A High-Profile Brand that Supports, and Secures Northern California’S Small Farmers
Written by Sharon Letts
Legendary singer-songwriter, Willie Nelson, is no stranger to farming or the plight of the migrant worker. As a child, he picked cotton alongside his grandparents in rural Abbott, Texas. Beside him were migrants hailing from Mexico and Africa.
In his autobiography, “It’s a Long Story,” Willie writes of being aware he and his fellow laborers were “[…] exploited with tiny pay for heavy labor.”
Included into the “Agricultural Hall of Fame” in 2011 for his work as founder of Farm AID, a concert series supporting the small farmer in America, Willie said, “If you eat, you’re involved.”
Honoring the small farmer is important to Willie, with not just a nod to his childhood or his advocacy, but for the future of craft cannabis, and, more importantly, the future of the small cannabis farmer. For just as he supported the mainstream farmers of America in their time of need, his brand, Willie’s Reserve, is now supporting the generations of farmers in Northern California who have met supply and demand of the world’s favorite herb for decades – in the face of great persecution and loss.
Partners for the Greater Good
Willie’s Reserve is partnering with Flow Kana, a California company that specifically sources from small, grown-in-the-sun, organic cannabis farmers. Willie’s Reserve strains and products in California are produced with some of the finest flower in the state from the regions of Mendocino and Humboldt counties, historically known for the hybridization of cannabis, within the Emerald Triangle of Northern California – which also includes Trinity County.
Flow Kana’s CEO, Michael Steinmetz, recently penned an Op-Ed for the Huffington Post, stating, “The future of cannabis is in the hands of independent farmers and growers who must overcome their fears and work together in full transparency.”
Transparency in the once covert farmlands of Northern California is difficult enough, but working together is crucial to the survival of small cannabis farmers as corporate interests step in with big money and a larger footprint, with many being left behind in the newly regulated market (see “Plight of the Small Farmer,” Emerald Magazine Jan. 2018).
“Our independent farmers care about the efficacy of their medicine, and making great efforts to craft high-quality cannabis that is free of mold, mildew, insects, and harmful chemicals,” Steinmetz shared. “They are the keepers of rare genetics and hard-earned trade secrets, and they are vital stewards of our land, standing for sustainability and community.”
LAST MAN STANDING
The launch of the brand is simultaneous with the release of Willie’s new album, “Last Man Standing.” The release on April 27, 2018 comes just in time for his 85th birthday on May 29th, and a signature strain honoring the man by the same name, by Sol Grow of Mendocino.
“It comes from this huge plant with beautiful buds,” Shane Osburn of Sol Grow said of the strain. “It’s so expressive of its characteristics, when you walk past the plant it smells like an orange tree.”
Last Man Standing was bred using some of the Emerald Triangle’s most legendary strains, including Blueberry Pie and Purple Urkle. “Its oversized crystal structure and light foliage color can be traced back to the Big Wreck strain [aka Trainwreck], with its distinctive citrus aroma derived from Orange Tree.
Shane’s wife, Amelia, who helped him cultivate the strain, added, “Willie is a soldier for the cannabis community. We have total respect for how he’s told the world about what we do, through his music and through who he is.”
Back to the Land, Into the Future
Simon Evers and his fiancé, Jenn, are some of the farmers sourcing to Willie’s brand. Jenn grew up in Mendocino County on the property they currently farm under their shingle, Elysian Fields, just outside of Redwood Valley.
“Jen’s parents were part of the ‘Back to the Land’ movement in the early 1970s,” Evers shared. “She’s been steeped in the cannabis culture of the Emerald Triangle all her life, and has been cultivating cannabis for more than 12 years. We feel we are carrying on a family tradition, not only with our sustainable practices, but also with the genetics that were bread in these hills, passed down to us,” he added.
Evers, who has farmed for the past ten years — the past six spent cultivating cannabis — made the transition from organic mainstream farming in Washington State, after a personal awakening when his father was helped greatly with symptoms from multiple sclerosis (MS).
Willie chose Pineapple Rising for his brand out of 30 strains tested, with just 16 strains included, and eight strains chosen all for the California launch.
“We were elated to be included,” Evers explained. “Of course, Willie would choose the Pineapple Rising, no wonder – because it’s the one strain with the richest history and the deepest roots we currently grow. It’s one of a handful of strains that were bred in the very hills where we currently live and farm, by the first generation ‘back to the landers’ that came here, along with Jenn’s parents, in 1974.”
Small Farms, Big Voices
With celebration aside, Evers said the conundrum of legalization is in the burden of regulations and inflated fees – barriers for many on entering the new emerging industry.
“We are aware larger forces are at work – big ‘marijuana’ capitalizing on this plant,” he continued. “If they are to be successful, they could put small farmers like us out of business. When you consider the rich culture of the many thousands of small farmers growing amazing cannabis in small batches here in California, and particularly in the hills of the Emerald Triangle, it is painfully obvious there is a lot at stake.”
With the future of many small farmers in California on the line, Evers said he and Jenn are honored to be included in Willie’s brand.
“Besides being a legendary musician, he has been such an inspiration – having been an ambassador for this sacred plant and all small farmers, for so long – he truly is an icon for our industry,” Evers surmised. “We are aligned with Willie in our values, and we are proud to say he is doing what we believe is the right thing by working with small, organic and sustainable, heritage cannabis farmers.”
Willie Eats His Weed
Community and family mean a great deal to Willie. Though his personal community and extended family are global, he chooses to live in rural regions, including a family farm in Abbott, Texas; and a home in Hawaii, where sons, Micah and Lucas, grew up – albeit, when they weren’t on the road again with dad.
Willie’s wife, Annie, hails from Humboldt County in Northern California, though the two met in 1986 while she was an A-List hair and make-up artist on set during the filming of “Stagecoach” – where she sided with Willie when producers asked to cut off his braids. They were married in 1991, with his trademark braids still intact to this day.
Annie has spearheaded the edibles faction of the brand, helping to create “Annie’s Edibles,” a line of chocolates and hard candies.
It took whiskey-loving Willie years to give up the spirits and partake of the herb, with edibles historically a sore spot after a few bad trips years ago. Specifically, after eating a bunch of cookies he knew were laced with activated THC, then realizing he overdid it, “… I was laying there, and it felt like the flesh was falling off my bones,” he commiserated with New York Times columnist, Maureen Down, after her equally bad trip in Denver involving a chocolate bar.
“It’d take years before I’d understand the beneficial properties,” he explained. “As I moved closer to the Woodstock Nation, as I bore witness to their music-loving, life-loving, peace loving ways, I saw the key role played by pot. Pot was a communal experience. Unlike cigarettes, you didn’t smoke a joint alone. You shared it. You passed it around. Pot was a plant, a natural substance whose positive uses, I would soon learn, were varied.”
Over time Willie was able to quit alcohol and cigarettes altogether, with his appreciation and understanding of the herb increasing. Unfortunately, the too-many-cookies experience kept him from ingesting edibles or tinctures for years. With the launch of the edible line, he was now ready to try it again with his wife’s infused candies.
“I’m a big fan of Annie’s Edibles,” he shared. “They are good for aches and pains, but mostly I use them for rest.”
Annie uses organic dark chocolate with Himalayan salt, consciously sourced, with a low-heat process to sustain the raw qualities of the cocoa. Whole plant extraction of stems, leaf and flower is used for the base, with each dose measured at 5 milligrams of activated THC (tetrahydrocannabinol).
“I make my infused chocolates for people who want to enjoy gourmet cannabis chocolate in a controllable way,” Annie shared. “It’s important that my chocolates are suitable for those with dietary restrictions – whether someone is vegan, has Celiac Disease or gluten allergies, requires a low or balanced sweetener diet, or if they have a low tolerance to cannabis, they can still enjoy the benefits of my infused chocolates.”
Zero Crap Policies
Annie is adamant the edibles be pure, stating she has a “zero crap policy.” Kind of like the way Willie has lived his life. After all, this is the man who allegedly snubbed his nose to the powers that be and smoked a joint on the roof of the White House. This is the man who began an entire movement in defense of the common man; the often faceless, silent providers of our food – our small farmers.
“We’ve come pretty damn far from the point where they’d put you in prison for life for a seed, to where we are now,” Willie surmised. “It’s a lot of progress.”
Legalization in California has brought stifling ordinances for our cannabis farmers, threatening a way of life few understand in the hills to the north. Thankfully, high-profile crooner, Willie Nelson, has stepped up; with his advocacy and his brand, Willie’s Reserve; a high-profile umbrella offering safety for a few farmers facing the approaching storm – the last men and women standing.