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 Kim Dellacorva, CEO and owner of One Feather Ranch — a farm that has been home-growing the ingredients for their various spa products for years — about farming off-grid; the struggles of small cannabis farms; and the uphill battle of growing legally.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
A breathtaking, misty view from One Feather Ranch. Post from @onefeatherranch on Instagram.
Meet Your Farmer: Kim Dellacorva, One Feather Ranch
Emerald Magazine (EM): Tell us about your farm, and the cannabis culture and community in Mendocino County?
Kim Dellacorva (KD): […] Our farm is a ranch. It’s big; it’s a little under 500 acres. It’s up in the hills, on range land. […]. Mendocino, it’s a really amazing community of farmers. I feel really comfortable with the kind of people that are in our community. When I go to other areas, even down to Sonoma, or up in Humboldt, it’s not the same. The farmers are usually people who grow other [crops], they’re usually people that have some intense education. It’s just not the kind of community that people might perceive it to be unless they know it.
At One Feather Ranch, we have our brand of flowers that we sell through Natural Cannabis Company. Then, we have online sales of our CBD versions of our spa products, and then the THC versions are only sold in dispensaries.
EM: Your website describes One Feather Ranch as having an “off-grid, sustainable, and yet surprisingly luxurious lifestyle.” What does that mean in terms of life on the ranch? How does it affect planting, cultivating, and harvesting your cannabis?
KD: When we first bought the ranch in 2012, we didn’t know what regulations were going to be like in the future. We luckily made a lot of good choices, purely by accident — like permitting structures, getting our pond permitted, doing a biological survey — way back then when it wasn’t even required. Now, of course, we have to do all of those things.
Living off-grid — we have a 10 kilowatt solar system, so we run ovens, and televisions, and stereos, and all those things. You don’t notice being off-grid electrically, except that we don’t get our grid turned off. Down in the valley, when there’s wind and PG&E turns it off, we don’t have a problem with a power outage. […]
Our life is like a normal life, except better. We’re not hooked up to the grid; we have our own well with nice water. […] Everyone should try it.
I say it’s luxurious, because it is. It’s everything you’d want in a normal house, in whatever town. The only thing we have to do is drive into town if we want to go to the grocery store. […]
The future of the ranch is probably going to be an eco resort, because of [our] zoning. It’s just kind of a unicorn situation in Mendocino where we’re allowed to turn it into a resort, because of where it is. It’s on a county asphalt road, which most of these farms, they’re going to be off some private road. […] To have the public up there, to have some recreational activity going on in an area that’s off of a private road; it’s not legal, as far as the county is concerned.
[The ranch] is in a place that’s incredibly beautiful. It’s at the end of the road, there’s a back way, a four wheel drive road out of the ranch, and you end up in Willits. […] Willits is known as the “Gateway to the Redwoods,” where it starts to get very rural.. […] During the fire in the Redwood Valley, people evacuated. They went North, and up into the ranch because they had nowhere else to go. We basically helped people get their cars out of the road, and get rides through the four-wheel drive parts. If they weren’t in a four-wheel drive SUV, they weren’t going anywhere. We took our tractor, moved cars out of the way, and helped people get rides to Willits until they opened the road after the fire.
EM: When was One Feather founded? Was it before legalization?
KD: Yes. We were part of the Zip-Tie program in Mendocino […] The county of Mendocino had a program through the Sheriff’s department. If you were growing for a dispensary or for patients, which we were, you sign up with the sheriff’s department and you get zip-ties — one for each plant. We had four different gardens. So we had about 75 or 80 plants spread out over the ranch.
We were part of that program, and we still got raided. Doesn’t matter. They were next door, because they were raiding the guy [there] […], so it was like “we’re here, let’s just go cut her plants down,” which is what they did. They had no search warrant, they had nothing [and] they destroyed all my genetics. I was doing test genetics for THCV at the time. And this is 2015 […] when it was really hard to even get information on variants.
Basically anybody that’s been around, or growing for that long — legal, zip-tie program, or whatever — they’ve all been raided once. Everybody I know that’s a farmer has been raided once, at least.
EM: Do you have any other experience with raids? Or was it mainly the Zip-Tie program?
KD: It was the Zip-Tie program, and there was no guarantee. In the very first one — it was before my time — I think it was 2008 or 2009. They had another program, and they busted everybody. So, they signed people up to be part of the county program, they got inspected and the whole thing through the county of Mendocino. They did all of this, and then the feds came in and ended up raiding every single person that was part of the program. So it was basically like, “give us all your information and then we can come in and raid you.”
After that experience, in Mendocino, obviously understandably, a lot of the growers were cynical when legalization happened [when] they were saying “sign up.”
I’m part of Mendocino Cannabis Alliance, which is a trade association. I’m on the executive committee board of directors.[…] We had a board of supervisors meeting on Tuesday. Supposedly the final regulations are done, and it’s completely dysfunctional. There’s two referendums now. The community is going to sue [the county]. They’re doing a voter initiative, the referendums are collecting signatures as we speak, so there’s going to be lawsuits for years. [In the meantime] There will be no new cultivation in Mendocino […] We’re part of the program now, so we can keep cultivating. But anyone that wants to start, there is no entry. There’s no way you can apply for a permit right now. They’re not even going to look at permits for planting until 2023.
There are 200 plus annual county permits right now, and there are 600 more people in the program that [have been] trying for months and months, and some of them years, to get their annual permit for the county. They still haven’t finished. Those people can continue cultivating, but that’s it. All these people that are up in the hills growing, if they wanted to get a permit now, they can’t. […]
Now, I can’t even say [to people] “get legal,” because they can’t. They can’t even apply for a permit right now. That’s the situation, and it’s kind of dysfunctional.
EM: What does the term “legacy farmer” mean to you, personally?
KD: Personally, it just means that we’ve been doing it for a long time and we’re part of the community of legacy growers here in the county. The way we worked a long time ago, it was very cooperative. Not every farmer was part of this community, there were definitely the guerrilla growers in there. There are illegal growers still, that just grow that way. […]
A legacy farmer is, you’re taking a legacy of Mendocino cannabis cultivation, [the] genetics […]. These genetics were not designed to be grown out in the open on ag land, they’re just not. They’re designed to grow in these microclimates that exist in the hills. […]
The forest around the ranch, covered in snow and fog. Post from @onefeatherranch on Instagram.
EM: What are some of the biggest challenges and rewards of “going legal?”
KD: You’ve heard about a lot of [the challenges] already […]. There is no annual [permit] yet. I’m really close to getting an annual because the state is modifying the way it’s working. I’m probably going to be [the] fifth or sixth in the county to get a state annual, because I’m going through CEQA right now. That’s a huge challenge, the whole CEQA issue. We finished our CEQA analysis, we did a 135-page CEQA application, an appendix G and all this stuff for the farm. […] But because our ranch is so big, it’s not an easy one. Doing CEQA on 500 acres, it’s pretty daunting. Our biological study was 45 pages.
The biggest challenge is, of course, fulfilling all the regulatory requirements. One wine grower at one of these meetings in town [said], “Yeah, well now you guys are finally just having to do what we have to do.” Oh no, no we’re not. [They] don’t have to deal with the water board the way we do. [They] don’t have to do an appendix G CEQA application. [They] don’t have to do any of those things. Register with Cal Fire, permit every single structure on your property. I mean, what we have to do is insane. I’m willing to do it because I want the legal system to work. No one wants it more than the legal farmers.
The benefits are we don’t have to worry about the [authorities] coming in and raiding us anymore. We don’t have to worry about crime as much as illegal growers. Though, there’s still crime […]. But not so much for legal growers because the sheriff will show up. You’re registered with the sheriff’s department and the county, and everybody else. They don’t want you to get robbed because there goes their tax dollars. So, that’s awesome in a lot of ways.
When you come from where we came from, helicopters are a bad [sign due to raids], and they still are because of fires. But that’s a huge sigh of relief, to not have to worry about breaking the law. […]
The benefits are there, and I wouldn’t ever go back. If the whole legal market collapsed, I would probably stop growing cannabis, guaranteed. I can’t go back to that stress.
EM: It sounds like the benefits to growing legally are huge.
KD: Yeah, they’re huge. It’s definitely a challenge. I have two degrees, [a] master’s degree and a doctorate. I laugh because my doctorate was not as much work as getting my cannabis permit. […]
Just going through this — I [joke] that I have a doctorate in cannabis. It doesn’t exist in reality. But studying something, putting as many hours as I put into this plant, this business, and this regulatory system, and everything about cannabis since… 2014? Really, it’s been like a non-stop graduate course.
EM: Many people described it as like having another full-time job.
KD: Oh yeah. On top of that, I’m part of MCA [Mendocino Cannabis Alliance], and I volunteer. I’ve been volunteering probably since 2016. That’s my part time job. Volunteering with the trade associations, and being on the board of directors, working with the county, going to supervisor’s meetings, planning commissions, going to the state. […]
It’s a new world, and even doing a business plan — you can’t do a business plan, because you don’t know what it’s going to be like next year. You don’t know what the prices are going to be; you don’t know what the regulations are going to be; what the market distribution is going to be like […]. You’re basically working blind, and growing a business blind, just out of chutzpah, as they used to say. Out of just stubbornness.
That’s another thing, I’m incredibly stubborn. Without that, I would have given up if I wasn’t stubborn. Like ‘I am not going to let this beat me, I’m not going to let this appendix G get the better of me, I can do this […].’ That’s the way it has to go.
Another thing, I’m really tired of people […] treating cannabis farmers like – two things. Like they’re morons. Most I know have advanced degrees, so no, they’re not. We’re not morons, and we’re not criminals. […]
I’m on the economic development committee for MCA, working with Visit Mendocino. We’re going to be producing a commercial in the next couple of months, for Visit Mendocino cannabis tourism. Come up here and learn what it’s really about, and take that respect for this plant back with you, wherever you come from. Take what you learn, your understanding, and the culture — take a little bit of that back with you.