“We certify cannabis that is grown under the sun, in the soil of mother earth, without chemicals by fairly paid farmers.” – Sun+Earth
This summer, Emerald is on a mission to learn more about Sun+Earth Certified cannabis. Join us each week as we interview certified growers and manufacturers across the United States.
For Daniel Stein, co-founder of Briceland Forest Farm in Humboldt County, California, “farming was the gateway to weed and weed was the getaway plant to farming as well.”
About 25 years ago, Stein was working on a lettuce farm in Hawaii. At the time, lettuce farming didn’t quite pay “for having weed,” so he experimented with planting a few cannabis plants in his backyard. Fast forward to 2020 where he and his wife run a legal 5,000 square foot operation in Northern California.
Farming food and cannabis runs in the Stein family blood. Briceland Forest Farm happens to be a second generation farm. Stein describes his parents as, “back to the land hippies” who bought the property in the 70s and grew cannabis on it in a “guerilla grow” style. After years of neglect, Stein eventually returned to his family property and restored it to its former glory.
Briceland Forest Farm is much more than a simple cannabis operation. In addition to growing cannabis, they also grow about an acre of veggies; allowing them to participate in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) for roughly 25 families, sell at farmers markets and also provide food to a few local restaurants.
A veteran in the cannabis game, Stein gave us some valuable insights into what it means to be a farmer, what a farmer’s role is in his or her community, and why certifications like Sun+Earth are essential in the fight for normalization.
EMERALD: Did you ever imagine that cannabis could become an actual public and legal industry? That it would look anything like it does today?
STEIN: I probably got stoned and imagined it. I don’t remember, funny enough. It has changed quicker than I [could] imagine. When I look back and I’m like, “man, this last decade has been tough” and [then] I’m like, “wait, that was only two years.”
Time has been sped up and it’s significantly different than I could have imagined. Twenty-five years ago, I was sneaking through the bushes wearing camouflage to harvest a few ounces here and there. And now, I’m tending to 14 foot tall plants in my front yard with camera crews and people and posting them online.
EMERALD:Can you tell us a bit about your philosophy and the Briceland Forest Farm approach to farming?
STEIN: Our [approach] is to be in service to our natural environment and our human community as much as possible in what we do and strive within that to create the most healthy, vibrant products that we can—whether they be veggies or flowers or cannabis—and help heal the ills of the world through that work.
EMERALD: Absolutely. And speaking of community, how would you describe the cannabis grower community?
STEIN: Well, there [are] many different cannabis grower communities.
There’s the regenerative cannabis community, which is a community of growers with some of the same ecological ethos and sharing practices. There’s the kind of local Southern Humboldt cannabis community, which shares a history of living outside the law and building community together based around the legacy market culture that built up. And then there’s this newly emerging cannabis industry community [which includes] our relationships to dispensaries and distributors and all of that.
One of my favorite things—[and] this is great in terms of Sun+Earth—is that during the legacy market, everybody was pretty secretively doing what they were doing on their properties in the hills. And as we’ve come out to the open with it, we can collaborate with each other and learn new techniques.
EMERALD: What are some other ways that you have collaborated with different farms within your community?
STEIN: So ourselves, along with Happy Day Farms and Emerald Spirit Botanicals, have done collaborative work for a brand called Farm Cut.
In the early days, before too many rules came into it, we could have a more direct relationship with consumers and have an almost farmer’s market style approach where we could directly sell our product to customers. The way the laws are structured in California, we’ve lost that ability. Generally, you send off your flower, it’s processed somewhere, put in little eighth jars and goes to consumers under a different brand. And there’s been many, many hands that touch it in between [the] farmer and the consumer.
Farm Cut [is] our attempt to get back to connecting consumers and farmers together. We’re offering untrimmed flower. In the raw, bucked down, water leaves off, but all the sugar leaves still on it, which protects the terpenes and the cannabinoids. [That’s] how farmers and people who have access to it store that weed. Because when you take an untrimmed flower out and you break those little leaves off, it is [as] fresh as the day it was finished curing.
EMERALD: Does your farm or community face any threats from wildfires? How do you prepare for that?
STEIN: We do have some threat from wildfires. It is a fire prone area and we experience six to eight months of summer with no rain. The natural ecology of this area is one that, without interference, would burn over during the summer every 10 years or so. In a healthy ecosystem, those fires would be low intensity and maintain old growth forest while [also] clearing away brush and maintaining the diversity and health of the Meadows.
The way [that] we’ve suppressed fire and then moved out into the hills [in] wooden houses has made that kind of ecology difficult. We [have] done some prescribed fire here as well as working with a lot of forestry restoration around our homestead to make it safer.
We [also] keep goats and they help to maintain that system. We sometimes call them BioFire cause they take all that energy from the lower understory and maintain it—similar to how fire would have.
I spent about 15 years working in the volunteer fire department here. So I’m well versed in fighting wildfire and keeping our home safe. [I’ve] set up systems to be able to deliver well water that we store [during] the rainy season when it’s needed and help support firefighting efforts in our neighborhood with water.
It’s kind of part of the natural system here that we live with. Just like living with hurricanes is in the Southeast.
EMERALD: So far, what has been your greatest challenge operating as a cannabis farm?
STEIN: Definitely the legalization process. We chose this lifestyle because we are big fans of the practicality of doing things. You know, I built our own house here and we’re off the grid. I created our own power systems and water supplies and stuff like that. I liked the practicality of just creating and doing. And when it’s come to the bureaucratic process of becoming a licensed cannabis farm… it’s been a very frustrating interface with cumbersome bureaucracy. It’s one of things I spent a lot of my life trying to avoid, and now I find myself in the thick of it. And it’s been a big challenge.
EMERALD: What are some of your favorite strains grown at Briceland Forest Farm?
STEIN: One is Magic, which is a strain that came out of a collaborative effort that we did with Humboldt Seed Company a couple of years back. That’s always one of our favorites. It’s just incredibly smooth smoking and energetic and a real like light limey, green color and fruity gassy taste.
We are growing Pegasus, which is one that we grew as well last year and actually can be found right now in our Farm Cut line.
Then Cherry Lime Dog, which is a strain that’s bred by a good friend of ours, Jesse Dodd. And that is this incredibly potent, stinky, fruity, earthy strain that we’ve been liking a whole lot.
We are (also) growing Apricots Bling, which is by our friends from Happy Dream Genetics. They combined Bling, which is a Gelato cross with Apricots Orange, which is just an incredibly delicious strain. So we’re excited about that cross as well.
Briceland Forest Farm is part of the pilot farm program at Sun+Earth. They have also helped develop the standards for the certification.
Stein considers the certification an excellent motivational tool “for farmers who are almost there to push it that extra little bit.”
In addition to upholding ethical growing practices, pursuing a Sun+Earth certification has some practical benefits as well. Being Sun+Earth certified requires diligent record keeping which can actually give farmers more freedom to experiment with different growing techniques in a productive and quantifiable way.
For Stein, Sun+Earth is about, “people making choices to elevate the healing of the world… and to elevate and choose [brands] that are working towards that.” He also believes that part of the job of being a cannabis grower is to, “connect people back to something real.”
In modern life, says Stein, “we’re disconnected from the things that actually give us life, like the water, the food [and] the air. We can [try to] grow cannabis in such a way as to focus and amplify those elements, that, or a connection to something real so that, when it goes to the consumer and they smoke it, it’s not connecting them back to humming generators in a warehouse somewhere,” he adds.
“It’s connecting them back to spring rain and soil full of earthworms and sunny summer skies. And that feeling of being part of the whole thriving, vibrant organism, that is our planet and our life here,” Stein says.