storms, frost, low prices at market. But they’re also confronted with the failed War on Drugs, brutal governmental raids, prison time and subsequent criminality upon re-entering society.

The only difference between cannabis farmers and food farmers is that there aren’t any government subsidies for a low return in the ever evolving multi-billion-dollar cannabis market. There’s no category for small, craft cannabis farmers that would help them compete with large-scale corporate operations that sprung up across the state after legalization in 2016.

Price Per Pound

In the old legal medical market of California, the price per pound could fetch somewhere between $3,000 and $4,000. In California’s regulated recreational market, the farmers were promised up to $1,200 per pound, per contract. But in the final analysis of bringing it to market, farmers were offered a take-it-or-leave-it deal of just $400 a pound, contract or not. How did this happen?

“It costs me close to $500 to grow one pound,” Casali says. “To give you an example of a neighboring ag situation, Napa Valley grape growers are taxed $15 per acre and cannabis farmers are taxed between $4,200 to $5,000 per acre. That’s $1 per square foot; making cannabis the highest taxed agricultural crop in the world.”

Add $161.28 California State tax per pound, then $150 or so per pound to trim, plus Water Board, Fish & Game fees and untold thousands of additional dollars for improvements made for most farmers to come into compliance. Anyone can see that, on paper, this is the beginning of the collapse of the historic, heritage small cannabis farmers.

“We’re predicting that by the next season, we’ll lose 50% of our small farmers up here,” Casali says.

To provide a better overall idea about what California’s cannabis industry to the north has been through since the legalization of adult-use began, the County of Humboldt estimated that there were 15,000 small cannabis farmers operating when legalization went on the ballot with Prop. 64 in November of 2016—with no issues of meeting supply and demand, and nary a pound left on any shelf.

Today, there are currently 400 permit holders in Humboldt County alone, with Casali predicting 200 will have to stop farming in the next year, unable to afford to farm in a legal market.

“When we lost the one-acre rule the night before legalization, that put a nail in the coffin of most of our small farmers,” Casali says. “The corporate farms, or those with the most financial backing, began buying up the smaller farm’s licenses, beginning what’s called ‘stacking licenses.’ One large-scale, well-funded farm nearby has maybe 20 licenses stacked right now.”

The one-acre rule was supposed to be the saving grace for the small farmer. The way it was taken away the night before legalization with lobbyists in a secret, closed-door meeting with California Gov. Gavin Newsom left many appalled. Many people called it a “good-old boys club” of wealthy California cannabis entities looking to operate beyond promised limits.

Cooperative umbrellas were another way the small farmer hoped to survive, but with a $400 per pound reimbursement, even those entities fell short at market.

Finger pointing aside, one issue slightly overlooked is the lack of safe access or retail space available for moving plant material from the farm. With a national insistence that the plant is not beneficial, many conservative cities and counties have banned cannabis access points. 

Growing A Mother’s Love

Casalis’ partner, Rose Moberly, joined him three years ago, relocating from her home state of Colorado, where she too learned to farm cannabis at an early age. “We both went to community college but gravitated back to our true passion, farming the plant,” Moberly says.

Sadly, Casali’s mother passed away while he was serving time. One year to the day of his imprisonment, she died of a heart attack while pulling canned goods from a freezer; she had planned on bringing them to Casalion her next visit to see him in prison. 

“My mother taught me everything I know about farming,” Casali says. “This farm is her legacy, and I just had to find a way to honor her. So, we created a new cultivar from a favorite strain she created, Paradise Punch, by crossing it with both Blueberry Kush and Lavender Kush, to make Mom’s Weed.”

When Moberly became part of his life on the farm, Casali said it could no longer be just about him.

“Rose’s mom, Margie Zietz, battled cancer and passed away in 2020,” he says. “We took Paradise Punch and crossed it with Rose’s mom’s favorite strain, Wishful Thinking, creating Margie’s Magic.”

For the small cannabis farmer still standing, many feel that branding is the key to success in the new market. Personalized cultivars grown in the sun for years in loamy redwood soil can’t be compared to indoor, large-scale operations. Promoting this difference is critical, and branding Huckleberry Farms “Mom” cultivars has been key in getting their flower to market.

Crystal Clear

Aside from the hard work and red tape that comes with being cannabis farmers, there are perks and magic to be found in the hills of the Emerald Triangle, with Casali and Moberly offering up wishes to special visitors via crystals.

“We had a load of rocks delivered from the local quarry and noticed some of the rocks smashed were hollow and full of crystals,” Casali says. “So, we began putting them aside and saving them for guests to open up.”

Everything about Huckleberry Hill Farms feels sentimental. The crystals, the mother plants, the fruit trees and grape arbors. The general layout of this small, less-than-an-acre farm has been landscaped with love and intention—with the cannabis plant and the people who love her memorialized at every turn. It’s a true trickle-down culture, straight from the farm, that not many will ever be aware of as they enjoy Huckleberry Hill’scultivars. 

“Cannabis is a profoundly mysterious plant,” Casali says reflectively. “And such a powerful, healing plant, that even after working with it my entire life, it feels like I’ve just begun to truly understand her. Rose and I are just grateful to be here another season. To be able to farm this land that my mother found for us and loved. Did I take one for the team by serving time in prison? Yes, and no. We’re going forward with love and good intentions for this life we love on the farm. That’s really what it’s all about.”

The post Face of the Farmer: John Casali, Huckleberry Hill Farms appeared first on Cannabis Now.