Written by Sharon Letts
The Grateful Dead may have introduced Steve Sakala, Hawaiian farmer and co-founder of Mana Artisan Botanics, to increased “levels of conscious awakening” — but it was his interest in environmental science that catalyzed his advocacy for hemp.
“I realized environmental work was going to be my dedicated passion,” Sakala shared. “Through that path, I took what I knew about cannabis, and realized the huge potential that hemp had for industrial uses – which really addressed so many of the environmental challenges that I was studying.”
Sakala became a hemp advocate in 1992. He worked on some of the first failed legislation for medical cannabis in California, he said. But, the experience didn’t deter him. In 1995 he moved to Humboldt County in Northern California, and enrolled at Humboldt State University (HSU) to study natural resources with a focus on sustainability.
“Humboldt in the 90s was a hotbed of cannabis activism, as well as just pure immersion in cannabis culture, with focused efforts to break stigmas,” he explained.
Another take-away from Humboldt was his new-found awareness of the black market; specifically, the clandestine grow operations in national forests, who littered and polluted with only profits in mind.
“It was during that time that I saw how much awareness it would have to take to get these growers to dedicate themselves to organics,” he said. “I was already an activist prior to moving to Humboldt, but I became more informed and impassioned by having amazing teachers – one of which was Melanie Williams, a political science teacher at [HSU].”
Humboldt sparked more than a passion for advocacy, as he met his partner, Melinda, while working at the Campus Center for Appropriate Technology (CCAT) — the first completely sustainable, student-run institution on campus — where he eventually became co-director.
After Sakala graduated from HSU in 1999, he spent four years in Africa in the Peace Corps where he applied the farming and gardening methods learned at CCAT.
“I realized the indigenous people were the ones with wisdom surrounding sustainability, and that agriculture is the foundation for all culture,” he waxed poetic. “Upon my return [to] stateside, I further realized that my work was in agriculture,” he said. In order to play an active role in policy and politics, he said, “I needed to actually know what it was like to be a farmer facing challenges farmers face in the developed world.”
Twelve years ago Sakala fulfilled a lifelong dream; he bought a farm on the big island of Hawaii with some friends. Now, he said, he needed to learn what it took to be successful and sustainable.
The recognition of cannabis as medicine helped Sakala and his team redefine what their intentions were with the farm – specifically, they didn’t want to focus on the popular “high” from the THC, but in developing additional formulations for increased benefits.
“A friend of mine who was a doctor, now legislator, mentioned to me that he believed all cannabis use is medicinal use, and anybody who uses it is self-medicating in one way or another – be it physical, mental, psychological, or spiritual,” said Sakala. “So, my journey became a question of ‘how can we take advantage of the healing properties, with less emphasis on the high?’”
Eight years ago, cannabidiol (CBD) only strains came onto his radar, and with encouragement from partner, Melinda, the farm went a new direction.
“The health and wellness aspect really fuels our passion for the industry, so we offer healthy, cannabis-based products, minus the psychoactive effects,” he declared. “CBDs are changing people’s lives, and we’ve witnessed and received positive feedback from hundreds of clients. It aligns and enhances everything else we already do – from teaching about sustainability, organic farming, and a holistic approach to wellness that includes exercise, and having a spiritual path.”
Sakala began to add other beneficial flora into his formulations five years ago, namely from the plants readily available on the island.
“Turmeric is one of the canoe crops that came with the Hawaiians from Polynesia,” he explained. “It’s easy to get excited about the fact that it’s one of the most widely studied plant medicines on the planet, backed by over 7,000 empirical studies, showing it’s more effective than 15 Western pharmaceutical drugs. Many of the chronic diseases we face here are not prevalent in India, where turmeric is widely used.”
Sakala and team found that other combinations of plants work well together and with the human Endocannabinoid System (ECS). For instance, the Passion Flower (Passiflora), when combined with CBD, ups the efficacy in dealing with sleep disorders and anxiety.
“Two years ago we discovered a study showing that curcumin plays a role in the ECS, which translates to better efficacy and synergy by combining them,” he concluded. “Comfrey and plantain are other beneficial plants we combine that are good for our bodies, and are also good for the soil they grow in.”
Sakala echoed what many in the cannabis community already know; our bodies may be deficient in the plant compounds needed to provide homeostasis – or a stable, healthy environment in the body. Hence the need for additional plant-based concentrates, and combinations thereof.
“Part of our focus surrounding education, is the realization that cannabis – and hemp – are dietary essentials and preventative plant medicines,” he continued. “For instance, cannabis and turmeric are adaptogens, and not just used as an analgesic or working on inflammation – they work together to balance the internal mechanisms of the body.”
In other words, Sakala said, “you may see benefits in cholesterol and blood pressure levels, insulin production, and other basic bodily functions, that hopefully, lead to a system that is working more optimally overall.”
Thankfully, Sakala said, more doctors are educating patients about the role of cannabis in the human diet, which has existed for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. He feels that some of the autoimmune and degenerative diseases prevalent today are due to a lack of cannabinoids in our diet, combined with exposure to toxins in the environment.
Products from the farm include: turmeric hemp oil, herbal hemp salve and honey, and tinctures for sleep and daytime use. All products are made with organic, “carefully cultivated” materials from the farm, made in small batches, with its “Mālama” mission intact; “The value of stewardship, to protect and care for.”
Farming on Hawaii’s high-humidity coastline has its challenges. Sakala said. Patrolling for powdery mildew, other molds, and fungus is ongoing — and not reliant on just one product or approach.
“A diversified approach is what I believe to be the key to success, as it doesn’t allow for those spores to become resistant to certain treatments,” he said. “There are two main products I use: one is Serenade, and the other is Nuke’em – which is essentially citric acid. In addition, I use Dragonfly Earth Medicine products as a base for microorganism spray. I usually add additional sources of microorganisms, like lactobacillus.”
Additionally, Sakala prunes heavily to ensure ample air-flow.
“If I stay proactive with these three sprays mentioned, I almost never see powdery mildew in the garden,” he concluded.
Ever the activist, Sakala was invited to join the Kona chapter of the Hawaii Farmer’s Union, a state chapter of the National Farmers Union – the oldest agricultural union in the U.S.
“This has given me the opportunity to provide education and advocacy at the state legislative level,” he shared. “I’ve also been able to visit Washington D.C. twice, advocating for family farms, with positive experiences.”
Advocacy for the environment, sustainable farming practices, supporting the families who farm, and the health and well-being of a community – this is what Sakala and company bring to the sustainability table via farming. Add cannabis and hemp, and there’s more healing, albeit, with an additional dose of advocacy.
“I have remained an activist instead of going more deeply into politics, because I believe it’s important to keep pushing from the outside,” he surmised. “Whether it’s by building a successful business and having influence at that level, or letting our presence be known as constituents and advocates.”
Hawaii’s own philosophical mantras from Mana’s website explains its mission: “Ohana: Those who are family, and those we choose to call our family. An essential part of our values, ohana, emphasizes our interconnectedness, co-existing in consideration and with respect for each other and those we serve. As such, meeting our ohana is key to understanding what we are about.”
For more information on Mana Artisan Botanics, visit ManaBotanics.com