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.

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Petition Seeks Help Protecting Small Cannabis Farmers in the Emerald Triangle

The cannabis industry’s famed Emerald Triangle is made up of the lush growing regions in Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity counties of Northern California—but high taxes and large corporations are threatening this community of multi-generational farmers who want to grow high quality weed as a passion, not just for profit.

One local Humboldt advocate and farm owner, Rose Moberly, is bringing awareness to the plight of the Emerald Triangle by circulating a petition to gain support.

Moberly has an impressive and extensive history working in the cannabis history. Starting from her roots interning for the Colorado Senate as an environmental lobbyist to rising in the ranks of a trimming job, grow facilities and even a track-and-trace METRC auditor, she’s explored many facets of the cannabis industry. Things really took off two years ago when she was invited to travel to California to educate small farmers about the track-and-trace system.

Ultimately, this path led her not only to find love, but also to her current role as co-operator of a second-generation farm called Huckleberry Hill Farms. “Long story short, I wound up falling in love with a certain legacy farmer [John Casali], who challenges me to be a better woman everyday, and I moved out [to Humboldt] over two years ago.”

Photo Credit: Ben Neff

Moberly describes Huckleberry Hill Farms “as mom-and-pop as it can get!” and her passion for cannabis advocacy and growing knows no bounds. However, small farmers in the Emerald Triangle are facing a dire situation. The tight-knit region of farmers are being challenged by corporations, who jumped onto the cannabis bandwagon once it hit mainstream popularity, without little effort in advocacy or legalization assistance.

“I think it’s important for people to realize where a multi-billion-dollar industry is being created from, and what they had to go through with the War on Drugs in order to legalize this amazing powerful plant,” Moberly told High Times.

More importantly, the shockingly high cultivation taxes that are required to grow in California makes operation difficult for all small farmers, not just those who operate within the Emerald Triangle region. If the current trajectory for taxes doesn’t change, it could be game over for small farmers everywhere. “All farmers no matter where they are in the state of California are suffering from over taxation and over supply,” she explained. “Together we need to communicate with regulators that if they are going to continue to permit farms without federal legalization, they will continue to drive the price down. The Emphasis on the Emerald Triangle has to do with protecting a culture that is not found anywhere else in the entire world, not just California.”

Moberly is confident that some of the nation’s best and most unique cannabis strains are bred in the Emerald Triangle, and if those farmers are forced to shut down due to exorbitant tax requirements, those strains could also disappear forever. “Furthermore, the Emerald Triangle is like the Amazon jungle of genetics. Some of the Legacy Growers here, I’m sure, hold a unique strain of cannabis that might even have the cure for cancer, or Autism, epilepsy, etc,” she said. “If those Farms aren’t able to make it in today’s climate some of those strains and cultivars might possibly be lost forever.”

Moberly shared that a recent local survey showed that 50 to 60 percent of cannabis farms won’t survive through 2022 if some kind of emergency regulations are put in place. Which is why she decided to take action and start the petition “Save the Emerald Triangle Legacy Cannabis Farmers.”

“As a result, farmers who sold flower products last year at $1,400 a pound are now forced to sell their products at $300 per lb to pay their bills,” she wrote on the petition webpage. “Due to the state’s fixed dollar tax, those farmers will be asked to pay a 53 percent cultivation tax of $161.28; while the remaining leaf product which some farmers had to offload as low as $15 per pound will be charged $48 per pound for state taxes. At that price, they’re being subjected to a 320 percent tax rate!”

With enough signatures, she will send a letter to California Governor Gavin Newsom, as well as state legislature, to plead the case on behalf of California farmers everywhere. In the meantime, you can help support the cause by visiting the petition here.

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Cannabis Documentary Lady Buds Explores Female Business Owners in New Release

A new cannabis film documentary entitled Lady Buds, releasing this weekend, explores the lives and challenges of female business owners.

The cannabis industry has heavily benefitted from niche documentaries, which present a professional way to educate viewers about the stigma of cannabis, its history on the War on Drugs or its effectiveness as a medicine. Films such as WEED (2013), featuring CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta, who opened up the conversation about medical cannabis to the nation. Weed the People (2018) explores the effectiveness of medical cannabis for children. Grass is Greener (2019) examines the history of music and its depiction of the War on Drugs.

Now it’s time to enjoy a new cinematic adventure in the form of Lady Buds—a unique perspective about female cannabis business owners from all walks of life.

Lady Buds recounts the lives and businesses of a diverse cast of individuals in Northern California, varying in race, age and sexual orientation. Seven women, who represent six cannabis businesses, are featured in Lady Buds: Sue Taylor, Chiah Rodriques, Felicia Carbajal, Karyn Wagner and The Bud Sisters (Pearl Moon and Dr. Joyce Centofanti). From cultivation to dispensary ownership and topical creation, these women all faced numerous challenges during the 2017-2019 window when the documentary was filmed. Lady Buds presents an intimate look at the lives of each subject, but also challenges the stereotypes both of “stoners” in general, as well as those of women in the industry.

Check out this exclusive clip from the film, featuring Karyn Wagner who shares an experience that her business ran into shortly after legalization in California went live. Enjoy this sneak peek!

High Times conducted an exclusive interview with Director, Producer and Writer Chris J. Russo in the High Times’ November Issue, aka the Women’s Issue, where she offered an inside look at her film and what kind of experience it presents to audiences. According to Russo, Lady Buds is the first of its kind—and it all began with a statistic about women in the industry that stuck with her. A few key studies have produced some shocking data about women in the industry, or lack thereof.

Back in 2015, according to a study conducted by Marijuana Business Daily (MBD), 36 percent of women held executive roles in the industry. By 2017, that percentage dropped by 26.9 percent, and then increased back up to 36.8 percent by 2019. MBD’s 2021 report entitled “Women & Minorities in the Cannabis Industry” shows a continued decline both in women, as well as people of color.

Lady Buds illuminates the issues that women face in this industry, but also highlights the challenges of all small cannabis businesses fighting to compete with larger cannabis corporations. “This film is kind of nothing like you’ve ever seen before because there hasn’t ever really been a film that’s showed such a wide range of areas that’s just like seeing it through a female lens,” Russo told High Times. “In my film, you explore the challenges of the entire supply chain with the women who are directly engaged in it. I like to make films that I want to see, so I want see more women in the positions of power in roles that are very positive.”

If you live near Los Angeles or San Francisco, check out the following live theatrical events:

November 26-27: Glendale Laemmle Theatre, 207 N. Maryland Ave., Glendale, CA 91206

November 29: Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St. San Francisco, CA 94103

The film will be releasing in select theaters on November 26, and will also be available on video on demand services such as iTunes.

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Judge Rules County Can’t Stop Water Deliveries to Hmong Weed Farmers

A Northern California federal judge ruled this month that Siskiyou County officials cannot stop trucks delivering water to Hmong unlicensed cannabis growers, writing that the ban raises “serious questions” about their right to be free of racial discrimination. 

In a decision handed down earlier this month, Chief U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller wrote that preventing the deliveries to the Mount Shasta Vista subdivision in the Big Springs area of inland Northern California also leaves the families living there without a source of water for drinking, cooking and bathing. To enforce her order, Mueller issued a temporary injunction against the county’s ban on water deliveries trucked into the community.

“Without an injunction, the plaintiffs and other members of the Shasta Vista Hmong community will likely go without water for their basic needs and will likely lose more plants and livestock,” she wrote. “Fires may burn more homes. People may be forced to leave their homes and land behind without compensation.

“The plaintiffs have also raised serious questions about their constitutional right to be free from racial discrimination,” Mueller added.

Thousands of Illicit Greenhouses

Officials estimate that there are 5,000 to 6,000 greenhouses growing unlicensed marijuana in the Big Springs area, many of them in the Shasta Vista subdivision operated by Hmong and Chinese immigrants and their families who have moved to the community over the last five years. Officials say the illicit grow sites have led to a rise in crime in the area and complaints from residents who say the cannabis cultivation operations are causing their wells to run dry.

To address the issue, Siskiyou County officials approved ordinances this spring to prohibit selling well water without a permit and to ban water trucks on roads leading to Shasta Vista. County deputies enforced the ordinances by aggressively pulling over people they believed were hauling water illegally, according to reporting by the Sacramento Bee.

Attorneys for a group of Hmong farmers filed suit in federal court in Sacramento to block the ordinances, arguing that they were racially motivated and left the families without water for their homes, gardens and livestock. They also noted that the ban left the community without water to fight wildfires, such as the Lava Fire that burned through parts of Shasta Vista in June after a nearby lightning strike.

Suit Alleges Ordinances Were Racially Motivated

Mueller wrote in her September 3 ruling that the growers have a case to allege “the ordinances are motivated by racial animus,” but acknowledged that Siskiyou County attorneys had presented a compelling case that crime was on the upswing in the area.

“Violent crime in Shasta Vista has also spiked in recent years,” she wrote. “The Sheriff’s Office has responded to reports of armed robbery, assault and murder. In just one recent week, a man was pistol-whipped and robbed; another was the target of gunshots fired by a neighbor, and six people were bound and robbed by gunmen wielding AK-47s. Few similar crimes were reported in Shasta Vista before illegal cannabis cultivation took hold.”

Mueller let stand a county ordinance that specifically banned selling water for illegal cannabis cultivation. The injunction only applies to water sales and deliveries to the community intended for needs including bathing and gardening. Mueller rejected county arguments that the prohibition on water deliveries was needed to protect residents of Shasta Vista, many of whom live in unpermitted residences and are subject to unsafe living conditions. The judge ruled that the county has other laws including zoning ordinances to address those issues.

“Shasta Vista residents might drink and bathe in unpotable water trucked into Shasta Vista from nearby agricultural wells, but the alternative is very little water or no water at all,” she wrote. “If potable water is in fact ready available, as the county claims… this order in no way prohibits officials from helping the people in Shasta Vista find and use that potable water.”

Raza Lawrence, an attorney for the Hmong growers, said that he hopes that Mueller’s injunction becomes permanent in order to avert a “humanitarian crisis” in the area.

“Now they can finally get back to living their lives like normal on their land,” he said.

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The Winners of The Cannabis Cup Northern California: People’s Choice Edition 2021

The cannabis cup is virtual this year—virtually awesome, that is, with our People’s Choice edition making it possible to judge safely from the comfort of your home. Here are the winners of the Cannabis Cup Northern California: People’s Choice Edition 2021.

Thank you to all the judges who put their hearts and souls into judging the competition entries to help crown the best of Northern California! For more info on how to become a judge and to sign up for updates, please visit

Indica Flower

Courtesy of the Winner

First Place: Atrium Cultivation – Juice Z

Courtesy of the Winner

Second Place: LitHouse – Runtz

Courtesy of the Winner

Third Place: Top-Shelf Cultivation – Whoa-Si-Whoa

Courtesy of the Winner

Fourth Place: Green Dragon – Mamba Mints

Courtesy of the Winner

Fifth Place: Caliva – Kush Mints

Sativa Flower

Courtesy of the Winner

First Place Garcia Hand Picked – Super Lemon Haze

Courtesy of the Winner

Second Place: Sovereign – Mother’s Milk

Courtesy of the Winner

Third Place: Green Dragon – 80’s Baby

Courtesy of the Winner

Fourth Place: LitHouse – Orange Daquiri

Courtesy of the Winner

Fifth Place: Ember Valley – Jack Cake

Hybrid Flower

Courtesy of the Winner

First Place: Sovereign – Miracle Alien Cookies

Courtesy of the Winner

Second Place: Sense – Rainbow Chip

Courtesy of the Winner

Third Place: UMMA Sonoma – Apples & Bananas

Courtesy of the Winner

Fourth Place: LitHouse – 5Alive

Courtesy of the Winner

Fifth Place: Phinest Cannabis – Carbon Fiber

Sungrown Flower

Courtesy of the Winner

First Place: High Supply – Gordo

Courtesy of the Winner

Second Place: Phinest Cannabis – Fresh Squeeze OG

Courtesy of the Winner

Third Place: Fumé – Dank Fruit


Courtesy of the Winner

First Place: Cream of the Crop – Diamond Barrel Infused Pre-Roll

Courtesy of the Winner

Second Place: Kingpen – Cannalope AK x Cannalope Kush Infused Kingroll

Courtesy of the Winner

Third Place: Sovereign – Solventless Mother’s Milk Fatso Geode Pre-Roll

Courtesy of the Winner

Fourth Place: Atrium Cultivation – ’92 OG Pre-Roll

Courtesy of the Winner

Fifth Place: Heavy Hitters – Diamond Infused Pre-Roll

Solvent Concentrates

Courtesy of the Winner

First Place: URSA Extracts – Orange Creamsicle Diamond Holy Water

Courtesy of the Winner

Second Place: Mohave Gold – Zkittle Mints Badder

Courtesy of the Winner

Third Place: Gold Drop – Orange Fruity Pebbles Diamond Badder

Courtesy of the Winner

Fourth Place: Green Dragon – Lucky #7 Badder

Courtesy of the Winner

Fifth Place: Phinest Cannabis – S.P.B.S. Live Resin

Non-Solvent Concentrates

Courtesy of the Winner

First Place: HolyWater x Grandiflora x Oakfruitland – UNHOLY Piña Acai Live Rosin

Courtesy of the Winner

Second Place: Jetty Extracts – Garlic Cookies Solventless Cold Cure 90μ

Courtesy of the Winner

Third Place: CritiCal x DNA Genetics – Ztrawberriez Live Rosin

Courtesy of the Winner

Fourth Place: Lowell Farms – Bianchetto Live Rosin

Courtesy of the Winner

Fifth Place: CLSICS – LMK Live Rosin

Sativa Vape Pens

Courtesy of the Winner

First Place: Dripp – Grape Soda Sativa Vape

Courtesy of the Winner

Second Place: Buddies – Berry Jane – Sativa Vape

Courtesy of the Winner

Third Place: Dime Industries – Mango Diesel Sativa Vape

Courtesy of the Winner

Fourth Place: Jetty Extracts – Cannalope Haze Live Resin Sativa Vape

Courtesy of the Winner

Fifth Place: Select – Elite Live Orangezina Sunset Sativa Vape

Indica Vape Pens

Courtesy of the Winner

First Place: Kingpen – Zookies Indica Vape

Courtesy of the Winner

Second Place: Jetty Extracts – Banana Creme Solventless Indica Vape

Courtesy of the Winner

Third Place: CLSICS – GMO x Silver Grape Solventless Indica Vape

Courtesy of the Winner

Fourth Place: Phinest Cannabis – Wedding Pie Live Resin Indica Vape

Courtesy of the Winner

Fifth Place: Caliva – Alien OG Fresh Flower Indica Vape

Edibles: Gummies

Courtesy of the Winner

First Place: Green Revolution – Doozies Mango Chile Gummies

Courtesy of High Times

Second Place: Kanha – 1:1:1 CBN Tranquility Gummies

Courtesy of the Winner

Third Place: Sensi – Bedtime Blueberry Melatonin Gummies

Courtesy of the Winner

Fourth Place: Good News – Pride Sour Gummies

Courtesy of the Winner

Fifth Place: KIVA: Lost Farm – Super Lemon Haze Strawberry Lemonade Live Resin Gummies

Edibles: Non-Gummies

Courtesy of the Winner

First Place: Bhang – Ice Chocolate Bar

Courtesy of the Winner

Second Place: KIVA: Lost Farm – Blue Dream Blueberry Live Resin Fruit Chews

Courtesy of the Winner

Third Place: Dollar Dose – Fruit Punch Lozenge

Courtesy of the Winner

Fourth Place: Santa Cruz Mountaintops – Ganja Doses Blue Dream Mints

Courtesy of the Winner

Fifth Place: Jelly Wizard – White Chocolate Magic Morsels

Edibles: Beverages

Courtesy of the Winner

First Place: Manzanita Naturals – The Fizz Infused Cola

Courtesy of the Winner

Second Place: House of Saka – Spark Mimosa

Courtesy of the Winner

Third Place: Wunder – Sessions Grapefruit Hibiscus Beverage

Courtesy of the Winner

Fourth Place: Santa Cruz Mountaintops – Beber Heal Beverage Mix

Courtesy of the Winner

Fifth Place: TONIK – Mixed Berry Seltzer

Topicals, Tinctures and Capsules

Courtesy of the Winner

First Place: Dr. Raw Organics – Relax Formula Twist up Topical Balm

Courtesy of the Winner

Second Place: THC Living – Freeze 1:1 Cold Therapy Roll-On

Courtesy of the Winner

Third Place: Select – Squeeze Hint of Sweet Beverage Tincture

Courtesy of the Winner

Fourth Place: Green Revolution – Deep Rest Avocado Oil Tincture

Courtesy of the Winner

Fifth Place: Day Dreamers – Liquid Dreams – Indica Capsules

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The Hall of Flowers Engage Event Curates Cannabis Connections

While the nation was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers of the Northern California trade show, Hall of Flowers, held onto the value of face-to-face connections through the creation of Engage. The virtual event fosters networking opportunities between licensed brands and retailers across the state.

While we’re all glad to see the past months of isolation and illness wrapping up, we must admit that even the pandemic had some silver linings: cannabis was declared an essential business in several states; we all learned to value of our health and freedom to roam; and the virtual world of communication blossomed in unexpected ways. For both fledgling and established cannabis businesses, it meant that traditional trade shows and personal visits to dispensaries to sell your wares were no longer possible. Sales reps could continue to make cold calls and send menus by e-mail, but that’s never the same as face-to-face interactions.

Even as the nation gradually opens up, Engage remains a valuable platforms for cannabis businesses of all sizes. The most recent Engage event took place June 8-9, and was decidedly a win-win for all participants.

Cannabis Matchmaking

According to Hall of Flowers team member Aengus Cawley, they realized that through “virtual matchmaking” they could help connect like-minded brands and retailers so that everyone could continue to grow while the nation was shut down. “It’s not a trade show or a Zoom meeting either,” he explained. People were skeptical at first, but once they saw the value of the time, money and energy it saved, they got it. Plus, at trade shows there is no guarantee of meetings, while via Engage you know you will get one-on-one time with buyers and brands.”

The main question posed was, “Would the virtual connections lack the cultural and discovery components that a physical show offers?” To counter those losses, the Engage crew supplemented the new format with weekly mailers about new brands and events on Clubhouse. While Cawley admits that “there is lots to be said for smelling the flowers and looking someone in the eye,” he also has seen Engage flourish over time.

There have been four Engage events, beginning in July 2020, and the one that just wrapped up on June 9 was a win-win for all. Approximately 136 buyers and 74 brands participated in the two-day event which ran from 10 a.m. to noon, with a “Power Hour” from 1-2:00 p.m. to make up for anyone who may have missed a meeting. Each session lasts only 15 minutes, but as Biko’s founder and CEO Timeka Drew discovered, you can fit a whole lot into a short amount of time if you are prepared. Her company launched in February 2021, and this was her first time pitching the brand and sharing information in a formalized manner. 

Drew admits that just as she was feeling nervous before it started, a text came through from the Engage tech support team saying they were there to help. “Everyone was so nice and helpful and supportive,” she said. “I was skeptical about how much we could get done in 15-minute meetings, but we put together a deck and still had time for questions at the end. It’s like speed dating for cannabis.”

Biko, which offers premium whole flower pre-rolls, was chosen to be one of three companies that received equity grants allowing them to join The Hall of Flowers Engage event at no charge. For other brand participants, the rate is $2,000. This guarantees 10 meetings with retailers, plus the assistance of the sales team. Uber lunch vouchers were provided for all participants through sponsorships – a nice touch for the busy brands and buyers. 

For retailers, there is no fee to enter. “We reach out to buyers who participated in the Hall of Flowers event in the past, although not all understand the digital method the same way,” Cawley said. “We curate the chosen retailers based on their interests and how they mesh with the brands on board.”

Brands of All Sizes See Value

Harborside, one of California’s oldest and largest cannabis dispensary chains, participated in Engage for their third time. The company’s marketing and events coordinator Jessie Corpus explained just how beneficial the event has been during the pandemic. 

“We usually do quarterly reviews at Harborside to bring on new brands, so with COVID it was a great outlet,” she said. “Once a brand knew they’d be talking with us, they could send samples ahead of time.” 

While Engage has borrowed ideas from standard trade shows, the event expands upon the profiling to create algorithms to make perfect matches. 

“Engage matches us with what we’re looking for based upon our criteria and what the brands offer,” Corpus explained. “For example, ‘Is the retailer looking for high end or bargain pricing; ‘What are the target markets?’ Then they give us options, and we get to pick which brands to interview.” 

For many brands, this is a rare opportunity, especially for smaller companies with a limited budget. Not only do they get the chance to speak with buyers directly, but they can save money and time otherwise spent at in-person tradeshows on hotels and transportation, and the expenses of setting up a booth to impress. 

Engage has given emerging brands the opportunity to get in front of top-notch retailers across California. Both Drew at Biko and Corpus at Harborside see the benefit of Engage continuing after the coronavirus pandemic, perhaps as a fill-in between the regular live Hall of Flowers events, and as a way for entry level brands with lower budgets to be seen. 

“Engage has given us a chance to build community with other aligned brands. It gives me a renewed faith in our industry,” Drew said. 

Although Engage has been a successful cannabis B2B trade show, everyone is certainly looking forward to being together in person again soon. The Hall of Flowers events have been epic in the past – always a great way for the cannabis community to come together and do business while having some fun. We all look forward to the event at the Santa Rosa Fairgrounds on September 22 and 23, and then on December 8 and 9 in Palm Springs. According to Cawley, registrations are filling up fast already. The Santa Rosa event should be as large as it was prior to the coronavirus, and a great place to connect with both old and new friends in the biz. We hope to see you there!

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The Bloodlust of Sasquatch – Carnage on Northern California Cannabis Farms

For the Cannabis growers in Northern California, fear now comes in an eight-foot form. The evidence is as clear as it is terrifying; Sasquatch is real, hates cannabis, and has gone on a murderous rampage. Here are the latest developments. Bloodlust of Sasquatch Three bodies were torn to pieces on a dope farm, all the […]

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Still Standing: Northern California’s 2020 Harvest In Review

The harvest was glorious, mellow and abundant. It was sunny and mostly warm up until the first week of November, when forecasts of the first rain and then a hard frost mandated that we cut the final cultivar a few days early. 

Other than the unfortunate farms that burned and lost their whole crops, and some other growers in the immediate area who were smoked out, the 2020 California sungrown cannabis crop doesn’t seem to have suffered much testable damage.

Photo Nikki Lastreto

Every harvest is different, but I would be lying if I didn’t report the unique challenges the cannabis community endured this season. Repeating the litany of crises can become wearisome, and I don’t want to sound like I am complaining. However, in spite of being declared an essential industry and evidence of a growing market for cannabis as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown, I am not sure anyone in the legal cannabis business is actually making a profit. 

Most businesses in the legal market are just happy to be “still standing” at this point. We clearly are in a moment of transition, or in astrological terms, we are on a cusp, about to enter another phase. How much of the predicted events will in fact transpire – no one knows.

An Extra Helping of Hurt

For the cannabis farmers of the Emerald Triangle, the challenges came thick and fast in 2020. Like everyone else, we have been affected by “the virus,” a presidential election, Black Lives Matter, social distancing and the lock down. But as 2020 started, the cannabis community received an extra helping of hurt. 

First, there was the rise in the California cannabis cultivation tax, which doesn’t make much sense since excessive taxation is the reason for a thriving illicit market. This was followed by the COVID-19 lockdown, which brought the cancellation of most public cannabis events, including the 420 national holiday. 

Initially, cannabis dispensaries were shut down as part of the shelter-in-place orders. A ray of hope came when cannabis was declared an essential business in late May, and sales picked up, especially delivery and the newly authorized curbside pick-up.

Cultivators took this as a green light to carry on with the springtime garden preparations. However, at the start of the planting season, it was realized that even including all the drought years since 2000, the previous eight months had received the least rainfall since 1979-80. Subsequently, springs and creeks began to run dry, and farmers who are dependent on trucked-in-water were freaking out as towns put a limit on withdrawals.

This was followed by the belated realization that two thirds to three quarters of all cannabis licenses in California are provisional because they had not met the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The January 1, 2022 CEQA deadline suddenly seemed awfully close as county and state officials realized there were not enough working hours, staff or money to pay them to process the approximately 7,000 provisional licenses before they expired. This meant that 90 percent of the compliant cannabis businesses in the state could be shut down due to an unrealistic deadline.

Some counties even require an additional report of threats to sensitive species posed by cannabis cultivation in the mountains. The cost for the licensee to secure these clearances was estimated to be in the tens of thousands of dollars. Suddenly, it seemed that virtually the entire cannabis economy would be reduced to the biggest and richest operations while the small pioneer legacy businesses would go under.

Apocalyptic Skies

To top it all off, the fire season started earlier than usual. As anyone living in California in the summer of 2020 knows, the sky turned a dark, apocalyptic orange while ash fell like warm snowflakes that didn’t melt. It was so dark at mid-day that cars had their headlights on, and the street lights were lit. 

Many people lost homes, farms and crops. Fires blazed throughout the Emerald Triangle, the Santa Cruz mountains, Big Sur, the foothills of the Sierras, and even up into southern Oregon. Watching the fire lines, shown on the Cal Fire maps, as they inched closer to one’s neighborhood and ranch was daunting and stressful.

The only good news was that, for the most part, the fires were in forest land, which meant the ash was not nearly so toxic as a town or city on fire. But still, everyone was afraid that the entire crop for the whole state would be ruined by the smoke and ash. The talk among the cannabis community was focused on how to remove ashes from the leaves and flowers. Most people used leaf blowers or gently shook their plants.

Pineapple Cannabis Plant
Photo Brian Parks

Building Hope

In spite of all this, the harvest turned out great. The days of August and September were hot and the nights were cool, furthering the development of THC and the terpenes. When we finally started cutting in the first week of October, there had been no significant smoke or ash for several weeks, and our feelings of hope began to rise. Even though we desperately needed the rain, everyone was glad that it held off until the end of harvest.

Once the cutting actually began, everyone shifted into high gear – literally. At Swami Select Garden, we harvest in the wee hours of the morning when it is still dark out. Because of all the smoke and ash, we added extra precautions: After each plant was brought in and weighed, we  dipped every branch in a diluted hydrogen-peroxide solution. Next, we dipped them in clean water before hanging them outside on wires strung between trees for a brief drip-dry.

Cannabis hanging to dry during harvest.
Photo Brian Parks

As the sky slowly begins to lighten, and all the plants for that day’s cutting are hanging, we take a break for breakfast, when I cook omelets or pancakes for the crew. Then, we go back to hanging everything in the official drying area.

Interestingly, the need to get up at 5 a.m. creates a bond between the team members. It is really a magical time under the moon and stars. The terpene aroma is delightful, the buds are at their peak, and there is a sense of pride seeing the giant colas come down and loaded onto the trailer. It’s hard work, but one can literally see the fruits of their labor.

Looking Ahead

All during October, the humidity was in the twenties and thirties, so the issue was preventing the flowers from getting too dry. Then, as the drying area filled up and the rain came in November, we had the dehumidifiers going full time. Drying takes between 10 days and two or three weeks depending on outside humidity and how many fans and dehumidifiers there are. 

Nikki deleafing after harvest.
Photo Zach Sokol

When sufficiently dry, the smaller twigs snap rather than bend. This signals that it’s time to take the branches down, off the drying nets, and roll them up in brown Kraft paper – like three-foot tall burritos. Now they are ready for bucking, when we remove any large fan leaves and take every bud off of its branch in preparation for the fully manicured trim at the processing center.

The farmer’s harvest work may be over, but it’s time to prepare for next year’s grow already. First, we planted a cover crop of nitrogen-fixing plants followed by spreading compost on top of the soil to discourage the turkeys from flying over the fence to eat the seeds. Finally, all the equipment and gardening gear must be put away for the winter. A good farmer is always thinking ahead to the next season.

The 2020 election has brought some positive news for the cannabis industry as 30 cities and counties in California passed cannabis legalization measures, which hopefully means we’ll see more retail outlets soon. The election wins in five states were also a boost, proving cannabis is the one thing most Americans can agree on. News like this is encouraging for us farmers who work so hard to grow the best cannabis in the world. We will not give up!

The post Still Standing: Northern California’s 2020 Harvest In Review appeared first on Cannabis Now.

Updates on the 2020 California Emerald Cup

In order to adapt to this pandemic, the Emerald cup had two choices, cancel the event or, come up with a creative solution. Rather than disappoint everyone, organizers decided to postpone the date to buy some time and get to work. After all, the Emerald Cup is a North California favorite, attracting farmers from all […]

The post Updates on the 2020 California Emerald Cup appeared first on Latest Cannabis News Today – Headlines, Videos & Stocks.

Former French Laundry Farm Chief Joins Pot Industry

In the world of investment bankers and supply chain specialists making the dive into the cannabis industry, former French Laundry farm chief Aaron Keefer is something different.

On Feb. 11, news broke that Keefer would be bringing his pedigree from the 3-Michelin star restaurant to his new job as vice president of cultivation and operations at Sonoma Hills Farm. The farm has dedicated a piece of its 40 acres to growing cannabis alongside its produce and livestock operations, which Keefer will now also lead.

For the last decade, Keefer worked as the lead culinary gardener for the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, which includes the famed restaurant French Laundry in California’s wine country. In addition to receiving Michelin’s highest rating every year since 1997, French Laundry has also ranked the second-best restaurant on the planet by Le Liste. During his time farming the food that would eventually end up on the plates at Thomas Keller’s restaurants, Keefer certainly played a key role in helping the restaurant hold on to its reputation of excellence in the ultra-competitive restaurant industry. 

Keefer says he got his start in the kitchen at age 17. Two years after, he grew his first pot plant.

“I started smoking when I was 15, was a part of that life for sure,” Keefer told Cannabis Now. “I went into the kitchen at 17.”

The restaurant industry is notoriously a more friendly career field for cannabis enthusiasts than most. “There is no better pairing than marijuana and food right?” Keefer quipped.

Keefer says that for his first experience growing pot, the original genetics he used were from Amsterdam.

“A friend of mine’s father was kind of the guy that would bring in the 20-pound wheel of the Panama Red and like that, he went out to Amsterdam and brought back Skunk 1# and Northern Lights 5#,” Keefer says. “There was nothing like that at the time.”

Aaron Keefer

The first time Keefer tried those Amsterdam genetics, a far cry from the mystery weed he’d been puffing before in his life, he thought he was hallucinating.

“I was like, ‘Whoa, what is this stuff?’” says Keefer. He and his buddy grew three plants that summer of 1988, and he says “one of them turned out nice.”

Keefer has fond memories of sneaking through cornfields to plant his cannabis out in the middle of nowhere and being very popular at school for four weeks before the bud was gone.

Eventually, Keefer brought his culinary experience and dormant green thumb to the West Coast, arriving in California a couple years before Prop 215 legalized medical marijuana in the state. After starting off in wine country, he headed south to San Francisco in 1996.

“When Prop 215 first started, I remember Oaksterdam, I was down there,” Keefer says. He recalled the Oaksterdam neighborhood was a far cry from what is happening today: “I remember when the Romulan came out.”

He even visited Amsterdam himself in 1999. He returned with some Great White Shark from Green House Seed Co and Sweet Tooth from Barney’s. Both of those operations regularly found themselves on the podium of the original Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam.

“That was when I first started growing out here again,” Keefer says. “I was working as a chef, but you’re working as a chef and you aren’t making as much as the waiters. You can’t even afford to eat out. So it started as a side gig little hobby and then all of a sudden, it became an industry.”

He says his efforts ended up on the top shelf at San Francisco dispensaries such as Grass Roots and the Apothecarium, among others. But in the end, he says it was always his side gig, as his focus was on being a chef.

Over his years, with the Thomas Keller Group traveling to farms around the country that he respected, Keefer was able to absorb a lot of awesome horticultural best practices that fit into his general permaculture plans for the cannabis he’ll be growing this summer just south of California’s famed Emerald Triangle.

Keefer believes there are three important parts to growing any plant. First and foremost is genetics.

“That’s where it all starts, the second is life in the soil,” Keffer says. “You are never going to grow a plant to its full potential if you don’t create, or get out of the way of nature, and give all that life in the soil. That’s what breaks down the organics.”

Keefer says all the best action happens in live soils that are breaking down organic matter to give the plant all of the nutrients it needs, helping it reach its full potential.

“That’s where you get the flavor. If it tastes better, it is better, and it’s better for us,” Keefer says.

The third leg of quality for Keefer is what happens after the plant gets chopped down, and rightfully so. Tons of cannabis is ruined in botched drying and curing efforts that can quickly turn the flame into something that’s definitely not tasty. Keefer says when folks don’t get it right, they can “turn gold into straw.”

The cultivation effort Keefer will oversee at Sonoma Hills Farm will be a total of one acre of land split between two locations on the property. The first is a 28,560 square foot outdoor dry farm, and the other is a 10,000 square foot state-of-the-art greenhouse for cannabis cultivation with an attached 5,000 square foot facility for indoor cultivation, plant propagation and strain development.

The outdoor plot will occupy the old footprint of three large chicken barns.

“Done right, cannabis cultivation is a true connoisseurship not seen in many businesses other than wine, whisky, mescal and cigars. You can taste and smell the nuances,” Keefer says. “To really succeed, hard work is what gets the results. This is what we intend to do at Sonoma Hills Farm.”

 TELL US, have you ever smoked weed you think deserved a Michelin star?

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