A Bright Artisanal Light in an Industry that’s Teetering Toward Commercialization
Billie Thibodeau is President, CEO and Founder of Emerald Alchemy, a collective providing flowers, tincture, and cold water hash to medical cannabis patients in California. She is a talented artist, an intuitive farmer and a shrewd businesswoman — you can find her products at dispensaries throughout the state.
Emerald Magazine: Tell us about your company and how long you’ve been in business?
Billie Thibodeau: I have been working with cannabis since 2007, and the patient collective Emerald Alchemy was incorporated in 2014. I planted my first AC/DC garden in 2013, in preparation for our 20:1 CBD tincture launch in early 2014. It is my mission as a medical cannabis provider to create pure, vibrant and uncontaminated medicine. I am only interested in supporting the wellness of medical cannabis patients with hand-crafted, laboratory-tested products. Emerald Alchemy is special because we grow all our own material for our products.
EM: Why is it important for you to actually grow the cannabis that you use to make your tinctures and extracts with?
BT: Growing our own gardens allows us to, of course, control quality from the very beginning of the process. It also allows us to form a relationship with the plants as they are growing and all the way until we process them into concentrated medicine.
EM: Can you talk about your farming practices?
BT: Yes! We grow gardens using only truly organic practices. We have a manual Forever Flowering light dep greenhouse. We buy bulk building blocks for compost tea and top dress, and we make our own blends of basic essential plant foods. We are greatly inspired by Dragonfly Earth Medicine. We also love Vital Garden Supply. We practice building the soil ecology in our cultivation beds, and we look at farming as one life-long work of art that just gets richer every season.
We also built a Walipini, which is a growing environment created by digging a large hole in the ground and building a greenhouse cover over it. The function of this style of greenhouse is to create temperature stability. It originates from high altitude South America, and the word Walipini means “sun pit.” We use this structure as a veg space.
I believe that plants have consciousness. They want to connect and to be listened to. In our farming, we never rely solely on a routine, schedule, or set program. We constantly listen to the plants as they are growing and let them tell us exactly what they want. Cannabis is a very sensitive and loud plant. She knows what she wants, and she will tell you loud and clear what it is she wants if you can tune into and listen to her language. I often feel as though my garden is bossing me around like big fat hungry horses, and I love it!
EM: You work with an entirely female team… what is it like to be a woman in this industry?
BT: I am so pleased to be able to say this! Samantha Gruys and Ashley Washburn are two amazing women who are an important part of the team. I have found that, as a women, I am often underestimated and I am less likely to be offered opportunities to help my projects expand in this very male-saturated industry. The ego driven “Bro Culture” in cannabis is real.
Growing cannabis is tremendously physical and demanding work with a serious element of danger involved, which attracts young guys. As a woman, I’ve had to work five times as hard to be seen as an equal. I can remember countless times when I should have been offered an opportunity because of my experience and work quality, and then I watched a guy receive the opportunity with less skill and integrity.
I remember when a group of successful farmers denied me a large job because they didn’t believe that I could do the job. They thought it required heavy lifting, and they couldn’t fathom that I figured out a smarter way to work which relieved the heavy lifting. As women, we are ten times more likely to be brushed aside and forgotten about.
For a long time it was a rare treat to interact with a woman in a position [of power] in cannabis. But I am very happy to say that in the last two years I have watched female cannabis professionals exploding front and center on to the scene, bringing forth ethical business practices and birthing a higher consciousness.
EM: Can you talk about the essence of who you are and what you do?
BT: At heart, I am a gardener and an artist…a quiet and hard worker. I’m a very empathic person. In my work, I honor the spirit of cannabis and I honor patients with great regard. I do this simply by listening. I love listening to the plants so much — it is really hard for me to walk out of the greenhouses every day. I feel very accomplished when I have succeeded at a healthy crop, then I get to make medicine from those flowers and dramatically change lives for the better. It is unbelievably rewarding to see patients benefit from my medicine, and it brings tears to my eyes all the time.
EH: I personally consider cannabis to be a sacred herb. I think about tobacco that way too — as something sacred and ceremonious. I know you recognize the sacredness of cannabis. What are your thoughts on legalization or on the commodification of cannabis?
BT: My heart is broken with the passing of California’s Prop 64. Cannabis legislation/regulation should be written by cannabis farmers for cannabis farmers. The spirit of cannabis does not want to be systemized, factory farmed, and demoralized by corporate culture. Nature doesn’t truly thrive that way.
Cannabis is an extremely sensitive and expressive plant [based] medicine which has the potential to remedy countless dysfunctions in the body. That, in itself, is spiritual. I can’t count how many hours I have spent out in nature sitting beside a cannabis plant working, listening and dreaming with my toes in the grass… It blows me away to see its potential stunted and watered down for profit from mass production by a few big corporations.
EM: Do you have any particular strains that you’re into and want to share with others?
BT: Yes, our Purple Princess is really special… I look forward to getting her out there more.
EM: What is the significance of using the word “Emerald” in your business name?
BT: Emerald is the color of the heart chakra. It symbolizes new life, health and wellness.
Emerald Alchemy will be at the 2016 Emerald Cup, sharing a booth with Skyline Boulevard Teas in the 215 area. Emerald Alchemy is on Instagram: @emeraldalchemy, and online: EmeraldAlchemy.org. You can also catch Thibodeau making ice water hash on an episode of Vice’s “Munchies.”
Written by Emily Hobelmann