Emerald’s Meet Your Farmer series aims to introduce audiences to the legacy operators in Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity Counties, an area known as the Emerald Triangle. Legacy growers are those who’ve been growing cannabis since before its legalization in states throughout the nation. The series spotlights those cultivators who’ve helped grow America’s weed for generations.
Cannabis cultivators in the Emerald Triangle, a region comprising of three counties situated in Northern California, produce the most cannabis in the U.S. Farmers here have grown it for generations. Partly hidden by the canopies of redwoods, they raised their families on farms and supported their communities with the funds.
As pioneers of the cannabis industry, legacy or heritage farmers faced stigma and criminalization. In fact, the region was the target of some of the biggest anti-drug efforts in America, the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP).
Legalization did not end the adversity these farmers face. Instead, it presented new challenges. Despite this, Emerald Triangle farmers have continued to grow.and cultivate cannabis — preserving what has been a way of life in the area for years.
Emerald spoke with Jenn Proccaci, co-founder of WildLand Cannabis in Mendocino County, California about what it means to be a legacy farmer, tending her land, and going legal.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Meet Your Farmer: Jenn Procacci, WildLand Cannabis
Emerald Magazine (EM): Can you tell us about your farm, and the cannabis culture and community in that area?
Jenn Procacci (JP): I’m from Philadelphia originally. I came to Northern California for the first time when I was 24, and I’m going to be 38 in two days. So about 14 years ago, I came out here for the first time. I was working on a farm that had nothing to do with cannabis. I actually had never heard of the Emerald Triangle. So it’s really interesting that I wound up having a career growing cannabis here. But I just really fell in love with Mendocino County. It’s a totally wild and rugged place. It’s almost like stepping back in time. And the natural beauty is absolutely incredible here. We’re surrounded by a national forest, rattlesnakes, bears, and coyotes. It [is] a completely different experience for me than growing up in the city, which is where I am from.
Long story short, I ended up moving out here full time. In probably about 2012, I came to Covelo, which is where I live now. I had some friends here that I had met trimming. I was growing cannabis on a really small scale, just using the medical cannabis system for the first four years that I lived out here. And then, four years ago, my business partner and I saw Prop 64 probably about to pass, and we sort of were at this point: do we want to keep growing cannabis and enter the legal marketplace, or are we […] going to be phased out?
We couldn’t keep growing on the property we were on because it was just a small residential property. So we bought our land that we have now for our farm, WildLand Cannabis. It is 10 acres. We border the national forest, so we’re really remote. We’re 25 minutes East of Covelo into the mountains, and Covelo itself is a really remote place. So our farm is definitely out there. We grow 5,000 square feet of full-term, sun-grown cannabis, we mostly grow from seed.
We’re totally organic. We’re very dedicated to land stewardship and […] to the earth and the environment around us. So, most of our land we don’t really develop in any way. We have our garden at the bottom of the property, and it disturbs probably 7,000 square feet total. And then, we have a few outbuildings, to process the cannabis and stuff like that. Other than that, we really try to keep our land in its natural state. It’s sort of just part of our whole mission of what we want our farm to be like.
We’ve been up here for four years now, and we’ve been in the licensing process since the very beginning. That process is really intensive, stressful and expensive. But, through it, we’ve connected with so many other cannabis farmers here, and a lot of them are generational farmers that have grown up here. Most of those connections we made through our community in Covelo, but also through Mendocino Generations, […], and that is comprised of mostly organic cannabis farmers in Mendocino County.
[The] cannabis community [is] one of the reasons why I’m still a cannabis farmer […]. The work is really hard; it can be really rewarding. It can also be, like any kind of farming, totally devastating. The community is so strong here, and the people are amazing — that [what’s] kept us in the game.
EM: You make a point of preserving the wildness of the land that you grow on — what does that entail? What are some of the challenges and benefits of that method of farming?
JP: [There are] lots of challenges. Something as simple as comfort is a challenge. We farm on a slope, and our [plant] beds are done on contour on the hillside, which is a permaculture technique. That means that the bed itself, where we grow the cannabis, is flat. But the paths in between are still on the natural slope of the hillside. So [we’re] walking at an angle all the time.
But the concept behind it is that: during the winter it rains a lot here, and all the water that comes down that hillside gets stopped in those beds and sort of held there. So, it helps with soil erosion, and it helps with maintaining the microbiome of the soil by keeping it really moist and healthy all the time. [It also] slows water that otherwise might just flow down the hillside and kind of go all over the place.
So that’s a really small, but also largely impactful example of that. Just, usability of the land. We definitely could do more grading, and more building, and it would be easier from a business perspective to navigate around the land. But we just felt that when we bought our property it was so beautiful. Cannabis had been grown there before. But not in a way that disturbed the landscape. It’s just felt really important to us to keep the land in the state that it was; […] to have that ethical boundary. It basically […] makes farming a little less convenient for us and the people that work here, which sort of limits our ability to scale up. But we’re okay with that. The amount of cannabis that we grow is plenty for our business.
I feel like the benefits are innumerable. The cannabis is out here in a place where we don’t have to worry about pesticide drift, or any kind of water pollution, the air is really clean, the soil is really clean. Just having the cannabis be in a place where there’s other plants growing around it — so many commercial cannabis farms are just so sterile. They’ll be greenhouse after greenhouse after greenhouse in a big flat field. And there’s not even grass growing around it. It’s so artificial, and it’s the opposite of what we want to be, which is just a wild farm where we’re growing cannabis.
There’s other plants and animals around. Sometimes maybe deer eat our cannabis, or we have to contend with thistles stabbing us in the roads when we’re trying to farm. Or we have to push a wheelbarrow up a really steep hill because we didn’t flatten the garden. But we feel like all this stuff is totally — you gotta work for it. The benefits are: we get to appreciate this incredibly beautiful view and land that we’re on, the cannabis gets to be around, eagles fly overhead, and coyotes howl at night.
We do believe that the cannabis being in that environment really does give it sort of an energetic charge. It just feels more special, and better than cannabis that is grown in [a] sterile environment. It has its own identity, its own DNA imprint from our land that is impossible to recreate somewhere else, because of all these other things going on all around it, in the environment […] that have nothing to do with us. We’re just guests, basically.
EM: It seems very common sense that in a more natural setting farming will be more rewarding.
JP: Yeah, we didn’t want it to feel like ‘the weed factory,’ you know? Which is what so many commercial farms are like. We wanted to keep it magical, in the way that the wild land provides. Not everybody has the opportunity to be in a space like we do. So we really just try to appreciate that.
EM: In terms of your business, what have some of your most successful products been?
JP: So, we mostly grow, we do full-term, meaning we’re not doing light deprivation, we just grow one crop for the entire season. We plant in the springtime, harvest in the fall, the term for that is full-term, and sun-grown outdoors. So, we don’t use artificial lighting. We’re not in a greenhouse. All of our cannabis plants are just outside. We grow in the native soil, which also sort of sets us apart. Most people use potting soil for their cannabis plants, but we’ve just been amending our soil over four years. […] And so, we use all of those farming practices to basically just produce flower — jarred flower is our primary product.
Something that we also have done is work with different groups to produce concentrates. We don’t make concentrates ourselves, but we do provide companies who make concentrates with whole cannabis plants from our farm. They then process [it] into full-spectrum concentrates.
Actually, two years ago, we won an award at the Emerald Cup — which is a very prestigious industry event — for best CBD cartridge that we produced with a company called Chemistry. It was our flower from a strain that I phenohunted called Electric Jah. [The strain] was a 2:1 CBD rich extract […].
We also do pre-rolls. Basically our three main products are jarred flower, and pre-rolls and concentrates that we produce in conjunction with other partner companies […]. Some of those companies are Chemistry, we also work with Garden Society, and several other companies […].
EM: What does the term ‘legacy farmer’ mean to you?
JP: Quite simply, someone who was cultivating cannabis before Prop 64 [in California] would be, in my mind, a legacy farmer. Someone who was doing this work before regulation would be a legacy farmer.
What it means to me on a deeper level; I would view legacy farmers as folks that have a deeper connection and appreciation with growing cannabis that goes beyond just an economical standpoint. They don’t just see it as a certain market or certain economy. But it’s, for them, a way of life. For many people who are legacy farmers, it has been a way of life in their family and their community for generations.
EM: What is your experience with criminalization like? For example, have anti-drug policies impacted you, or have officials ‘busted’ you?
JP: I’ve been really lucky that I have not been impacted by that much in my cannabis cultivation career. You know, growing up in Pennsylvania, which is where I’m from, I used cannabis as a teenager. I was arrested, harassed, and stigmatized for being a cannabis user when I lived in Pennsylvania. So that would be the impact on me. There was always this shame surrounding cannabis use when I was growing up in Pennsylvania because it was very illegal there. So, it was very liberating for me when I came to California, because […] cannabis use was very normal.
The War on Drugs Many impacted many of my community members. I am lucky to say that was not a big part of my experience out here. I’ve never — knock on wood — been busted or anything like that. But I have many friends who have been. It was extremely traumatizing for them, and it’s financially devastating as well. Those experiences in my community are numerous, but I am lucky enough that they are not my experiences. I can’t really speak too much to what those impacts might feel like for those people other than, I don’t think they’ll ever forget it — not in a positive way.
EM: Many consider heritage farmers like yourself to be the pioneers of the modern cannabis industry. How has legalization affected you and your farm? What are the biggest challenges of the transition to “going legal?”
JP: [T]here’s so many challenges. The overarching theme of the challenges is that most economies are not built to favor small businesses in the U.S. Most heritage and legacy cannabis farmers are small businesses. So that in and of itself is the primary foundational struggle for all of us.
As the legal economy for cannabis grows and grows, there is this pressure on small farmers to scale up [to] compete. The price of cannabis gets lower and lower. We feel pressured to produce more cannabis so that we can continue to meet the profit margins that we need to to stay in business. But when you are growing organically and on a small scale, then using many of these farming practices that we have all developed over the years — it’s really hard to scale those practices in a way where you can compete with these big commercial weed factory farms.
It’s not sustainable or viable to go out there and make homemade plant ferments for your garden if you’re growing an acre of weed and you’re two people, going out there and spraying them all by hand. Things that you used to do when you had small weed gardens that helped produce really high-quality, organic cannabis — those methods become really hard to scale with the current market value for cannabis, which is dropping. A lot of the reason why it’s dropping is because there’s more and more of these giant commercial weed factory farms that can afford to sell their cannabis for lower and lower and lower price points and still make a profit. That’s a huge struggle.
Another big piece of the puzzle is that many of the people that are heritage cannabis farmers, we’re farmers. We’re not used to navigating the legal system [or] doing tons and tons of paperwork. We’re not used to jumping through the hoops [officials require] to obtain cannabis licenses. It’s incredibly challenging. It’s like we have another full-time job on top of running our farm. Logistically, overnight we’ve had to go from basically no rules to all the rules in the world, and all the paperwork you have to fill out to follow those rules.
So many people have not been able to make it in the legal process for that very reason. I have many friends and community members that have chosen to leave the legal market for those reasons. We all had a lot of hope when [voters passed] Prop 64 that heritage cannabis farmers and legacy cannabis farmers would really be lifted up in this process. Instead we have had the opposite experience, where we’re really struggling to survive. We’re not receiving a lot of assistance from our county government or state government, who seem to only want to make policies that favor big business, like weed factory type farms. I do hope that changes. But I’m not sure that it will.
EM: We’ve talked about the biggest downsides of the legalization process, but what are the biggest rewards of going legal?
JP: [A reward has been] being able to publicly open about what I do for a living. That’s a huge reward. I love, as corny as it sounds, just having an Instagram for my farm, being able to put pictures on there. Being able to do events, and connect with consumers who are enjoying my cannabis [is] hugely rewarding. Being able to connect more openly with other legal farms was huge. When Prop 64 first started, and Mendocino Generations came online, we could go to meetings and meet all these other legacy farmers. That just was not a thing that happened before. People were […] open-ish about growing weed, but you weren’t going to a big meeting with everybody else [saying] “yeah I grow weed for a living.” It just was not safe.
Just being able to be more open and honest about what I do, and do stuff like this interview, is amazing. I have a radio show on KZYX called The Cannabis Hour, being able to do something like that where I can speak really openly about cannabis and the fact that I’m a cannabis farmer, and interview other people about cannabis.
I’ve heard that since Prop 64 passed, the largest growing demographic of cannabis users in the whole state has been women over the age of 50, which is so cool. It […] goes to show how something not being demonized publicly, like people not having to fear that they’re going to go to jail for smoking weed, really does open it up and allows it to be more accessible to the common public, to everyday people.