Emerald Grown and Proud

“We are farmers, and proud of it.” How the Emerald Grown Co-operative and a visionary documentary film project are championing the dignity of cannabis farmers in Mendocino County.

Emerald Grown Co-operative

How can we protect small-scale, sustainably oriented, organic, craft cannabis farmers now that Proposition 64 has passed? For that matter, how can Emerald Triangle farmers cope with the piles of paperwork and stipulations generated by the California Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MCRSA), passed by the legislature in September 2015? It takes long hours to work a farm and these folks also have to stay up-to-date with the legal requirements that increasingly bind our beloved “controlled substance.” Some good folks in Mendocino County have found a great solution, Emerald Grown Co-operative.

Not surprisingly, the hub is Laytonville, California. Long before the passage of the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 (Prop. 215), folks coming into town from their outlying, often off-the-grid farms could get together and share knowledge as time permitted. Out of that small town climate has come Emerald Grown Co-operative. The Co-op tackles the big questions — complying with new and changing county and state laws, marketing, and the best farming practices for what they call “regenerative agriculture.“ To help accomplish all this they have forged relationships with some expert “partners;” local legal professionals, the software company Meadow, Flow Kana for marketing, plus Pure Analytics, The Ganjier and the California Growers Association (CGA).

According to Executive Director Amber O’Neill, the Co-op has been holding monthly informational meetings since March 2015, and coordinating closely with the local CGA chapter. “It takes all of us working together,” says Amber. She and husband Casey co-own HappyDay Farms, a founding member of Emerald Grown Co-operative. Amber volunteered for the Co-op from its start and two months ago was hired for the interim Executive Director post.

Amber credits True Humboldt and the Humboldt Sun Growers’ Guild as innovators in the world of cooperative cannabis. Both the Guild and Emerald Grown band small farmers together and bring them state-of-the-art information. In the Co-op model, each farm retains its own brand name and logo, though all use the term Emerald Grown in common. You can read inspiring blurbs about some of their member farms on the Co-op website, www.emeraldgrown.com.

The Emerald Grown Co-op’s mission statement reads in part, “Emerald Grown is an agricultural cooperative of independent California Cannabis farmers who stand together in solidarity to preserve quality, craft cannabis production… We strive to support small farms, improve our communities, and be exceptional land stewards. Our goal is to increase abundance for all.”

The website also explains the reasons for joining together. “As individuals, farms are at the mercy of market forces and large contract buyers… Cooperatives are the tool given to small businesses to compete… Our diversified farms have ventured forth into an unknown world of being public… If we do so alone, we face great risk and peril. We seek to band together with like-minded farmers and business people, to stand up, to proclaim proudly that small, diversified farms are important for our communities and our environment… We are farmers, and proud of it.”

Emerald Grown Co-operative represents some of the many courageous, salt-of-the-Earth, family farmers that are committed to restoring soil and the reputation of cannabis. Just calling themselves farmers rather than growers heralds a big, positive change. Cannabis farmers have long been honorable, contributing members of their communities, but they had to be silent about it during the prohibition decades. Now they can hold their heads up, speak out and be counted. Like small farmers everywhere, they are important contributors to the health of rural communities and deserve to be proud of that.

Amber emphasized the Co-op’s continuing exploration of new social terrain (for cannabis farmers). For the Emerald Cup in Santa Rosa, California December 10th and 11th, they are preparing a catalog of their members to distribute at their booth. There’s also talk of buyer’s clubs, Meet the Farmers events, and Cannabis Farmers Markets. Keep your eyes on these folks for more innovations to come.

Rusty Shovel Ranch

Co-op member Will Porter of Rusty Shovel Ranch confirmed the value of membership, citing a recent informational session on tax laws. Few people in any business want to navigate those waters without some help. Will spoke of an exciting future with the Co-op’s support; agricultural education, purchasing essential supplies in bulk, and the evolution of industry standards.

Will joined his father and brother on the farm two years ago, after completing his education at Evergreen State University in Washington State. Rusty Shovel Ranch demonstrates regenerative agriculture to the max. Will described the farm as a “mini-superfund” pollution site when they took over. After hauling away trash such as rusty generators and reconditioning the soil, they switched to no-till farming and careful water management using rain catchment only. They use less than ⅛ of an acre for cannabis and 10 acres for their alpacas. The ranch is innovating in social ways too. They recently hosted some Brazilian growers, sharing the skills that make Emerald Triangle cannabis farmers the most expert in the world. Will also mentioned the idea of developing a way to auction off whole, mature plants.  

The Family Trees Project

‘We are farmers, and proud of it’ could be the slogan for another mostly Laytonville creation, “Family Trees: A Serial Documentary Project.” Project director Michael Waldon has local logger and fishermen ancestors, director of photography Jove Mandzik comes from Laytonville back to the landers. They and James, the producer from NYC,  wanted to document what they expected would be the last illegal season.

He remembers folks telling stories of local growers as far back as his high school days. He spoke of how the friendly climate around Laytonville became more strained as the locals dealt with federal retaliation after Prop 215 passed. The Family Trees Project provides a platform for interested cannabis farmers to “come out.” It is no accident that he used the term. Just as individuals in the LGBTQ communities have negotiated the minefields of public disapproval and, in the past, illegality, now cannabis farmers are claiming their day in the sun too.

The objective of the Family Trees Project is to showcase these farmers as the good people, “just like you and me” that they have always been, and to showcase their value to struggling rural communities. “We are making it known that we are here, that now is the time to stand up proud,” and that a painful history is changing. The film project is not sponsored other than through crowdfunding. He mentioned their gratitude for the “outpouring of love” from local cannabis farmers.  

Meet some of these gutsy farmers at FamilyTreesDoc.com and watch the 4:20 long trailer. Still in production and a ways yet from figuring out distribution, the Family Trees Project plans to bring the true heart and soul of Emerald Triangle cannabis culture to the world at this year’s Emerald Cup. Look for them there.

Written by Molly Cate

Emerald contributor since July 2015


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