A By-the-Book Cannabis Farm in Southern Humboldt
“By being open and clear about our values, which is what I’m trying to do with our farm, we can be clear about what kind of culture and community we want. That’s 90 percent of the reason why I think legalization is necessary right now.”
The Lazy Sativa Ranch is the real deal — an open and aboveboard medical cannabis farm in Southern Humboldt County, Northern California. Rio Anderson and his father, Richard Amerson, own and operate The Lazy S. It is the flagship location for the Mindful Farms Collective, an organization that provides heritage strains of cannabis for healthy, active people who enjoy and appreciate nature.
Anderson and Amerson are currently negotiating the final details of a Type 3 permit for The Lazy S under Humboldt County’s new Medical Marijuana Land Use Ordinance (CMMLUO). The Type 3 permit allows for outdoor cultivation of up to 43,560 square feet of canopy: getting it sets the ranch up for licensing under the newly established (and not yet totally developed) California Department of Food & Agriculture Medical Cannabis Cultivation Program. Farms must be in compliance with local governing bodies to be eligible for licensing under the state program.
Getting a CMMLUO permit is no small feat — the farm must meet a bevy of standards established by the County Board of Supervisors to qualify. For example, here are some requirements from the permit application checklist: a “Site Plan” of the entire parcel showing easements, natural waterways and water features, access roads and graded flats, existing and proposed buildings, and water diversions; a “Cultivation and Operations Plan” including a description of water sources, storage, and irrigation plans, plus projected water usage, site drainage plans, including erosion and runoff control measures, watershed and nearby habitat protection plans, cultivation and processing plans, security plans, and complete month-to-month plans for the growing and harvesting season; and documentation that water sources are permitted by the State Water Resources Control Board, Division of Water Rights.
Anderson is into it and he’s not about to cut corners. It’s “Game On” for The Lazy S. He’s 100 percent upbeat and enthusiastic about this novel opportunity to actualize compliance, to ensure that his farm is as legal-as-humanly-possible. “It feels really positive to be open and transparent,” he told me while we chatted at the farm — an epic mountain-top location with stellar views of the South Fork Eel River in the Benbow Valley below. “It’s been expensive too,” he adds. “But at the same time there’s an excitement with it because it is real change.”
He calls the permitting process very collaborative and believes the new legal framework is forcing his community to become closer. “People are totally willing to help at the county level,” he says. “And all of the consultants are working hard to help as well. I have not had any negative experiences.”
Anderson urges his colleagues to persevere and to be positive throughout the permitting process because if everyone stays stuck in “black and grey market capitalist games,” then all of us stay stuck with the ongoing secretiveness and unaccountability when it comes to what goes on on farms. With greed, there is a lack of checks and balances, no conversations about what is appropriate and what isn’t.
He hopes that through legalization and permitting structures like the CMMLUO, the community can create baseline standards for shared values and that the community can have agencies and police as productive participants in our conversations. “By being open and clear about our values, which is what I’m trying to do with our farm, we can be clear about what kind of culture and community we want. That’s 90 percent of the reason why I think legalization is necessary right now.”
“When my mom showed up here in the 70s, there was not a lot of money in this community. But there was a supportive network of people that worked together.” The community had a sense of togetherness, he says. And even in the 80s and 90s, when cannabis farming was totally illegal but pervasive in this region, there was a certain camaraderie and collective empathy. But it did not persist…
“I totally believe in the back-to-the-land values that made this place,” Anderson says, values which include being active in the community, donating to social needs, living close to the natural world, and supporting nature and studying nature as part of spiritual development. He believes those values got lost in the illegal drug trade — the black market took over and his community eventually got overrun by “the money game.”
But those values can resurface and the community can evolve: “If we can achieve a new baseline for the cannabis community of what is appropriate environmentally and socially, and if we can work with legislators to make rules that actually work, then we can create economically-viable, ecologically-friendly, and socially-progressive farms.”
The Lazy S is already quite progressive, not only because of their innovative farming methods, but also because of Anderson and Amerson’s ongoing openness and hospitality. In the past couple of years, they’ve hosted a number of influential visitors, including California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, State Assemblyman Jim Wood, Congressman Jared Huffman, Humboldt County Supervisors, and representatives from the Adult Use of Marijuana Act campaign. In addition, the farm regularly hosts domestic and international tourists, and lots of people from the local community too, myself included.
Another progressive aspect of The Lazy S is that at this September, they are cultivated 25+ different varieties, including seed strains, pure sativas from Africa and low THC (5-10 percent) and high CBD strains, all of which are available through the Mindful Farms Collective. Their diverse crop sets The Lazy S apart — a lot of farmers around here grow just one or two strains, like OG or Sour Diesel, in order to maximize profit on the still-thriving black market.
Then, there’s the fact that Anderson and Amerson are all about permaculture techniques. They use “Hügelkultur” beds, renowned for water retention, and they are landscaping the farm with native “Etters” fruit trees and grasses. Their entire outdoor crop is planted in amended and blended native soil, and they are all about raised beds and mixed beds too (veggies and cannabis).
There are economically viable production models for this region, Anderson believes, and he emphatically points to Singing Frogs Farm in Sebastopol, California and their “no-till” veggie farming methods as a prime example. This area can become a “farm innovation zone,” he adds. “We can be different by sinking carbon, by raising the amount of organic matter in the soil, and by doing small forestry practices.” If farmers can implement such “buzzword” methods, then amazing landscapes for environmentally friendly farming can be realized.
Anderson and Amerson have seen people gain a real appreciation of the natural world through working at The Lazy S, by being a farmer and working such a bucolic piece of land. It’s part of their business plan — their employees get to experience outdoor activity in a beautiful location and improve their health while earning a decent wage.
The father-son team is in a place where they can have integrity with their values and where they can be totally transparent about the cultivation of cannabis. This is a fundamentally satisfying time for Anderson. Cannabis can be a positive thing for the world,, “I’m not a heavy smoker but I enjoy cannabis,” he says. “It helps me medically and spiritually.”
And it can help other people too, especially if it is cultivated with positive intent and with verifiably organic and sustainable techniques. On that note, Anderson puts a call out to his community: “We are seeking heritage farmers from Southern Humboldt to join our [Mindful Farms] collective,” farmers that also produce low-dose THC and high CBD strains. It is time to make high quality cannabis available to the world-at-large. It is time to progress.
Written by Emily Hobelmann