The Plight of the Small Farmer

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The Plight of the Small Farmer

Persecution in the Face of Legalization

Written by Sharon Letts


America was fed by small, ten-acre truck farms. They were local, you knew the farmer, and you knew where your food came from. In many rural areas the truck farmer still exists. While the local food movement began in the 1980s started by chef Alice Waters, a new awareness emerged, with farmers markets now prominent in cities throughout the country.

For the most part, small farms across the country were replaced by housing developments, with large, corporate agriculture operations planting hundreds of acres of GMO laden crops in regions where water doesn’t exist and must be re-routed at great cost and effort.

Farm AID began in support of the small farmers affected, with the U.S. Government stepping in by offering subsidies. But that didn’t stop the onslaught of GMOs or the mega farms devoid of substance or soul.


Many Farmers, Few Permits

With an estimated 15,000 small cannabis farmers in Humboldt County alone, according to Humboldt County’s Cannabis Environmental Impact Report, and 2,300 applications turned in, with just 510 accepted for permitting so far, to say this is a catastrophe of grand proportions is an understatement.

The small cannabis farmers of California, specifically in Northern California within the Emerald Triangle, have been meeting supply and demand of the world’s most beloved herb for decades in the face of great persecution and personal loss.

Generations of farmers have passed down cultivation methods, perfected the plant and raised the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to the heights we have today. The late Southern Humboldt cultivator, Lawrence Ringo, hybridized the THC back down. He gave us the high cannabinoid (CBD) strains, which are now at the forefront of the movement for acceptance of cannabis as medicine, making the rhetoric, “what about the children” a moot point.

The contributions from farmers in the first medically legal state of California are numerous. They’ve also gone on without accolades, largely for fear of persecution.

Impending Doom

Kevin Jodrey is owner and founder of Wonderland Nursery in the heart of Southern Humboldt, where cultivation is king, and its customers have the most to lose.

“I don’t think anyone realizes the level of enforcement that is about to come,” he warned. “The overall tone is one of impending doom.”

The crux of the matter is the way most farms on the North Coast have operated under the radar, with unpermitted roads, buildings, and a covert cottage industry that crosses state lines with tonnage.

“The first 60 cease and desist letters went out to the panther gap area, and literally made those properties worthless,” he continued, referring to land in Southern Humboldt. “A lien [was put] on the land until all fines [are] paid and restoration [is] completed. No permits are being offered for those properties. The rumor is another 8,000 are enroute.”

To give an idea of what is happening statewide, Jodrey added that in Sacramento alone, there have been 661 raids on indoor farming operations in a two-month period. An increase in the number of officers assigned will enable them to perform 600 raids per month. The operations are done by using algorithms via Smart Meters to detect high electrical usage by indoor growers.

“The state wants to protect its tax base,” he surmised. “Humboldt is more spread out, making this type of enforcement harder, except in towns like Arcata, McKinleyville, and Fortuna, [California] with a concentration of indoor farms in residential neighborhoods.”

Jodrey said the “mega farms” being permitted now will provide material to legal retail shops, but it’s safe to say the thousands of farmers still unpermitted will face prison time, great hardship, and loss.

“It’s the redistribution of wealth and prosperity that is going to be felt the hardest,” he empathized. “The shops will have product, just not the same product once produced by locals – and that’s not just in Humboldt. We are going into an industrialized model — that’s the state’s desire.”


Medicine Thrown Under the Bus

Washington State is one example of medical cannabis being thrown under the bus. Jodrey explained that they didn’t get the recreational revenues they desired, and viewed medical as a competing industry. The same thing is happening in Colorado, with the business faction feeling the pinch from the medicine cabinet. The irony is, the plant is the same on both sides of the aisle – and that edible quickly becomes a medible, when the pain miraculously goes away, and prescription pills are replaced.

Chrystal Ortiz farms in Humboldt County; she’s Operations Manager for True Humboldt, an award-winning brand that serves as an umbrella for more than 200 farmers in the county.

Ortiz believes the downfall of cannabis as medicine in California stems from the passing of the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (MMRSA), combined with the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MCRSA), which created the Medical and Adult Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MAUCRSA) after Prop. 64 or AUMA was enacted.

According to the California Growers Association, MAUCRSA is “the foundation of regulated cannabis in California.” According to Ortiz, it’s a roadblock to collectives in an already overly regulated market.

“The collective model is absolutely threatened by the MAUCRSA, as it sets the square footage at 500 square feet,” she informed. “Our compassionate programs and collective models will need a lot of continued advocacy at the state level to survive.”

Ortiz feels the only way most small farmers and the cottage industry will survive is by banding together under one umbrella, lobbying and pooling financial resources for the greater good of the collective community that has worked without a hitch for decades. One such successful endeavor she sites is the Humboldt Sun Growers Guild, which encourages organic cannabis grown outdoors.


Unlimited Land Use

“Regulators scream about how medical is the priority, but we know now that is a smoke screen to calm the public while they dismantle it in the dark of night,” Jodrey added. “The removal of the one-acre cap is a precursor.”

The one-acre limit set forth by the state’s Department of Food and Agriculture was left out of the regulations put forth by California, prompting many to panic as big money and large-scale operations were seemingly given the green light. So far, only Sonoma County — a region known for its craft wines — has held firm on its one-acre limit, with a compassionate nod to its small farmers.

The comparison of California’s wine industry to the cannabis industry isn’t far-fetched. While corporations and big money flooded its wine country during the 1980s, those with the wherewithal to go forward in small-batch craft wines found success. But they also had the law behind them, with no threat of persecution or prison sentences, just loss of the business if they couldn’t compete.

The same can be said of America’s small farmers. The only difference is, the family farm wasn’t raided, the family dog wasn’t shot and killed, and grandpa didn’t have to do hard time.


The New World Weed Order

On another note, California’s Department of Tax and Fee Administration recently issued a last-minute request that all dispensaries wishing to apply for a commercial permit must have its taxes paid in full.

No other industry in the country, including the alcohol and pharmaceutical industry, has such limiting demands. No other industry in the country is faced with the amount of fees and regulations from product inception to shelf. For cannabis patients miraculously helped by the plant for serious ailments, it’s an exceptionally hard pill to swallow.

Thousands of farmers now face staying in the smoky closet, and due to said demands, the black market will be alive and well in California. Farms will be raided, people will lose everything, serve time in privatized prisons, and emerge as felons. They will work for pennies an hour in manufacturing jobs once held in the private sector, while the billion dollar industry they founded thrives and prospers.

“Humboldt will always do what Humboldt does – buck the trends and make its own way,” Jodrey waxed poetic. “But the way will be littered with the corpses of all those who don’t fit into the new model.”


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Writer and Producer Sharon Letts began her life's work at age of 24 as a flower gardener in Southern California. Gardening turned to media, when she was asked to produce and host a visiting gardening show, In and Out of the Garden, for local television. She then went on to executive produce, Off the Beaten Path, a travelogue in California for PBS. After working as a field and segment producer for documentary and magazine shows for television in Los Angeles, Sharon was brought up to Humboldt County to produce a news show. While working in media in the cannabis capitol of the world, Sharon presented with Lobular Carcinoma (breast cancer). Due to her location, she was given cannabis oil, successfully putting the cancer into remission, while simultaneously doing away with 10 prescription medications. To date, Sharon has covered six states and three countries on cannabis as medicine; writing internationally for many publications. Her many patient profiles include cover features on celebrities, Tommy Chong, Willie Nelson, and Melissa Etheridge. She has published two works of fiction, and is working on a screenplay inspired by her time in Humboldt County. She’s also come full circle, developing intelligent magazine and documentary shows for TV on the subject.
    • Heidi GratefulFamilyFarmLLC
    • February 5, 2018

    Thank you for your article re: Small Farms-
    I am one of those in Trinity County-Hayfork Also home to family farms – dogs and GrandPa’s doing time
    Grateful Family Farm,and we are all that!
    We upgraded our property to the tune of $260,000 new well manufactured home fencing permits fees licenses…on and on…my Mom and step Dad and a family friend invested their life savings and we had an awesome garden We being my farm manager and myself We grew an AMAZING crop we
    spent an amazing amount of
    money as we are 100% organic
    or wild crafted-We are a licensed LLC with all the bells and whistles According to a fellow who makes Rozin our Mr Nice pressed the “best ever seen”
    Now- the crux of the matter
    We are in our 60’s my folks pushing 80 and we bought the whole “leagalization opportuinty for thriving family farms Jobs for our communities….”bullshit and now have a lovely gorgeous product that we have no way to leagally deposit money from those sales We can be angry at our Federal Attorney General Whosits-who-by the way-is doing his job-enforcing Federal Law!!Or we can encourage our State lawmakers to do THEIR JOB AND CHANGE THE FEDERAL LAWS!!!!!
    Please do an article on how to sell this Agricultural Commodity legally

    As an aside l would like to mention also an article regarding transportation from clones to flowers
    Or how about an article about 2 OG Lady farmers in Hayfork!!
    We adore your magazine Keep up the good vibes xoxo

    • Richard Kudra
    • April 13, 2018

    Wow !
    This is a beautifully written!
    Sharon Thank You for providing me this.
    I had no idea they were backassedwards down there!
    It shows me the things they might try Up here.

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