A Passion for Seeds Takes Root
Mothers Genetics is an all-female run company that aspires to breed, preserve and sell rare cannabis seeds. The company celebrates the spirit and style of the founder’s mother, Angela Girling, a glamorous and rebellious dancer who made waves in the sixties throughout Europe.
“At a time when wives were just starting to get out of the kitchen, my mom danced out,” said Mothers Genetics founder Contessa Bliss (who preferred not to use her real name). Contessa’s mother remained creative and resilient throughout very lean times, foraging and growing her own food, and making her own stylish clothing. “Britain was very prudish in the ‘60s and ‘70s and my mother was not afraid of her body,” Contessa remarked, describing risqué photo shoots her mother modeled for in very public places, like Cambridge’s historic Market Square.
Angela also broke with ‘60s social norms when as a young, single mother to infant Contessa, she fell in love with a Black musician from Chicago stationed at a U.S. Air force base. They married and he officially adopted Contessa, so she had the unique experience of growing up white with a Black father and a biracial younger brother.
Contessa’s father played for many years with Pink Floyd saxophone player Dick Parry in the Cambridge music scene that was exploding in the ‘70s. He also brought with him dance moves that were popular in the Chicago African American scene in the ‘60s, which Angela picked up on and integrated with her ballet training. The result was a unique and captivating style that led her to become one of the only solo modern dancers at the time to tour throughout Europe.
Contessa says she began her lifelong practice of collecting seeds when she was just five-years-old, growing vegetables with her parents to supplement their diet. “Breeding seeds is the most fundamental and radical step to self determination,” Contessa stated. She continues to collect and breed carrots and other vegetable seeds, but her passion is for cannabis seed breeding.
“I see them as magic beans. When you breed cannabis, you can create the whole picture and craft it step by step,” Contessa explained. “Our brand will not always have the highest THC, but the terpenes will be complex helping to create a well-rounded mind and body high.”
Contessa says that of the 25 years that she’s been involved in cannabis in Northern Mendocino County, California, the most rewarding part was when she was able to provide dramatic relief for her mother Angela as she battled, and ultimately succumbed to, ovarian cancer. Angela came to California to visit her daughter and smoked a joint of high-grade outdoor organic cannabis — the first time she’d used cannabis since the ‘70s.
“I couldn’t believe the difference, it was shocking,” Contessa said of her mother’s elevated comfort and strength after smoking the joint. Angela continued smoking cannabis for the remainder of their visit. When Angela returned to the UK, her daughter made sure she had a steady supply of high-grade edibles.
Angela told her daughter that if she survived her cancer, that she would fight for medical cannabis in the UK. She lived over two years longer than her doctors predicted, and died at the young age of 55. Contessa decided that her mother could still help fight for medical cannabis posthumously, and founded Mothers Genetics in her honor.
What sparked Contessa’s commitment to professional seed breeding was another family member who had a deep love for cannabis, family, and music — her biracial cousin, Jamal. He was a new father, a talented cannabis grower, and a vital part of a celebrated Mendocino hip-hop band, the High Grade All-Stars. On January 24, 2012, Jamal was shot in the back and killed by a neighbor he barely knew, who was known to have spoken racial slurs about Jamal on several occasions. The murderer was convicted and sentenced to 50 years to life.
Award-winning seed breeder Mean Gene of Aficionado Seeds was in the High Grade All-Stars with Jamal, and they collaborated on cannabis seed breeding as well. Following the tragedy, Mean Gene gifted Contessa with a collection of seeds that included many that Jamal had worked with. Contessa has dedicated herself to preserving the genetics that Jamal loved, and to building on them “as he would have done,” she said.
From that seed collection, Cherry Orange Kush is her favorite. She stabilized it and has used it to breed new varietals such as Indigo Orange Kush and Sour Orange Kush. The effect of her Sour Orange Kush was described from a group tasting as uplifting, reducing tension and anxiety, super soft and zen, creating a body glow, mood enhancing, motivational, inspirational, and creative.
Small companies like Mothers Genetics are going to face many challenges to survive the myriad new regulations that still haven’t defined the terms of licensing for seed breeding. Lobbyists and interest groups in Sacramento are currently working on the oversight, according to Hezekiah Allen of California Growers’ Association (CGA). Allen said he expects a bill to be passed and signed into law this year to establish a new license specific for seed breeders. Locally, a draft Mendocino County cannabis ordinance is still under public review at the time of this writing.
Contessa says that as they wait to see what regulators come up with, she’s enjoying the process of developing their brand and sees its potential to help raise awareness of environmental and social justice issues. “We’re officially an apparel company at the moment,” she said, “But I’m taking the challenge up of coming out of the shadows and being part of a positive, creative, environmentally friendly, gangster-free cannabis industry…Not only is cannabis possibly going to be under attack in the new [presidential] administration, but also people of color. The racism is here already, and only if we stand together on all these issues will we be able to protect the rights of the environment, of people of color, and ultimately of cannabis and the freedom to use it.”
Following my time with Contessa, I puffed on a joint and reflected on the fact that what makes the growing legal cannabis market so different from other industries is that the majority of people in it actually use cannabis to help them on their path. There is a growing recognition of the ability of cannabis to help us reconsider old ways of thinking, open up new neural pathways, and actually become better people. Thank goodness for cannabis and conscious cannabis growers and breeders for helping us collectively wrap our heads around how to overcome obstacles and create a kinder, gentler world.