Emerald Exchange Santa Monica

The Emerald Exchange is a marketplace where NorCal cannabis farmers and the growing LA market come together to meet and exchange ideas. This, the sixth event of it’s kind was held at The Victorian, a beautiful 15,000-square foot house built in 1892, just blocks off the warm, sandy beaches of Santa Monica.

The weather was typical of SoCal in November—warm and sunny—so it was perfect to have part of the Exchange outside in the beautiful courtyard. Farmers offered their own freshly grown cannabis, and vendors displayed different packaging options.

I first spoke with Ricky Koukal from CannaCraft, who was very excited about working with the brewing company Lagunitas to create a hop-infused cartridge called Stereoterpical.

But the partnership didn’t end there. In return, CannaCraft provided Lagunitas with some of its terpenes from Girl Scout Cookie, and CannaCraft went ahead and created the brew SuperCritical.

One family-operated farm, the Tokin Terps Farm, had brought its fantastic OG’s (Ocean Grown) to the market. The farm has just been around for about one year and this was their first visit with the exchange.

Everything on the farm is done in harmony with nature. They water their crop by hand, they only using organic fed and then they allow let the sun and the wind do it’s magic. The OG was great and I’m glad I didn’t try it until I was done.

The completely off-grid-powered Flying Tiger Farm offered four different moods. The owner, Ari Steffen, explained that the farm doesn’t think that cannabis can be divided into only two categories, so instead they offer pre-rolled strains like Euphoric, Uplift, Calm and Inspire.

I also spoke with Dave Sandomeno from Sunrise Mountain Farms, who has been in business for the last 19 years. He told me about his new strain, Blueberry Muffin, which tastes and smells just like the real thing.

As I was checking out different products and farm offerings, the courtyard was slowly filling up, and musicians started to perform, giving the event an uplifting vibe.

Earlier, when California was heading toward legalization, big business quickly moved in to try to take control of the cannabis market, leaving the smaller, mostly family-operated, farms behind. To help protect and promote these farms, Michael Katz, Justin Calvino and Jessica Cure teamed up to create the Emerald Exchange.

Michael observed, “With the event you see here, this kind of model where we can educate people and partner with licensed retailers to create a full experience, that’s something we can work on (to) expand around the state. Our cultivators are not selling products. This is an educational event. We follow all the regulatory rules. Education is a key of our platform.”

The region of Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity Counties has produced some of the best cannabis in the world since the 1960s, and many farms are second- or even third-generation family-owned. They use sunlight and organic materials to produce their crops, creating unique strains that are often not replicated on larger commercial indoor farms. By using these methods, farmers try to make sure that their environmental impact is as small as possible. Growing outdoors allows farmers to use less soil, less water and less power. This also helps reduce their need for certain types of fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides.

Michael continued, “If you are a licensed cultivator, and you are from north of San Francisco, and you are either greenhouse- or sun-grown, that is the cultivation that we promote. We really believe conscious consumers want the product that they are creating (up north). If you give a person a picture of a warehouse in Long Beach, and you give them a picture of the rolling hills of Humboldt, and you ask, ‘Where do you want your cannabis to come from?’ they are always gonna pick Humboldt.”

After talking with some of the farmers outside, I left the courtyard and walked inside The Victorian, where several discussion panels were being held, and more vendors were set up. Among them were Rebel Coast Winery, with their Rebel Coast Cannabis Infused Sauvignon Blanc, a THC-infused white wine with 20 milligrams of THC per bottle. The wine contains no alcohol, so no worries about getting a hangover! Yum and cheers to that!

I got to speak with with Ron Alcalay from VitalHemp, who told me he had started out selling clothing on the Venice Beach Boardwalk and eventually out of a van. He now happily operates out of a storefront in Santa Monica.

Ron imports his organic hemp from China, where it gets to bask in the sun all day and then is naturally irrigated with rain. He does all the designing, cutting, sewing and dyeing here in Los Angeles.

In one of the larger rooms, a very interesting panel discussion was held about the women  of the cannabusiness and their role in it. Women are definitely getting more and more involved in the industry, and there is even a support group called CannaBoss Circle, which aims to educate and support female cannapreneurs.  (And look—I learned a new word!)

Other discussions touched on how we should maybe move away from using the historically derogatory term “marijuana” and move toward “cannabis” instead.

Cannabis is such a rapidly growing business in California, and there are plenty of jobs out there for people who want to get involved.  One great part of the evening was the Industry Insider Panel, where Exchange co-founder Justin Calvino urged people who want to be a part of the cannabusiness to “go for it.”

Afterwards, I had the chance to speak with some vendors about the new regulations in California and how these had affected them and their farms, and how they now conducted business.

Logan Clark of Pacific Cultivation took stock and told me, “Change is inevitable. We constantly adapt to market and environmental trends. You can’t pop a hundred pounds in the car and head to LA anymore.”

Michael Katz reflected, “When you come into the business world, it’s everyone for themselves, but that’s not what cannabis is. We are trying to create that platform for that community to move into the business world. It’s a brand experiment.”

Upstairs and outside on the deck was one of the cosponsors of the event—HERB Delivery, an LA-based delivery company who offered a special menu just for this event. HERB is a new company but is expanding fast.

Soon the night approached, and the sky went darker, but the atmosphere was still lit and certainly engaging. Before the night’s end, I got a chance to speak with Brit and Alice from paragoncoin.com. They patiently explained to me how their seed-to-sale tracking system works. It’s a brand-new company, and they will soon offer an app for easy use.

As the DJ was setting up for the afterparty, I took one more sweep around the venue to say thank-you and good-bye to some of the great people I had gotten to meet and learn from that day. I don’t think I’d realized how much hard work and perseverance these farmers needed to have. What they do is pure craftsmanship, and the cannabis from their region has been called the best in the world. Let’s try to keep it that way.

When I left, I had totally forgotten about the fires raging in the hills just north of us.

Thankfully, none of the farms here today were affected, but the Emerald Triangle has had its share of losses due to fires in the past. Sadly, I later found out that the 2018 fires had consumed the Great Spirit Ranch, the host site of two earlier Exchanges.

I am optimistic though. There is a reason why your local farmers market is so popular, so why wouldn’t a cannabis farmers market be as well? Events like the Emerald Exchange help to shine a spotlight on this region’s rich history of cannabis cultivation and lifestyle.

Fighting for their livelihood is nothing new for them though. They are still under the nose of federal law, and forest fires seem to rage longer and more intensely then before. So, being lost in the ever-growing cannabis market is just another fight they are willing to fight.

Logan reflected, “I’ve been kind of slogging through this now for, for what feels like, a few years, working to this point.  And fortunately, I feel like it hasn’t bogged me down too much. It’s not easy. It’s kind of a day at a time sometimes. And there are definitely moments where I get very discouraged. It’s a kind of David-versus-Goliath scenario that we are faced with here. One thing is for sure: I am not quitting! This is my livelihood, but it’s also the livelihood of the community.”

The future looks bright and sunny for the NorCal farmers, and it will be exciting to see what they bring to the next Exchange.

Emerald contributor since May 2017


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