It takes a lot of chutzpah to claim a place. Alex Schutz knew that he was treading on hallowed ground when he named his cannabis business after Williams, a small town in Southern Oregon just over the border from California’s northernmost Siskiyou County. Williams has a long legacy of cannabis cultivation, much like its Emerald Triangle neighbors to the south, with a solid population of territorial growers who could contest such a name. But Schutz says he’s been in Williams for years, he’s growing cannabis genetics from a family who’d been in the town since the ’80s and he’s using natural inputs from the land itself, so why not?
“It’s a bold feeling to be claiming the Williams name and putting it first,” Schutz says. “But as the cannabis industry started to take hold in Oregon and we started to see what the consumers were buying and what they liked, we saw they were gravitating towards name brands that were trending and I didn’t have any — and I still don’t mess with them. What I grow are all Williams genetics and so I decided to name this company Williams Canna Co.”Schutz first made a name for himself in Oregon as a breeder in the medical marijuana industry through his company Supermodel Seeds. Today, more than many other breeders, he avoids working with trendy strains and phenotypes (you won’t find a Purple Punch or a Zkittlez in his lineup), but instead works with those more classic and obscure genetics — and focuses on growing the strains he has created with the most regenerative methods he can muster.
When it comes to farming in Williams, Schutz says the process of building his cannabis flower operation has always been about creating healthy soil using resources from the land itself.
“The more you recognize what is available to you in nature right next to you, the less you find yourself looking for things you don’t need,” Schutz says. “My goal is to bring absolutely nothing into the garden that didn’t come from our property next year.”
Today, Schutz says that Williams makes its own mulch and composts from decaying matter gathered from the land, grinds rocks into soluble phosphorous and potassium to use as fertilizer, and cultivates native plants to be harvested and used around the farm.
“This farm is my organism to play with and I’m making it as beautiful as I can with very little resources,” he says.
The work to breed and grow quality strains with regenerative inputs seems to be paying off, as Schutz says the company is increasingly recognized among “respected heads” in Oregon and wholesalers are willing to pay him twice what they did in the fall 2018.
However, these past few years in Oregon’s cannabis industry have not been easy going. After the state’s legal adult-use cannabis market launched in 2017, many farmers struggled in the face of a huge glut of flower, rock-bottom prices, and increased regulations and taxes. The state’s decades-old medical marijuana program slowly dwindled in the face of higher costs of entry for patients and producers alike.
In 2017, Schutz was unsure if he wanted to stay in the medical market or switch to the recreational side. But by the end of the 2019 season, he says he knows he made the right choice.
“We decided to go ahead and prove ourselves on the recreational market, and I was a little nervous having a menu of strains few people had heard of,” he says. But he has no regrets: “I couldn’t have asked for a better time to be in the rec game.”
Williams Canna Co. is currently growing F2s of Supermodel Seeds genetics, clones from the Humboldt Seed Company, inbred F1s, and “a whole host of generations of stable, deeply related, true-bred seed stock,” Schutz says.
In the future, the farm plans to conduct its own genotyping on-site with advanced testing machinery, which will allow it to greatly speed up its genetic projects.
“I’ve been trying to stay true to who I am and my mission in the industry and I’m not trying to rush to have genetic backcrosses that are feminized and that are cooked up from the same female plants,” he says. “I’ve been working slowly but surely on true-bred lines.”
This slowly-but-surely mentality applies to his cannabis cultivation practices as well, where he says the years of hard work on the land itself is allowing the cannabis to take care of itself, to burrow its roots more firmly in the ground.
“The more you establish your garden, the less work you have to do,” Schutz says. “The herb looks better than ever before. It’s unbelievable, I can’t believe it. It’s pushing the limits with how it can do everything on its own.”
TELL US, have you ever wanted to grow your own weed? What strain would you choose to start with?
Originally published in Issue 40 of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE
Nobody likes to hear “I told you so” ringing in their ears. But today, as California’s small cannabis farmers face increasing challenges in the legal industry, the sneering refrain practically echoes down the redwood canyons of the Emerald Triangle, its four cutting syllables carried in each morning with the fog.
For Casey O’Neill, who has one of the most public and outspoken advocates for a small-farm-friendly version of cannabis legalization since 2014, the “I told you so” carries a particular punch. He is a native son of Mendocino County, raised on a homestead north of Laytonville where he still lives, farming vegetables and cannabis on the land with his partner Amber and their family. He’s seen the harsh nature of the government. Law enforcement stormed his parents’ house before his third birthday over a few cannabis plants, and when he was older and working as a cannabis grower, he was swept up in a raid and served two months in county jail.
But by the time California started to seriously consider cannabis legalization in the 2010s, O’Neill believed it was a good idea. Legal pot, he thought, was a great way to support small farmers and California’s rural economies and keep people out of prison. He still trusts in this vision. Where he thinks he might have been wrong, in retrospect, is in judging the government’s ability to actually execute those policies.
“I went in with this possibly naïve idea that we were going to construct a regulatory paradigm that was built around small businesses — and we came f*cking close, that’s the devastating part,” O’Neill says. “I invested significant time, energy and faith in a governmental process and then had that faith shattered. And now, all of the old hippies are like, ‘I f*cking told you so. You f*cking thought they were going to play fair?’ It’s really disenchanting.”
Fighting for the Right to Farm
The year 2016 may feel like 10,000 lifetimes ago, but it’s worth remembering that before California passed its adult-use cannabis legislation, it was extremely rare for cannabis growers to speak proudly and openly about their craft in the halls of power. O’Neill was one of the handful that stepped forward.
As a board member for the Emerald Growers Association, O’Neill spent the mid-2010s speaking in front of the Mendocino County supervisors and to state legislators in Sacramento about how cannabis legalization could be a crucial lifeline for small farmers. In his straw hat, skin roughed by the sun, and cotton work clothes, O’Neill made the case over and over that cannabis growers were simply small farmers that needed support.
“For Amber and I, for quite a long time we were almost like the funny stepchildren. We didn’t really fit with the food farmers because we were cannabis farmers, and vice versa,” O’Neill says. “The central focus of advocacy for me has been to break down that false bifurcation.”
O’Neill spent his youth farming only cannabis, but after his 2008 arrest for growing, he switched to farming vegetables in 2009.
“When I was going through my court case, I realized: I’m a monocrop farmer and I just lost my crop,” O’Neill says. “I had some cogitation around what I want my future to look like and I started to look at food farming.”
He took a few courses on farming vegetables and fertilizers before he began serving time, and in jail, had a job working in the jail garden and read as many books on organic farming as he could from the jail library.
“The running joke is that my friends say, ‘It seems you were effectively rehabilitated,’” O’Neill says with a laugh.
In 2010, the state of California took its first big swing at legalizing cannabis with Proposition 19. At the time, the terms of O’Neill’s probation kept him from cultivating cannabis and he didn’t take much of a public stance on the issue. The effort ultimately failed, with all three Emerald Triangle counties voting against the proposition.
Then in 2014, a coalition including California’s police chiefs sponsored a cannabis regulation bill, SB 1262. The state’s medical cannabis industry despised it. O’Neill, who had gotten off probation and formed a medical marijuana collective in 2013, started advocating against it — and for a vision for legalization that included bringing California’s thousands of underground cannabis farmers into compliance.
“In 2014, the police chief sponsored a bill in the state legislature that would have licensed 30 farms in the state,” he says. “It was a de facto lockout for our whole community. That was what really got us organized.”
He worked as the secretary of the Emerald Growers Association and a board member of the Mendocino Cannabis Policy Council. He hosted events, talked to lawmakers, and helped cannabis advocates come up with a plan for small-farmer-friendly cannabis legalization.
“Every other industry sends lobbyists to tell government how to think, so finally as an industry, we are realizing if this is how it works in America, we are going to have to play ball,” O’Neill told the Associated Press in 2015, before he and other members of the Emerald Growers Association went off to lobby assemblymembers in Sacramento.
After months of work at the state level, Proposition 64 was born: a plan to legalize cannabis with regulations coming from the Department of Agriculture, no cap on licenses, appellations and tiered licensing.
“And we were successful,” O’Neill says. “Coming out of 2015, we thought ‘Wow this is going to work! Holy sh*t!’”
In November 2016, California voted to pass Prop. 64. All three counties of the Emerald Triangle voted in favor, though by small margins. But O’Neill says the vision for small farmers only partially achieved.
“On the one hand, it has worked. I am here. The state has been here and inspected this farm and we’re legal,” says O’Neill. “On the other hand for so many other farmers, it didn’t f*cking work.”
And this discrepancy has been challenging for O’Neill to come to terms with.
“It’s so bittersweet. To feel both that I’ve been tremendously successful and a total f*cking failure at the same time is one of the most potent dichotomies of my life,” he says.
So what went wrong?
The State’s Plan for Pot
I visited O’Neill one warm autumn day on his family’s homestead, HappyDay Farms, in the hills outside of Laytonville. As he watered vegetable sprouts in a hoop house, O’Neill rattled off examples of how differently California regulates vegetables versus adult-use cannabis.
From the price of scales to cottage licenses, it boils down to two main issues: cannabis involves mountains more paperwork and bundles more cash.
HappyDay Farm’s permit to sell vegetables costs $25 a year, O’Neill says. Its permit to sell cannabis from Mendocino County costs $675, plus a $1,300 application fee, plus $2,410 for a permit from the state government, plus $1,800 to the state water board, plus $625 to the Department of Fish & Wildlife, plus $750 for its rainwater collection pond — and we haven’t even gotten to taxes yet.
“It’s not even nickel and diming me, it’s hundred and two hundred-ing me,” O’Neill says.
“It’s a classic example of regulatory creep in which a given populace with very little political power runs up against a regulatory development process in which every agency is excited and waiting to do things they aren’t allowed to do with the agricultural industry because their lobby is too strong,” O’Neill says, breaking down the issue with his trademark mix of political verbosity and casual profanity. “It’s like the state is saying to us, ‘We’re going to f*ck you guys up.’ It’s been really frustrating. I’ve been an advocate of sensible regulations and at every step of the way they’re pushing back and saying, ‘No, not really.’”
HappyDay Farms isn’t a large operation. It’s tucked on a sun-splattered hillside, with terraces that O’Neill and his family built in 2012 and rocky soil they’ve been carefully building up for years with compost and perennialized plants.
With the base cost of running a cannabis farm so high, the state has essentially forced cannabis farmers to work on a large scale in order to meet those costs. To combat this big-ag-favoring paradigm, O’Neill is advocating for a cottage license for cannabis farms with less than 2,500 square feet of cannabis canopy that includes an exemption from all regulations except testing.
“We fought really, really hard for a cottage license in the cannabis industry, so they made a cottage license,” O’Neill says. “But with cottage food production, a cottage license means that you are exempt from a lot of regulations. With cottage cannabis licenses, it’s just a nice name.”
Notably, California put forth cannabis regulations after Prop. 64 that don’t prohibit people from stacking multiple cottage licenses together to make a large grow. Perhaps most controversially, the regulations also do not include the acreage cap that state law mandated, which would have kept cannabis farms below one acre until 2023.
O’Neill also takes issue with the state’s track-and-trace system (“It’s the dumbest time-suck nightmare stupidest thing in history period.”) and the state’s general attitude that cannabis growers are presumed to be criminals from the outset and must be tightly regulated (“It’s like ‘Star Wars’: ‘The more you tighten your grasp, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.’”).
Plus, in 2019, the state of California started ramping up enforcement actions against those farmers who hadn’t joined the legal cannabis industry yet.
“There’s the talking point that people chose not to get a permit and now they have to pay some consequences,” says O’Neill. “The assumption of choice in the matter is where the real travesty occurs. If you build a system that locks people out and then you blame them for not participating in that system, that’s social injustice.”
These farmers, who haven’t signed up for the paperwork and the taxes and the regulations, have good reason to mistrust the state. They too fear hearing “I told you so.”
Hope Springs Eternal
For about an hour, O’Neill has been walking me around the farm. We’ve been working our way slowly up and down the terraced hillside, stopping to smell the massive colas of Glueberry, Great Success, Ogreberry and other exceptional strains HappyDay has finishing in the autumn sun. It’s a jarring juxtaposition: Beautiful scenery, depressing conversation.
But even the conversation itself contains multitudes: O’Neill is quick to laugh, quick to empathize, quick to pepper quips into a dark realization. We’ve talked ourselves in circles about O’Neill’s history advocating for cannabis and about the impact he’s had, what it means, whether or not it’s been positive. And on each topic, we’ve returned again and again to a dialectic understanding that the good and bad are simultaneously true.
“It’s always both,” O’Neill says. “The truth lies in between.”
For O’Neill, a farmer who has made regenerative practices the backbone of HappyDay’s work and his own advocacy, it comes back to the land.
“The thing to me in terms of advocacy around the regenerative movement is look, we all are where we are,” he says. “We’re all trying to figure out how to get to some as-yet-undefined better. Every year, we make strides in that direction. We try and lower inputs, lower our carbon footprint, we try and sequester more carbon so we’re offsetting our footprint. But there are inevitable compromises, like keeping our rabbits in cages.”
With improving as a farmer and a human, while asking the state to improve as an advocate, O’Neill has taken a nuanced approach to the idea of progress.
“You try to make measurable gains and measurable steps in the right direction each year,” he says. “You get better in your practices, you learn more, and that’s life.”
When people talk about California’s legendary cannabis, they frequently mention growing ganja grown deep in the Emerald Triangle and weed sparked up on the bustling streets of Los Angeles and San Francisco. But there’s another region in the Golden State that is now demanding attention. Since California’s adult-use cannabis market came online in 2018, Sacramento has exploded onto the scene as a hub of top-shelf indoor cultivation.
Few people in town — perhaps only Gov. Gavin Newsom — have helped push Sacramento to the top of the cannabis stratosphere more than its cultivators, who are growing some of the best cannabis in the world. But in recent years, one local cultivator has pushed the envelope so far that everyone else in town (and across the state) is now growing the genetics he’s helped curate and breed.
As half of Symbiotic Genetics, The Village finds himself among a small group of cultivators giving Sacramento’s cannabis a global reach. At one point, there was so much of his Mimosa strain being grown in town, you could have mistaken Sacramento for the brunch capital of the world.
Today, The Village and his breeding partner Budologist are at the top of Hype Mountain. Here is the full story of how he went from budtender to championship breeder leading the City of Trees into the future.
The Village got his start working in 2010 at a medical marijuana dispensary called South Sacramento Care Center for about a year and a half, back in the looser days of California’s medical marijuana market.
“I budtended, I vended, it kind of helped me know what was good and what was bad on quality standards,” he told Cannabis Now.
When SSCC started their cultivation project in 2011, he knew that was exactly where he wanted to focus his passion for cannabis. He spent a year at the bottom of the ladder as the grunt worker.
“I actually lived at the warehouse for four years and I think that really helped me learn a lot as well. Just being there all the time,” he said.
The Village spent the first year following orders. Leaf picking and changing reservoirs were common activities. Eventually, as he spent more and more time caring for the plants, he picked up on what he believed to be some flaws in the cultivation process.
“I was reading like crazy on all the online forums, just trying to figure out everything,” he said. “I lived there and I didn’t have a life.” The Village guessed he would go into the grow room about 20 times a day back then.
Not long after, he took over the whole cultivation facility. Speaking to how he got his nickname, he said that the SSCC workers started calling the facility “The Village.”
“It was just a code word,” he said. “Instead of saying ‘Hey, we’re going to the grow,’ we’d say we were going to the village.”
The Start of Symbiotic Genetics
A big part of The Village’s program in the early years was being the caregiver for numerous patients and growing them a monthly supply of marijuana. He helped supply about a pound of cannabis a month for free to over 15 patients selected to be a part of their compassion program.
“We wanted to have them testify if anything ended up in court, but if it were in federal court it wouldn’t even matter,” The Village said. “I thought it was really cool when we started pushing CBD for them once I got a hold of a couple of cuts.”
The Village noted that well before he started going public with his brand, he was working with solventless hash enthusiast and medical producer Matt Rize. When Rize would post hash he washed from cannabis provided by The Village, he would list him as a private grower, allowing him to stay anonymous despite the good reputation the product earned.
“Me and him had a year or two where we were dropping insane ice wax,” The Village said.
Strains like Tangie and Sour Diesel were a hit with everyone lucky enough to score some.
“In LA we dropped Tangie for $200 a gram, and it sold out. We only dropped 10 or 20 grams, but the hype was real, and it was crazy,” he said.
At this point, The Village still hadn’t even started breeding, he was just networking and growing like crazy. He met ET Extracts around that time. ET connected him with Budologist, The Village’s eventual partner in crime at their award-winning breeding collaboration, Symbiotic Genetics. Budologist had a Pennywise cut he received from Geek Mike that The Village was keen to add to his stable.
“We eventually met up and I got the cut, and we became friends at that point,” The Village said. “Three or four months later, he went ahead and asked [the breeder behind] Supernova Gardens if he could give me the Purple Punch cut.”
Drink it In: The Rise of Mimosa
A couple of years after they met in 2013, Budologist approached The Village about starting the breeding project that would become the renowned Symbiotic Genetics. Budologist planned to find a Purple Punch male that shared as many traits as possible with the prized Purple Punch female phenos and go from there. After another round of blessings from Supernova, the two built out a two-light breeding room.
“It was in the seeds from the original batch that [Supernova] found the clone-only cut,” Budologist said. “Basically as soon as he gave me the seeds, it gave me the idea I wanted to do breeding. I knew I should pop the seeds and find a male to cross with the female Purple Punch.”
Before going on to stabilize Purple Punch in the room and provide seeds to the masses, the first breeding projects featured a Cookies and Cream male Budologist selected. The first crosses in the room — which, don’t worry, would eventually pump out champions — were Cookies and Cream x Forum Cookies and Cookies and Cream x Animal Cookies.
“Those didn’t work out because we had a lot of [hermaphrodites], and then we started the Punch project right after that,” The Village said. “We stayed in that two-light room for a while. Then once the Punch took off, when we dropped it, we were like ‘Dang, we don’t make enough seeds.’”
It would end up being roughly two years to get the seeds of the Purple Punch ready after the initial wave of excitement caused by the flower.
They dusted the original elite Purple Punch clone with a male, and then popped 150 seeds. In the process of the Punch propagation, about half of them were males. From the remainder, they narrowed the larger pack down to three of their favorites.
“We flowered them out completely. Males, when they’re really towards the end of flower, they’ll start putting off resin. You can actually rub that resin. The smell is like what a female would smell like,” Budologist said. He also noted that resin will smell just as strong as the resin from a female plant. “You can get that sense of what the terps are.”
To get down to the three males, they selected phenotypes based on the quality of the bud structure and by picking the ones that had the strongest flavor reminiscent of the female Purple Punch. The seeds from that exceptionally bred Purple Punch hit the wider market in 2017.
The Symbiotic team also crossed the best male with five females, including LA Confidential, Clementine and Tangie.
On one fateful day in 2017, The Village and Budologist named the Purple Punch x Clementine cross “Mimosa.” In the years since it was released, Mimosa has been seen on podiums and winners’ lists across the country.
“It just feels really good,” Budologist said. “It’s a great thing to see your creation doing well all over the place. It’s definitely something that even if people haven’t heard of Symbiotic Genetics, they’ve heard of Mimosa.”
The Village says it’s the team’s most famous strain to this day.
Building a Global Breeding Project
Looking towards the future, the Symbiotic Genetics team is building out a new state-of-the-art breeding facility in Sacramento. They also want to get Budologist up to the capitol city full time, so he doesn’t have to continue his two-hour commute to participate in the collaboration. Budologist has been working in the corporate world for 12 years as he’s simultaneously pursued his plant passion, but he says it is “a dream come true” to transition full-time to cannabis breeding.
“The plan is to get him here, and build an amazing breeding space with multiple rooms,” The Village said. “Then, we’ll have a pheno-hunting room and a testing room so we can fully test our genetics and not have to send them out to people.”
We asked The Village how many times the best phenotype of any given strain had been found by one of the testers he gifted the strain to. He could only think of two occasions where the genetics made their way back to him.
“PureMelt gave me his Mimosa pheno. He gave me the Mimosa pheno Exotic Genetix used in their Strawberry line,” said The Village. “It says Strawberry and Cookies and Cream, but actually, it’s Mimosa and Cookies and Cream. It’s a strawberry-dominant pheno of Mimosa. PureMelt won fourth place at the 2017 Emerald Cup with that one.”
Strains from Symbiotic Genetics also took two spots in the top 10 of the personal sungrown cannabis category at the Emerald Cup, the premier competition for Northern California cannabis where many cultivators sell their seeds, in 2018. Their Cherry Punch genetics placed third and Mimosa placed fourth. Now the plan is to produce a lot more seeds. The plan for the new facility is to be able to work with four to five different males at any given time, instead of just the one they previously had the room for.
“We’ll have multiple things going. It will kind of be like the Seed Junky approach where you’re just dropping tons of new genetics all the time,” The Village said. “We’re still going to do the whole approach of testing before we release anything. So that’s going to slow us down, but once we get stuff stacking, it’s going to be releasing fast. I’m hoping every six months we’ll have a new line.”
The essential shift now occurring within Symbiotic Genetics is that its two leaders are no longer thinking about cannabis breeding as a hobby.
“We feel like the sky’s the limit once we have the financial backing, once we have the space to work the types of things we can do,” said The Village. “We created Mimosa and all these strains with two lights in a small-*ss room.”
The potential was more evident than ever at last year’s Emerald Cup. People traveled from places like Argentina, Spain and Brazil just to get their hands on Symbiotic’s prized seeds.
Currently, The Village is sitting on over 70 cuts for when things go into full gear, including some of his own phenos and some of the GMO and WiFi Mints other people have given him. He said he’d most like to add to his collection “those old OGs you kind of don’t see — they’re hard to get verified.”
Over the years, The Village said he has gotten his hands on things he thought were old school OG cuts, but they never were what was claimed.
“I have the Legend, Paris, the Lemon Fuel from Alien Labs,” he said. “I mean I could be totally wrong, but they all seem like there’s not a big difference between those three.”
His theory is that OG is so finicky that it needs a much different environment compared to other strains in order to express its full character.
“I think OGs express themselves more if you keep it a little warmer,” he said. “If you don’t, it stays in a state where it’s unexpressed. So they kind of look the same, but they’re not fully able to push out the characteristics of what they are. So that’s my kind of thing.”
Other targets for the collection include Chem 91 and Super Silver Haze.
“There’s a lot of new stuff I think is amazing, but I’d like to go back to the roots,” The Village said. He added that this emphasis on old-school cannabis is why Symbiotic Genetics recently pollinated an bunch of different females with a Kombucha male (a cross of Sour Diesel and a Purple Punch F2) featuring the old-school diesel flavor. “That’s why we did the Kombucha line, to bring the Sour Diesel back in a new kind of way,” he said. “Our male we selected was very diesel-dominant.”
Capital in the Capitol
Like many other cultivators who have been growing cannabis in California since before the 2018 adult-use regulations came down, The Village has been struggling to adapt to the new Golden State. In early 2019, The Village’s old facility was shut down — right before he was preparing to do a giant Banana Punch propagation — because he hit a licensing snafu around the old building.
“I mean, it sucks,” The Village said. “There are a lot of people that are being held back because of licensing. It’s just so new to everyone. We’re all learning and some of the cities are easier than others.”
The Village says a lot of people already had grows that were dialed in to fit the state’s tight restrictions. But permitting a space you’ve already been using is hard. “Most of the time you give [the state’s cannabis regulators] plans and they approve it. Well, now you’re giving them plans that are already built, so if they don’t approve it, then you essentially have to shut down to make those changes,” he said.
The Village and Budologist knew they didn’t want to do a patchwork job and decided they were just going to do a complete rebuild of the facility instead of a smaller remodel. They’re now on the hunt for a partner to help fund the effort.
“We could have done it ourselves, but it would have been cutting corners because we don’t have the capital that you need to build one of these facilities,” The Village said.
The Village recognizes certain challenges of the legal market, “but we’re not living in the shadows. When I lived at the warehouse I was very fearful of getting raided. It was scary. But now I guess the only thing you have to worry about is thieves.”
And those plotting against the Sacramento cannabis industry have been a major concern as of late. Due to the cannabis industry’s lack of banking access, dispensaries are forced to horde large piles of cash to pay taxes. All this money has proven too tempting, and with Sacramento’s rise to cannabis prominence, it became an even bigger target.
The Village says it’s particularly bad at the moment. At the end of the summer in 2019, one of the dispensaries he works with got hit by thieves, and numerous farms have been targeted, too. One night, two different facilities were hit. One dispensary lost $37,000 in four minutes.
Despite the rough nights, things are generally going well for Sacramento’s cannabis scene. Its cultivators continue to travel up and down the state’s highways, returning with every trophy in the game. And when the Cannabis Cup visited Sacramento for the first time as a legal event in 2018, locals stole the show.
“Sacramento is awesome,” Budologist said. “I think there is a lot of competition, which I think is the best thing because competition makes you work harder.”
He believes Sacramento’s population is open enough not to look down on the industry. “It’s definitely something people aren’t as embarrassed about, you know?” he said.
While the short term has a bit of mystique to it, The Village, Budologist and their work at Symbiotic Genetics are not going anywhere. We look forward to continue watching them push the bar when it comes to exciting new cannabis genetics.
TELL US, have you tried the Mimosa strain?
Originally published in Issue 40 of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE
With a new cannabis renaissance dawning, more and more people are making moves to put the plant front and center as a way to build a more sustainable and just future. Meanwhile, an estimated 27.4 billion disposable diapers end up in landfills across America annually (according to the folks at RealDiaper.org). Clearly, it was only a matter of time before the worlds of pot and poop collided.
Enter Billie Wonder, a Dutch retailer providing eco-friendly and adorable washable diapers and training pants to the masses made from green materials such as organic cotton, bamboo and yes, hemp. The company features both an online shop and brick and mortar showroom in Amsterdam, and is aiming to spread awareness of the benefits of reusable diapers while simultaneously working towards creating the world’s first nappy made completely from cannabis.
“I think hemp is the plant of the future in many, many ways, but also when it comes to diapers,” explains Amsterdam native Steef Fleur, co-founder of Billie Wonder, which means “little bottom miracle” in Dutch.
Fleur, an urban developer-turned-photographer-turned-entrepreneur, may have grown up in a country known for its tolerant stance on so-called “soft drugs” such as marijuana and psilocybin mushrooms, but it took spending time away from coffeeshop culture to truly understand cannabis and the multitude of powers it may possess.
A Seed Is Planted
Despite growing up in Amsterdam, Fleur had no idea what a pot plant looked like up close until visiting a friend who had moved to California’s Emerald Triangle. A two month stint in the Humboldt hills turned into a successful photography career and a lifelong passion for the plant.
“It opened my eyes very much to the possibilities of the plant, because here [in the Netherlands] although everybody thinks we’re super liberal, we’re super narrow-minded when it comes to cannabis,” Fleur said.
It was also during a trip to California when Fleur first discovered washable diapers, something that was nearly unheard of at the time in her native country. After spending time studying informal settlements in Brazil during her university career, Fleur understood the dire need to decrease landfill waste. She committed immediately to embracing reusable diapers should she ever be blessed to become a mom.
“Not very long after, I got pregnant,” she laughed.
Two Babies and a Business
Fleur started Billie Wonder alongside her friend and officemate Manon Klosterman, a Brazillian-born accountant who was due to have her own bundle of joy only months apart from Fleur. The two had begun researching washable diapers only to come up short.
“What we were missing is a place where you can actually go to and ask your questions about reusable diapers,” Fleur said. “I also realized that the imagery that exists around the product right now is a little old-fashioned, and I believe an old-fashioned product actually gets confirmed by the imagery that exists.”
Utilizing sleek and modern photography mixed with an inviting user experience, the Billie Wonder website was designed with the busy mom in mind. Deciding which washable diaper makers to partner with, however, meant getting down and dirty with any potential products.
“That was the good thing about starting it straight away,” Fleur says. “We would just buy sh*tloads of new brands and put them on our children!”
From the Bottom to the Top
With her photography background, Fleur set out to change the perception of reusable diapers in Europe and beyond. Her time documenting the cannabis culture in Humboldt however, is what has Billie Wonder’s sights set even higher. Knowing hemp is easier on the environment to grow than cotton — while also being an overall more absorbent material — the company has applied for and received subsidies from the Dutch government to develop a diaper made from 100% hemp.
“The structure of hemp is still a little bit too rough to use by itself in diaper material. The fashion industry is having troubles with this as well,” she laments, adding the initial government partnership inquiry will last until the spring of 2020.
Despite the daunting research ahead of them, the duo behind Bille Wonder are encouraged by the overwhelmingly positive response to their business. In addition, Fleur is expecting baby number two this winter, marking a new chapter in the company’s history.
“We curated [our collection] on our kids. They’re both potty-trained now, but we have a new one coming that we can test the hemp on next year!”
TELL US, are you a parent who has tried reusable diapers?
Originally published in Issue 40 of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE
Montmartre, the stretch of twisty cobblestoned streets sweeping up to the Sacré-Coeur Basilica and its commanding view of Paris, has been a favorite on both the tourist and bohemian circuits for generations. If you were ever herded through Europe’s second-most visited city by a guidebook-clutching friend or as part of an organized tour, you likely swung through Montmartre. If you visited sometime in the past year, as I did, you may have strolled past one of the few places where you can legally buy cannabis in France, a country where high-THC cannabis is strictly prohibited and legalization is still a distant dream.
From the outside, Deli-Hemp vaguely resembles a hip cafe serving fourth-wave coffee. Inside, there’s the minimalist’s aesthetic of egg-white walls and unpainted wood. But then there are the trimmed buds — unmistakably cannabis — in deep greens and purples, displayed underneath glass bells on a row of wall-mounted, bare-wood shelves. When I lift a bell to take a sniff, out wafts a wave of familiar terpenes: pine, lemon, and, from the bud labeled Tangie, sweet-and-sour tropical citrus. Oil extracted from plants like these are also available by the bottle, or, for a couple of euro, dropped into an espresso pulled from the machine behind the counter.
Whether this is all legal, exactly, depends on whom you ask — if you ask, say, French authorities in certain cities where such establishments have had their wares seized, the answer is a firm non. But on this weekday afternoon in Paris, Deli-Hemp’s door is wide open and nobody seems the least bit concerned.
Recreational cannabis is still banned in Europe and what medical marijuana there is on the continent and in the U.K. is heavily restricted. Yet finding, buying and consuming weed in Europe is an activity that’s slowly becoming increasingly familiar — and increasingly comfortable.
Unlike the cannabis found in one of Barcelona’s hundred-plus underground clubs that would compete for top-shelf status in California, the cannabis sold at Deli-Hemp and a handful of other weed boutiques in France is the kind you can buy in the United States, in all 50 states, not only in dispensaries but in smoke shops, bookstores, online and at pop-ups in Brooklyn. That is to say, Deli-Hemp and a few other brave merchants in France are selling hemp: cannabis sativa with 0.2% or less THC, the legal threshold separating legal hemp and outlaw cannabis in the European Union. (They also sell it, with a straight face, with an admonishment printed on the label that these very smokable buds are not for smoking.)
And though wary English merchants yanked CBD flower from their shelves despite great strides in public acceptance and legal protection for medical cannabis in the past year, other CBD products such as oils and salves are in shops in both high streets and low corners in the United Kingdom.
“The main challenge right now for entrepreneurs is the lack of specific and coherent regulation about hemp-derived contained CBD products,” said Laurene Tran, a former lecturer at Paris’s elite university Sciences Po and executive director of ACTIVE, a trade association supporting both the hemp and medical cannabis trades in Europe.
“It’s all a bit chaotic,” said Steve Moore, the London-based political operative enjoying a second act as a drug-policy reform maven and the “strategic council” at the U.K.’s still-new Centre for Medicinal Cannabis. “It’s getting a bit too big, a bit too exuberant. There are products of a very dubious provenance and quality, nobody knows what’s in them. Someone’s going to have to impose some regulations, I think.”
Both hemp activism and related commercial activity have long histories in Europe. Industrial hemp grown on the continent has been legally cultivated and exported as seed and fiber to the United States throughout the drug prohibition era. In Glastonbury, the famous festival town in the heart of England, hemp products have been for sale, openly, on the main merchant strip since the 1990s, where a puckish 52-year-old whose legal name is Free Cannabis also sells CBD flower.
But the CBD craze means awareness and demand on a level never before seen — and with it, a flood of competing information and bold products making bolder claims. Amid the accompanying confusion and ambiguity that comes with quick shifts in the law and how it is enforced, mixed signals are coming fast and steady.
In summer 2019, the British Home Office — the national ministry charged with enforcing drug laws — ordered a company to eradicate £200,000 worth of hemp destined for CBD oil extraction, despite the fact that the company had been in business since 2016 and would have paid £480,000 in taxes on millions’ worth of revenue from that crop. Then, a month later, that same office authorized an upstart hemp farm in Jersey to grow the same plant for the exact same purpose.
“This is all very strange,” said penalized hemp farmer Patrick Gilette, who estimated his company, Hempen, had racked up more than £2.4 million worth of sales, in an interview with the Guardian. “No one in the Home Office up until the end of last year ever said to us: ‘Stop what you are doing, this is illegal.’ They allowed us to get started and then after a perfect year — wet spring and hot summer — we had a bumper crop which they made us destroy last Tuesday. It doesn’t make sense.”
European merchants have also demonstrated the same lack of concern for product safety and efficacy seen among CBD-sellers in the United States. The U.K.’s Centre for Medicinal Cannabis, a set up by pro-drug policy reform veterans of the pre-Brexit Conservative government, recently tested a random assortment of CBD products available for sale in the country and found that many contained THC, and many more had levels of CBD well out of line with the figure printed on the label.
Over in France, the government and local police departments have inconsistently applied the country’s 0.2% THC limit, claiming that CBD products for sale in retail outlets could not contain any THC at all. However, Deli-Hemp and a handful of other French shops still remained in business in July, when Cannabis Now visited, and still were as of this fall.
After that, or later in 2020, well, who can say? European drug-reform activists and entrepreneurs are pushing their respective governments to (for once) follow U.S. President Donald Trump’s lead. It was Trump who signed the 2018 Farm Bill, which put in place a framework for building consistent regulations around hemp and CBD. But even then, uncertainty and ambiguity remains, as regulators including the FDA have still been slow to keep up with the pace of the market.
Outposts like Deli-Hemp and a growing number of companies in the United Kingdom are a gamble that clarifying laws will pass and explicitly allow for hemp production and CBD consumption. And, even if those laws don’t pass, there appears to be enough public interest to keep a business afloat before the gendarmes decide they’ve had enough.
The French merchants followed the example set by retailers in Switzerland and in Italy, countries where strict interpretations of drug-control laws that did not mention CBD or provided THC limits led to “cannabis cafés” selling CBD flower. So far, their survival appears due to a mixture of general ignorance and confusion about CBD, as well as laissez-faire enforcement. There doesn’t appear to be any public demand for a crackdown.
The same is true in the U.K. In Britain, CBD appears to inhabit a sort of ambiguous space between a “novel food” and an off-license, un-prescribed medicine. Merchants import either hemp or hemp products from abroad and add them to products for a significant markup — and for now, there isn’t sufficient interest or resources to stop it.
“Enforcement is tough,” said Moore. If the Home Office suddenly decided that all CBD products had to go, such an edict would be unenforceable.
In this, European CBD is strikingly similar to its American cousin, down to the public uncertainty about whether any of this actually does anything or if it’s just a hype-fueled wellness fad, like crystals or whatever Gwyneth Paltrow and Goop are selling this week.
I pondered this with the CBD-infused coffee slowly pulsing rather than cranking through my veins and brain. Climbing the steps towards Sacre-Coeur, elbowing through the crowds and street artists, I felt — well, just fine. The smoke wasn’t quite as pleasant. The buds in the three-gram can I bought for €30 were dry, a little harsh, and lacked the sharp terpenes the display buds radiated. But even so, there I was buying and smoking CBD flower in Paris, something that nobody could do all that long ago. At this rate, can Barcelona-style THC cannabis clubs be far behind?
TELL US, have you seen CBD stores while traveling abroad?
Originally published in Issue 40 of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE
In the early 2000s, that golden age of Proposition 215 cannabis in California, Mario “Mr. Sherbinski” Guzman was a regular supplier for San Francisco’s legendary Vapor Room. Back then, nobody had heard the name Sherbinski and the notion of a cannabis brand was still an abstraction. Today, nearly two decades later, his company Sherbinskis is on the short list of still-relevant adult-use brands with uninterrupted roots in California’s self-regulated 215 market.
But before Sherbinski’s cannabis was getting name-dropped in rap hits and sold through fancy department stores, Afgoo cold water hash washed from Sherbinski bud by the man himself was a menu staple at the Vapor Room, and a crucial part of my daily routine. For years, the best part of waking up was smoking a bowl of chocolate-black bubble hash with a cup of tar-black coffee on a rickety fire escape overlooking the intersection of Oak and Fillmore streets.
I’m thinking about this memory as I catch myself staring dreamily out the storefront window of a greasy spoon breakfast joint in East Oakland, clutching a white ceramic cup of hot black coffee at a rickety two-top table by the door. I’m waiting for Sherbinski — he’s a few minutes late, I’m a few minutes early — and draining my third cup of coffee, the caffeine from the first two cups already waltzing wildly with the cannabinoids from my morning dab. I’m eagerly eavesdropping on a couple arguing a few tables down when Sherbinski blows through the swinging doors like a Wild West sheriff, radiating the casual swagger of a resident DJ at that nightclub you aren’t cool enough to even stand in line for.
Despite a powerful too cool for school aura, Sherbinski also exudes a sincere humility that falls just short of self-deprecation when he speaks about the success of his work, particularly the way his Gelato phenotypes have become a touchstone and status symbol for rappers and other tastemakers with a taste for top shelf sh*t.
To hear him tell it, Gelato is just one of those special strains that inspires fanatical devotion in some people, and through a convergence of geography, personal connections and work ethic, some of those people are top-selling music artists and fashion influencers.
“It just took a lot of work and white-glove service when it came to providing our products,” Sherbinski told me. “I never had to give a lot of product away, I was just in the right place.
“In the bay, a lot of musicians come through here and we’d get the call when they were in the studio and we’d be there,” he said. “It was always really natural and organic. When artists are in the studio and naturally enjoying the product they’re smoking, it’s gonna organically end up in the songs.”
Although he’s entering a new stage of his career, he said he has come to truly appreciate the experience of watching the Gelato strain grow into a household name.
“For me, it was the songs. You hear one on the radio and one song becomes five and then ten becomes twenty and now it’s pretty common to hear it — just a few weeks ago, Travis Scott and Future came out with a song talking about Gelato in there,” he said. “It’s nice to feel like Gelato is cemented into our culture and I embrace it.”
Coming across as humble is uncommon enough for any successful businessperson, but particularly unusual given the dizzying heights of tangible success Sherbinski has reached in an industry where even the illusion of achievement is often enough to elicit flashy self-celebration. But through our whole conversation, he seems to regard his career as a beautiful blur of serendipity, largely propelled by his desire to promote access and education in the early days of San Francisco’s golden age of cannabis.
“I stuck my neck out way before people were doing it and said, ‘Hey, I’m a grower,’” he said. “[But] when you have people come to you and say, ‘Your product helped me with my ailment — these flowers are my favorite, they help with my PTSD — how can you not be humbled by that?”
With Prop 215 as we knew it all but a hazy memory now, Sherbinski sits at the nexus of a hectic whirlwind familiar to anyone who’s spent any time around entrepreneurs. The persistent beeping and buzzing of his cell phone provides a steady backdrop to our conversation, and he is undoubtedly “in demand,” but his personal energy is almost meditative, like he’s floating above it all, soaking it in and easing gently into what’s shaping into a lucrative second act.
A Different Breed
Part of what sets Sherbinski apart from most other growers and breeders I’ve spoken to is his laissez faire approach to phenotype selection. Where most breeders are hunting a single white whale, he’s curating a menagerie of sensations and flavors — variations on a shared theme — like the four first-gen Gelato phenos that made the final cut: Acaiberry (Gelato pheno #49), Mochi (#47), Bacio (#41) and Gello.
“The Gelato has gotten so famous, and what I did — which I didn’t see a lot of people do before — I didn’t just pick the best pheno,” he said. “I was like, ‘No, all these phenos are awesome and they all do different things.’ It’s not that different from two models having kids — each kid is probably going to be fire, so how do you pick out of that? That’s kind of how I look at selection.”
That inclusive approach to pheno hunting is still a central thrust of Sherbinski’s latest genetic quest, but these days he has more space to work with and more data to draw on when making selections.
“We pared down our final selections to 100 plants. From there, we pared the selections down to 30. We grew those out and tested them for a full terpene and potency profile. I use science to help me select the right pants,” he said. “I can’t just be like, ‘That’s so frosty and has big nugs and tastes good, I want that,’ and then it’s pulling 16 percent [THC] consistently. Sometimes something isn’t looking that good, but it’s testing 27 percent first round test, or there’s some terpene in there that’s just like, ‘Oh my god.’”
Gelato is about to go global. Through a collaboration with Dinafem, a seed bank based in Barcelona, Spain, Sherbinski is releasing first-generation Gelato seeds to more than 50 countries. While the Sherbinski legacy has deep roots in San Francisco’s Sunset District, he said he’s interested in making moves wherever he sees a smart one. It’s a philosophy that’s spreading his work worldwide, but it’s also led him just a few hours north, to the world-famous Emerald Triangle, where his partners at the Humboldt Seed Organization are based.
Because, in addition to releasing females from the first generation of Gelato phenos, he’s going to be producing new generations using HSO genetics, a process that’s already produced promising results. I haven’t yet tried the next generation of official Gelato crosses, but given the wide scope of the pheno hunt that produced them — roughly 3,000 seeds — and the prestigious lineage of the new genetic material used, I’m eagerly awaiting the opportunity to taste the new flavors.
“I took a Mandlebrot OG clone that HSO provided and that male went back to all of my original genetics, and I selected about five new phenos from a roughly 3,000-seed pheno hunt,” he said, adding that he’s never used so many precise metrics to select winners.
“I boiled it down to about 40 keepers out of the new generation and tested them all for terpene profile and potency, then took portraits to look at the bag appeal,” he said. “It’s the first time I’ve used all those data points to select.”
The HSO collaboration is truly exciting for Sherbinski, who sees it as a way to share his genetics so people can actually grow from them, albeit on a release schedule that allows him the first crack at his own work.
“All the other people who have used Gelato, that’s either a bag seed or cuts I never really used, like the #33 and the #45, which were basically just throwaways for me,” he said. “I’ve never done any projects with anyone — they might have bag seed: It was either stolen or a bag seed.”
In addition to people bootlegging his genetics through stray seeds and stolen cuts, there’s also the time-honored cannabis industry tradition of tacking a trendy prefix or suffix on last year’s strain. Thanks to the popularity of Sherbinski’s Sunset Sherbert and Gelato strains, we’ve seen a whole lot of Orangelato, Tangelato, Sherbtane, SherbWreck or, of course, Sherblato — but they’re all fugazi. Sherbinski didn’t collab on any of them, despite numerous false claims to the contrary.
He said the scammers used to get to him, but over time he’s learned to accept all of the bootleggers and bullsh*tters as the cost one pays to be the boss.
“Instead of getting mad that someone found a bag seed and has a ten-light grow and is selling my shit, I look at it like, ‘Hey man, I’m glad you can get $400 more per pound on your shit.’ It’s not gonna f*cking stop me from making money,” he said. “When you live in fear, that’s how you act like that six-light grow is gonna kill you or take you out the game, and it’s all out of fear, man. I just chose to not live that way.”
But that doesn’t mean he’s completely given up on protecting his intellectual property.
“I have a new strain. I don’t want to announce the male yet because I know that people might possibly have it and…” he smiles. “You know how people are. Next thing you know, before I even drop it, they’ll be selling the seeds.”
Clout vs. Commodity
Despite his recent success, Sherbinski is struggling through the growing pains of California’s adult-use market with everyone else. However, his view of the new stage cannabis is entering contrasts sharply with the frustration and pessimism of many long-time industry participants. He’s acutely aware of the challenges presented by the new regulations, but from where he’s sitting, some of the more virulent detractors of those new rules are growers feeling left out.
“What I see? Most of my OG homies who were like ‘naw naw naw’ [about pursuing licensing] and never wanted to go in that direction, they’re feeling it right now. They regret not making bigger moves earlier to be farther along now,” he said, adding that it’s particularly difficult to swallow for guys who stayed underground only to watch smaller or less accomplished cultivators come into a big investment.
“They see everything moving now — see these people that were a fraction of what they were or could have been selling companies for millions of dollars,” he said. “So, how’s that gonna make people feel? They’re like, ‘Little Billy over there had the f*cking Banana Skunk and this other sh*t that no one cared about’ but now he’s the business.”
It’s an uncommon sentiment at a time when running a legal cannabis company can feel like navigating a narrow mountain ridge with steep drops on either side. To your left, there’s braving the legal uncertainty, volatility and danger of the illicit market. To your right, the very real possibility of hemorrhaging all your capital and then some before you ever make a dime — maybe before you even make it to market.
But as cannabis continues its transformation into a commodity, Sherbinski believes basic business skills are going to be rewarded as much (if not more) than more subjective factors that were previously make or break, like product quality and an established reputation within “the culture” — ironically two of the main factors in his own rise to prominence.
“How many dispensaries do you see now that are popping up out of nowhere and nobody knows these guys? But they’re cranking — why? They know how to run a biz. They know how to sell it,” he said. “How much is ‘clout’ gonna matter when cannabis is commoditized? But I do see that people are attracted to the brand — they still need brands.”
But selling high quality cannabis is obviously a big part of Sherbinski’s brand identity and an enduring feature of his business model. A collaboration with ultra-chic cannabis brand Beboe means an exclusive Sherbinskis blend will be gracing the shelves of luxury retailer Barneys, at their Beverly Hills tragicomically hip head shop, The High End — right next to the $1,000 bongs and $2,000 grinders. (Because Barneys Beverly Hills does not have a dispensary license, THC products at their store are delivered later by a licensed cannabis delivery business.)
Sherbinski is no stranger to the intersection of high fashion and streetwear. He already made a splash with his Sherbinskis Air Force One sneaker (which sold out in a couple hours) and cites Virgil Abloh, the artistic director for Louis Vuitton’s menswear line and founder of the Off-White label, as a major inspiration for his approach to branding. With his own club slated to open blocks from the Supreme store and the Barneys collab under his belt, Sherbinski is definitely breaking new ground for the cannabis industry.
And just as Sherbinski is braving the stormy seas of a shifting cannabis landscape, Barneys is navigating the perils of being a luxury retail chain in a down market. In August, the company announced it was downsizing its New York flagship in the face of a $33 million rent bill. Their move into the cannabis sphere is a bold one that could be a game changer, and for Sherbinski, it’s the same. The collaboration makes perfect sense: There were already a couple high end dispensaries calling themselves the “Barneys of bud,” so why not get in the game, and why not team up with weed’s Louis Vuitton?
“It’s nice to be defining something for Beboe — it’s much different than what I’m used to, which is highest potency, strongest terpene profile, which is what I brought to them first, but it wasn’t right for them and the Barneys brand,” he said. “They wanted a blend that had high CBD with a sativa dominant, so I came up with the Beboe Blend by Sherbinski. That’s what I’m moving into, finding genetics for different brands that want effects that cater to their distinct market.”
Leaving a Legacy
Sherbinski feels he’s been privileged with the opportunity to make an impact on cannabis — something he cares about deeply — and now he wants to preserve his contributions.
“I’m getting older, and in the end, you want to leave a legacy behind and something like what’s happened with Gelato is so special,” he said. “When you’re younger, it’s about being cool and hanging out with artists, but when you get older and you’ve been to the parties and experienced all that, you’re like, ‘What do I want to do now?’”
When he finally got around to asking himself that question, the answer was clear: share Gelato with the bud lovers of tomorrow.“I want to get future generations the original, so when they ask why was it so special they can get a real answer — you’re going to be able to experience exactly why for generations to come,” he said. “I don’t consider myself an expert breeder… I’m not the best, I’m just a regular dude, right place, right time; SF Sunset District, early 2000s, happened to meet the right people and we made magic.”
The cannabis farms of California’s Emerald Triangle are often cloaked in mystery, but a new book is giving a glimpse into the world of cannabis farmers deep in the Humboldt hills. The book, “Sustainable Sun-Grown Cannabis,” is a celebration of outdoor cultivation from the photographer Justin McIvor, better known as Justin Cannabis.
Thanks to McIvor’s photos and emphasis on sustainable cultivation, the book is a visual guide to regenerative growing techniques like soil building, polyculture, solar panels and rainwater catchment.
“Ultimately I made this book to shine a light on a few amazing cannabis cultivators in Southern Humboldt who are dedicated to protecting our valuable resources while producing premium quality cannabis products,” McIvor said in regards to Humboldt’s Finest Farms, the collective of farmers he spent time documenting in the heart of the Emerald Triangle.
the benefits of biodiversity, raising awareness about the importance of healthy
soil, and highlighting cannabis plants that have been sun-ripened to perfection
and lovingly nurtured to reach their fullest potential, McIvor is hoping his
book can introduce people to the beauty and variety that environmentally
responsible practices can bring to the garden.
The book is an artistic celebration of stacking functions — a term used in permaculture to describe a system where every element in a design provides more than one function. For example, polyculture plays an important role in creating a diverse network of roots under the soil as well as making the landscape above ground more aesthetically pleasing and attractive to pollinators.
Full-page color photographs show thriving gardens full of bright orange marigolds, bold red zinnias and yellow sunflowers that provide vibrant pops of color against a sea of green. In one image titled “Conserving Water,” the gorgeous deep turquoise of a rainwater-filled pond in the foreground leads the eye up to a row of emerald green grapevines, rolling golden hills and an elegant Japanese-style handcrafted greenhouse.
photo, a stocky cola unexpectedly shoots up from the hood of a rusty old farm
truck, glowing soft and golden in the late afternoon light. Another picture
shows long, stringy clusters of yellow corn and purple amaranth standing tall
next to an expanse of pointy spears backlit by the sun.
McIvor said he
fell in love with photography because it helped him capture and engage with the
beauty around him. After graduating from the Brooks Institute of Photography
and working as a lab technician taking pictures of DNA blots, he followed his
passion for skateboarding and landed a job as a photographer for Santa Cruz
Skateboards, helping to elevate their magazine ads and catalogs. He
transitioned from skateboarding to cannabis and, after many years as a cover
photographer for High Times and other publications, he’s once again coming back
to skateboard photography and is now focusing on the connection between the two
With family in Humboldt who’d been growing cannabis since the ’80s, McIvor said he had a natural connection to the Emerald Triangle and a familiarity with the scene before starting the book. His captions provide important context about what sets sungrown craft cannabis apart from the rest — most importantly, the awesome power of the sun.
“Energy usage in the indoor cannabis
industry is growing at an alarming rate and giant warehouse producers are using
a tremendous amount of power for their grows,” he says. “Those who grow in the
sun know it’s the best way moving forward.”
For those who’ve only seen cannabis grown as a monoculture crop in a warehouse under artificial lights, this book provides a visually striking introduction to a whole new paradigm. It’s a tribute to the legendary Humboldt craft farmers who are continuing to show the world that by increasing biodiversity on your farm and working with the forces of nature, you can produce cannabis that is truly of the highest quality.
In the foothills
of Mt. Hood, Oregon’s tallest mountain and most active volcano, lies an
unexpected ganja gold mine. Surrounded by towering fir trees and cascading
streams, I arrive on an early autumn evening at the “Heroes Compound” to meet
the esteemed cannabis breeder and cultivator, Patrick Pooler.
“This place was a
massive trash pile when I first started working on it in 2010,” Pooler recalls.
“The people before us had been scrapping cars and cooking meth. You can imagine
the mess they left behind.”
From the meticulously manicured grounds around me, it’s hard to imagine the wasteland this 107-acre parcel once was. Pooler says their cleanup efforts are what gained him and his crew their namesake, Heroes of the Farm.
“It was actually
one of the previous owners that gave us the name,” Pooler says. “It’s what she
called us after she saw all the work we put into this place. The name just
the property is an enchanting expedition. We pass clusters of automated
light-deprivation greenhouses, nine in total, and into a multi-room, fully
flowering indoor operation. The sparkling clean facility holds a perfectly
packed canopy of glittering colas under a hundred or so lights.
We continue the
tour to visit mother rooms and breeding chambers, where we pass vats of
bubbling compost teas, high-tech potting machines and soil steamers. A colorful
sunset transforms the expansive skyline to our west and the sun’s last rays
fade on the perpetually snow-capped summit of Mt. Hood protruding to the east.
It feels like a dream world.
According to Pooler, transforming the hillside property into a world-class production and breeding facility involved removing metric tons of trash, terracing multiple acres of land and securing a three-year, million-dollar power upgrade. Every step, he says, was another massive hurdle to overcome. But this property’s progress adds up to only a small piece of the Heroes’ journey.
Crossing the Threshold
Pooler says his
roots in the industry go back 14 years to a small closet grow at his home in
Portland. From there, he escalated rapidly from small-scale medicinal cannabis
provider to a lauded industry leader, with a passion for the plant and his
community as his only guide.
He gained initial attention as a breeder, creating a slew of notable strains such as Conspiracy Kush, Marionberry Kush and Galactic Jack and working for a few years with the established breeders behind TGA Genetics.
In 2017, he
jumped headfirst into Oregon’s recreational market, launching the Heroes brand
to the public. His newer strain creations like Gorilla Snacks, Guinness, 8541
and Headdog instantly created a buzz among cannabis consumers and critics
across the state, with fiercely potent, terpene-rich flowers boasting
unbeatable bag appeal.
The company now
consists of around 34 full-time staff members at multiple production facilities
across the state, along with a licensed extraction lab, kitchen, dispensary and
a wholesale distribution center.
ever-changing and challenging regulated cannabis market, Pooler admits he may
have moved forward a little too quickly. His carefree cash-rich days of the
past are replaced with crippling debt and relentless stress.
The Road of Trials
“I’ve always just
kept on pushing, kept on scaling up,” Pooler says. “But I really wasn’t
prepared for the huge overhead of the recreational market, especially as per
pound prices crumbled.”
Even with a
record of consistently selling out of flower, drop after drop, Pooler says he
was forced to scale down his operations in November of 2018 and take a
different approach. Instead of pushing large volumes of product into a flooded
market, the company now focuses solely on top-shelf indoor.
“We are probably
one of the few farms in the state that has a hard time keeping our products on
dispensary shelves,” Pooler says. “We are proud to be surviving in one of the
toughest markets in the nation.”
Pooler says the
most important ingredients for quality flower are “the genetics, nutrients, and
“First and foremost
are the genetics. I’ve spent the last 14 years hunting and breeding what I
consider elite genetics. Over the last three years we’ve had more than 7,000
phenos we’ve selected from about fifty varieties of cannabis, so the search for
new fire never stops,” he says. “As far as nutrients, I could give you my
recipe right now [he uses only the Oregon-made Nectar for the Gods], but
without the right farmer you just can’t get the same results. Each person that
works here cares just as much, if not more than I do about what the finished
product turns out like.”
Pooler added that
he no longer offers budget flower or anything he considers to be an inferior
“I was selling discounted pounds to a few dispensaries, but then had complaints from customers,” Pooler says. “The dispensaries had turned around and sold the flower at the top shelf price and the customers thought we were ripping them off. It’s just not worth it, we have a reputation to uphold.”
In 2018, just
before he turned 33, Pooler says he reached what he would call his rock bottom.
“I owed everyone
from my good friends to Uncle Sam a big chunk of money,” he says. “I was
blaming everyone else for the problems I was facing, but in the end I just had
to take things into my own hands and change my future.”
Pooler says the
first thing he took into account was his health, taking on an ambitious
exercise regimen, giving up alcohol, smoking less weed and picking up a reading
habit for the first time in his life.
He then took aim
at changing his surroundings. With a rocky relationship with his county that
included getting zoned out of several costly properties for extraction
facilities, Pooler and his crew joined in the dialogue. They started showing up
to council meetings, organized community service and cleanup events and became
familiar faces to their neighbors, many of whom ardently opposed the cannabis
inviting the community over for tours,” Pooler says. “People were asking
questions like, ‘Will I get high from the smell,’ and ‘Are you in a cartel?’
All I could tell them was that I’d be a whole lot richer if either were true.
They may not love what we are doing up here, but now they respect us, and know
we are here for the long haul.”
With a steady
supply of new genetics about to hit the market and freshly licensed facilities
coming online after years of investment, Pooler says he’s optimistic again.
Like the heroes of yore, he has emerged from the belly of the whale, walked through the ring of fire, reached that personal pinnacle your English teacher called apotheosis — or whatever metaphor floats your boat — and emerged ready for the future of the Heroes of Farm.
If you’ve been looking for a book on the basics of cannabis and CBD, there are almost too many options to choose from. It can be overwhelming to sort through the volumes of books, blogs and websites dedicated to educating consumers about this important topic.
Still, not all cannabis educational material is helpful, or even accurate. As a cannabis consultant who helps new patients, I’m always curious to check out these books and see for myself whether they are worth recommending to my clients. It’s sad to see how much of the material out there just isn’t worth the read.
So, I was pleasantly surprised reading through the new natural medicine guide “Cannabis & CBD for Health & Wellness” by Aliza Sherman and Dr. Junella Chin. While similar in kind to many of the 101 guides on cannabis, their approach blends the scientific and practical aspects of cannabis use into a book that is both approachable and grounded in objective data.
The 167-page book begins like many others, with a brief explanation of cannabis’s history, science and medical potential, before launching into the practical details of using cannabis. The descriptions are written for the everyday reader and the book guides consumers through many essential pieces of information that are important to know when using cannabis.
On top of that, there are also a few places where this guide sets itself apart from the crowd.
For one thing, this guide has medical bona fides that many others don’t — it was co-written by a doctor who actually specializes in cannabis.
“Writing the book with a doctor was a no-brainer, since I’m a journalist and author, but not a medical professional,” co-author Aliza Sherman explained. “I had already spent two years researching cannabis as real medicine and having a doctor as my co-author meant that I could finally understand all of the research I was finding.”
To Sherman’s point, a lot of the information found online lacks the insight of a trained medical professional, and misinterpretations of scientific data can lead to a lot of misconceptions about how to use cannabis effectively.
Another place where this guide differs from most is in the section that deals with the treatment of specific medical conditions with cannabis. While most guides discuss a given condition, go over the science behind it and offer recommendations, the authors of this book instead use a real patient’s story for each ailment or symptom they discuss. The book describes a patient’s situation, treatment plan and what actually worked before making broader suggestions based on the data. This provides information that I haven’t seen in many other beginner cannabis guides which could really help patients understand how to most effectively treat their conditions.
Throughout the book, I found clear and easy-to-follow writing coupled with interesting medical insights. It is clear why a seasoned reporter/researcher and a respected doctor make such a dynamic duo of cannabis writers.
While informative and well-researched, this book is far from a scientific textbook on cannabis. Though it does have a large bibliography at the end, there are few references within the text to the scientific literature, and no footnotes or direct citations to support the claims being made. This could be a positive or negative, depending on what you are looking for. If you are one of those patients (like me) who likes to track down the research being referenced as you go, this book could be a little bit frustrating. But if you are just looking for an accessible, thorough and readable guide to using cannabis, “Cannabis & CBD for Health & Wellness” is a great pick.
TELL US, how do you use cannabis?
Originally published in Issue 40 of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE
It is the middle of September and the heat is intense, sweat is dripping down my forehead as I walk down rows of plants that seem to never end. Myself and my crew, which includes my bandmate Bleezy from our rap group Mendo Dope and our business partner Mark Greyshock of Greenshock Farms, are just finishing up the biggest pheno hunt that any of us have ever done. Our noses are covered in resin after closely examining about 800 plants, searching for the next top strain among the phenos. We literally cannot smell anymore, our nostril hairs are sticky and the tips of our noses are raw.
As the sun sets, the colors in the sky are unreal, almost as if the clouds themselves were on fire glowing in a bright orange. We roll up a Backwood of Sour Apple bud, pack our gear and get ready to head out, reeking of fresh ganja. The road is winding, swerving through the rolling hills with such sharpness that it almost feels like we are on mushrooms as we drive into the night sky.
“We found some winners today,” Bleezy says, still smelling the tips of his fingers that are completely covered in resin.
The Road Before Us
Pheno hunting and creating new strains is a lengthy process. Greyshock explains that creating the award-winning Tropical Sleigh Ride strain came after many years of hard work.
“It all started with the Purple Candy Cane, which has placed in the top three at the Emerald Cup two years in a row,” he says of the strain’s lineage. “We got a hold of a Pineapple plant from [noted California cannabis breeder] Mean Gene and just out of intuition, I knew that there was going to be a winner by crossing these two plants.”
The strain was created in 2016 and grown for the first time during the 2017 harvest. Greyshock says he had more confidence in this particular breeding project than others he has worked on in the past. This confidence was due, in part, to the strain’s unique terpene profile. In fact, in 2017, Greenshock’s Tropical Sleigh Ride won the highest total terpene content award at the prestigious Emerald Cup, with 4.8% terpenes.
The fruit-forward Tropical Sleigh Ride has an ocimene-dominant terpene profile, something that is also found in other plants such as basil, bergamot and lavender. In addition, it has a high level of CBG (a cannabinoid that is a precursor to both THC and CBD), generally 2 to 2.5 %.
“It has an overall very high cannabinoid ratio with the THC itself in the neighborhood of 17% at its lowest and all the way up to 27-28%,” Greyshock says. “With high levels of both terpenes and cannabinoids in one plant, it makes this strain a very dynamic combination. The smell and flavor of this flower is unlike any other.”
It’s an uplifting strain with a woodsy, floral and tropical smell (think oranges, mangos, guava, pineapple, papaya, lemons and hints of pine) that could be applicable to lift a depressive fog, he says.
“Tropical Sleigh Ride makes you feel happy to be alive. It crushes negativity and brings out positivity. I would say its best medical trait would be treating depression,” Greyshock says. “The flavor is truly delicious and just smelling it will make you feel good. Smoking the Tropical Sleigh Ride is like snowboarding down a mountain of fruit, carving through oranges and mangos jumping over pine trees.”
And, in terms of its growth, Greyshock says the vigorous fast-growing Tropical Sleigh Ride is extremely adaptable.
“It handles a variety of conditions very well, performing great in all environments,” he says. “Here in California, we have grown it in the Sierras at 4,200 feet [elevation] and it grew very nicely. This year, we are growing it in San Luis Obispo County in a very hot and dry climate that reaches temperatures of 110 degrees regularly and it is performing great.”
Greyshock says the strain also possess a strong resistance to both bugs and mold, something that becomes very important when picking the winners from a new batch of plants. The buds themselves are generally very solid and chunky.
“Even with the sativa influence, these buds are not loose at all — they are very tight sativa buds,” Greyshock says. “We have had plants started from seed that have grown over 12 feet tall and 10 feet wide, towering over our heads, so she can definitely grow big. One of this strain’s best traits is its ability to fight off mold.”
Two Birds of a Feather
When it comes to the variations in phenotypes on this strain, Greyshock explains there are two basic types: the green pheno and the purple pheno.
“The purple pheno shows a lot of color on the leaves and stalk and a decent amount on the bud,” he says. “About 40% of the phenos exhibit the green version of this strain. One pheno that we love is the Passion Orange Guava (POG) and that is an example of a green variation. Another pheno we have took sixth place [in the sungrown category] at the 2018 Emerald Cup and this one has more of a purple influence that we call the Hawaiian Punch pheno.”
And when it comes to picking which pheno is best, you might as well ask a mother which daughter she favors more.
“It is hard to say which variation is better, both purple and green phenos are phenomenal,” Greyshock says. “In terms of the overall size of the buds, I’d say about 10% of the phenos have large big buds and those aren’t generally the ones we keep. It seems to be the tighter, medium, chunky phenos that we are after a lot, which fortunately the majority come out to be.”
Even though the Tropical Sleigh Ride is a fabulous smoke, cannabis breeders are almost always interested in taking their strain further.
“Once you have these type of plants in your collection, it is always about trying to make new and better things if you can,” Greyshock says. “Right now, we are playing around with the Tropical Sleigh Ride. This last year, we crossed it with another phenomenal California plant that was bred right here in Mendocino County called the Long Valley Royal Kush. Both of these plants have won awards at the Emerald Cup, so the combination of these two plants is making for some really exciting stuff this year.”
Breeder: Greenshock Farms
Genetics: Purple Candy Cane x Pineapple
Yield: Medium to Heavy
Height: Medium to Tall
Harvest Time: 56 to 60 Days
Profile: Sativa 70%/Indica 30%
TELL US, would you be interested in trying a strain bursting with tropical terps?
Originally published in Issue 40 of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE