Lost amongst phantasmal booths of Star-Wars-esque extraction machines, men in suits with matching smiles, and eager youngsters looking for careers getting high, I met Peter Grendon at this year’s Indo Expo in Portland, Oregon. In all fairness I didn’t just meet Peter, I was told I had to meet him and then I subsequently joined a hunt for this prestigious man. With the help of some colleagues, I did finally caught up with him and glad I did.
Peter is a man with many hats; he is a farmer and president of the Oregon SunGrown Growers Guild, an active member of the Oregon Industrial Hemp Farmers Association, and an entrepreneur and consultant with OMNI Budsman Enterprises. It is no wonder he has earned his nickname and namesake, Pioneer Pete.
As a small farmer, Peter has made his passion for premium, organic produce into a career. Becoming an organic small farmer automatically signs one up as an advocate, which he has fully embraced. Add to this a zeal for cannabis, and you can begin to understand what motivates this man.
Peter operates as an ombudsman (although not appointed). He is responsible for addressing both the concerns of the industry and the state, arriving at a solution that is most desirable in terms of health, safety, and profitability of the industry. Governor Kate Brown appointed him to the SB 844 implementation task force as the sole representative of the cannabis industry. He has also served on Oregon’s licensing and compliance committee, and he is an advisor to the state legislature in the implementation of Measure 91 (which legalized cannabis in Oregon).
Well spoken and incredibly knowledgeable, Peter told me that legalization has “made it necessary to completely merge into the development of the industry and take the reins where other people have not been able to lead the movement forward.” He saw the “need for leadership, decided to risk it and take up the mantle.” He said that “if [he] sat back and allowed others to decide the future of the industry, [he] and the people [he] represents would effectively be out of business.” It became mandatory to become politically active in his eyes.
For Peter, he seeks to preserve a way of life. He hails from Southern Oregon, a region coincidentally, also called the Emerald Triangle (just north of Northern California’s world renowned cannabis-growing region). Oregon’s Emerald Triangle is includes Coos, Curry, Jackson, and Josephine counties and produces sixty percent of the state’s medicinal cannabis. “Family farms and family farmers, this is what we do” as Peter stated. The region is dominated by an agrarian lifestyle — cannabis is a way of life for those who live in the region and they are actively fighting to keep from becoming employees on factory, instead of family-run, farms.
Much like Northern California, in the late 60s and early 70s, Southern Oregon saw an influx of homesteaders during what is now known as the “back-to-the-land” movement. Small farm, subsistence living was the name of the game. By happenstance, cannabis grew vigorously in the region and became a popular crop. Oregon became the first state to decriminalize cannabis in 1973 and legalized medical marijuana in 1998. The region is a cannabis cultivation epicenter. Ever heard of the strain William’s Wonder? Well, it comes from Williams, Oregon. Cannabis farmers have lived a humble life in the region for decades. Now, a legal cannabis market threatens that way of life.
Peter decided to take matters into his own hands. He has become politically active and he has become a voice for family run cannabis farms in Oregon’s Emerald Triangle.
Peter is not just a medicinal cannabis farmer. Besides the blueberries for which he is so proud to grow, he is a hemp farmer and advocate. Despite the fear of cannabis pollen, Pioneer Pete also grows hemp, and yes, on the same land in remarkably close proximity to his outdoor sensimilla. Peter is a cannabis farmer and that includes hemp. Hemp is the non-psychoactive variety of cannabis that’s used to produce fiber and seed.
For artisanal cannabis farmers, hemp pollen is a hazard. Cannabis grown for medicinal use is judged first and foremost by the mandatory absence of seeds. A crop that has been pollinated is nearly worthless. Therefore, male cannabis plants of any variety are viewed with vehemence.
Traditionally, hemp is grown in tight rows, male and females together in order to produce the seeds that are sought after. When growing medicinal varieties of cannabis, males are culled to create a sensimilla crop (seedless). The fear is that the male hemp plants will pollinate the all female sensimilla, ruining the crop. This is the reason Pete is such a pioneer. He grows both hemp and medicinal cannabis varieties side-by-side.
His trick…? He grows his hemp varieties sensimilla. He culls all the male hemp plants leaving just the females, therefore mitigating any threat of pollination. He has not seen a single instance of hemp pollinating his medicinal crops.
Additionally, the hemp varieties he grows are not seed or fiber crop varieties. In fact, they are high CBD, low THC varieties used to make CBD oil. His hemp plant flowers are processed in the same way as high CBD medicinal cannabis flowers. The oil produced is used to treat a number of ailments from inflammation to cancer. Peter has forged a path for the cannabis plant where both varieties, hemp and medicinal cannabis alike, can be grown side-by-side, sensimilla.
After he explained the technique – remarkably obvious and all together genius – I marveled at his ability to think outside-the-box while working “in-the-box” (i.e. with government).
Meeting Peter was quite an experience. Sitting down and picking his mind afforded me an opportunity to look into the future – to see what legal cannabis might look like in California’s Emerald Triangle. Peter offered me firsthand perspective into the goings-on of Oregon’s newly legalized crop. He demonstrated the importance of becoming active in local government and community. Communicating, as he would tell you, is paramount.
We can learn a lot from Oregon’s Emerald Triangle. Whether threats from profiteers or hemp pollen, Oregon’s Emerald Triangle is going through the changes brought by legalization that Northern California’s Emerald Triangle will inevitably face. They are leading the way for family-run artisanal cannabis farms and mitigating potential conflict of interest within the movement. They are eager to help their Emerald Triangle family in Northern California. Perhaps there is only one Emerald Triangle and it extends from Northern California to Southern Oregon, artificial lines can’t separate cannabis cultures.
Written by Ian Crossar