Herb and Market Humboldt: A Dispensary Dedicated to Uplifting Small-Scale Farmers

Chrystal Ortiz's High Water Farm

 

Herb and Market Humboldt, a dispensary in Arcata, California, is an experiential marketplace with a focus on terroir — the environmental factors that give crops like wine grapes and cannabis their distinct flavors and aromas. 

Chrystal Ortiz, a second-generation farmer and founder of the dispensary, said her passion for small, sun-grown farming practices sparked her interest to create a company that highlights brands with similar values.

Ortiz is motivated to tell farmers’ stories in a retail setting. “I felt like telling the story right here, […] in our small town in the county where all this cannabis is grown,” she added. “If it works here, we know it will work everywhere else.”

 

The Cannabis Capital

Humboldt County is one of the three Northern California counties notorious for producing the most cannabis in the U.S. The tri-county region, known by many as the Emerald Triangle, is a hub for cannabis cultivation with plenty of farmers whose stories have yet to be told.

Legacy and small-scale farmers in Humboldt have grown cannabis since before its legalization. However, regulations and competition from larger cannabis companies have swept local farmers under the rug in the industry they pioneered. 

Although less prominent against bigger brands, legacy farmers are vital in supporting rural economies with sustainable growing practices, said Ortiz.

“[Corporations are] not paying any attention to the carbon footprint, the energy use or any of these other things with these large-scale corporate commercial farms,” said Ortiz. 

To give small farmers a voice, Ortiz brings consumers’ attention back to the environmentally-cautious growers who depend on cannabis to support their families and communities.

Ortiz opened her dispensary in March 2020, just days after COVID-19 stay-at-home restrictions took effect in California. Despite that, she remains honed-in on her mission. 

“My main goal here is to bring the craftsmanship and artisanship, and the people and the plant, and the place altogether as a synergistic and symbiotic thing,” said Ortiz. “Where you can learn and ask questions, and feel what cannabis culture means.”

 

The Spark 

Ortiz was born in the 1970s in what she describes as a “hippie commune” in Mendocino County, California. Introduced to medical cannabis at a young age, Ortiz has been passionate about plant medicine for most of her life.

Doctors diagnosed Ortiz with an autoimmune disease when she was a teenager, she explained. “That was right when Proposition 215 [passed] and there was really a lot of energy around medical cannabis.”

Prop 215, upon voter approval in 1996, legalized the use of medical cannabis in California. 

This motivated Ortiz to become a small-time farmer with her husband. Together, they lived off-the-grid in the Klamath Mountains where they grew “earth medicine.”  

After the Yurok Tribe implemented a zero-tolerance policy around the Klamath River, effectively banning Ortiz’s cannabis garden, she began to advocate for regulations. 

Beginning in 2014, she joined groups working to create a cannabis regulatory system. In 2016, she helped shape the Commercial Medical Marijuana Land Use Ordinance in Humboldt County. This ordinance — one of the first in the U.S — allowed county officials to regulate commercial cannabis cultivation, manufacturing and distribution for medical use.

 

Chrystal Ortiz's High Water Farm

Photo courtesy of Herb and Market Humboldt

From the Hills to the Shelves 

In addition to her “advocacy journey,” Ortiz embarked on another mission. But this time, on a much larger scale. 

Moving from forest soil to dry dirt, Ortiz created High Water Farm, a completely native soil cannabis farm dedicated to reducing its carbon footprint. Ortiz and her husband use dry-farming techniques, which focus on conserving water and avoiding liquid fertilizers. 

Her motivation is to show others that one can be an environmentally-friendly and community-connected business and still make a profit.

From there, Ortiz built a retail setting to connect consumers to products that might otherwise be out of reach.

“[These farms are] on a hillside, and [there] just were so many barriers and so many boundaries to them,” said Ortiz. “It felt like there was no real method to kind of highlight and showcase and differentiate these farms.”

But, Ortiz found a way to showcase “the products from the hills.” 

 

The Experience

Personalized touches are in every corner, from the large, wooden Redwood sun to the dispensary’s values displayed on its walls.

A stage that looks like a cabin with an open ceiling sits at the entrance of the dispensary. Although used as a seating area now, Ortiz wants to use it as a farmers market, a recording space, or a concert stage — once the threat of COVID-19 no longer looms.

Beyond events, Herb and Market Humboldt offers specials that feature women, veterans and BIPOC brands. 

“We have a Woman Crush Wednesday where we highlight women producers, women manufacturers [and] women farmers,” said Ortiz. “I have a Self Care Saturday, [which] is a really important day because I sell, almost at cost, all the tinctures and topicals, and savs. It’s become a lot of people’s self-care routine to go to the farmers market to get nutrient-dense food, get good vegetables and things they need and then come down here and get their plant medicine.”

The dispensary also has a library. Here, customers learn about growing their own plants, which may lead them to the corner of the dispensary where they can buy seeds.

“I’m trying to empower the consumer to make good choices,” said Ortiz. “I’m also empowering the farmer to not just sell cannabis bulks to all these other people and producers. But to try to tell their story or try to build a brand that reflects our community and their own personal values.”

 

The Values

With a sign posted at the entrance reading, “don’t come in here if you’re racist or homophobic or have COVID-19,” Herb and Market Humboldt truly embraces being a safe space for customers.

While one sign forewarns visitors, others inside remind customers just what the dispensary is about: “We’re local, We’re stewards. We believe in justice and we care.”

“We’re really values-driven. We talk a lot about social justice, environmental justice [and] racial justice,” said Ortiz. “We talk about justice [in] recognizing that this process hasn’t been made available to all.”

Elevating the voices of those who need elevating is Herb and Market Humboldt’s mission. Lifting up the voices of farmers and empowering community is what brings the plant, the people and the place altogether.

“[Those] three things are interwoven into our community in every way,” said Ortiz. “We believe that plant medicine is a fundamental human right, and that everyone’s entitled to wellness [and] joy and relief.”

 

For more information, go to Herb and Market Humboldt or stop by the dispensary on H Street in Arcata, California.

 

Emerald contributor since January 2021
​I am a Journalism student minoring in International Development and Conflict Management at the University of Maryland, College Park. My passions are to actively do good, encourage kindness, and spread love; and, I plan to do so through my writing. I want to use my writing as a tool to emphasize to every reader that we must recognize the struggles that we all go through as human beings, and we must have the hard conversations people don't generally want to have in order to improve the world in which we live.

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