“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.
Farmers Mike Adams, Kami Lennox, Brian Adams and Jennifer Burke-Adams all run Nurturing Seed farm in Willits, California. We met for a customary mid-afternoon video chat. The crew was perched under a large tree in a neat row of four. Their cat Mittens, official gopher hunter, also kept us company throughout our talk.
In 2010, Mike arrived in Willits ready to grow some produce and show the world the wonders of organic farming. Once he got access to land, he started selling his produce in farmers markets. His producer certificate name was Nurturing Seed since, as Mike puts it, “we take the seed and we nurture the seed and we nurture the ideas.”
For Mike, “seeds are more than just a seed that grows a plant, [it] grows an idea and it grows a whole movement,” he says.
As cannabis cultivation became increasingly accessible, Nurturing Seed “transitioned as the rules transitioned.” The rest of the crew joined gradually and together they built up Nurturing Seed LLC into a successful cannabis business. Nurturing Seed, however, continues to be a major food producer with cannabis as one of many crops.
“We’ve been striving to create the model that cannabis farming can help subsidize food farming and thus allow us to donate some of our food to the food bank,” says Mike.
EMERALD: What has been your experience breaking into the cannabis industry?
MIKE: I landed here [in Willits] because I had the opportunity to [grow cannabis and produce at the same time]. I had a landlord that let me grow according to the legal limits of the county and of the state. I’ve found that to be a wonderful opportunity.
I find people are tolerant here where in other places they’re much less tolerant. Our supervisors listen, our city council listens, the community is pretty embracing. Our farms were part of a group that formed something called the Emerald Grown Cooperative, which was the first cannabis cooperative in the country. It’s now dissolved because of cooperative rules that caused that to pass. We were about 40 or so farms that came together and operated as an agricultural cooperative, but it was a cannabis agricultural cooperative.
It’s been really cool like that. There were definitely some hurdles along the way that were like, not that fun. [But] now everybody knows what we’re doing. I used to be like growing a small amount of cannabis off-grid hidden away and now I’ve been fingerprinted and every agency has my signature.
KAMI: It’s definitely been the community and the comradery that has allowed us to get to this point because going through the legalization process was extremely challenging. Having Emerald Grown and having that network of meeting together and saying, “Hey, this is what I’m dealing with” and being able to troubleshoot together is what allowed us all to rise together.
EMERALD: What has been your experience with local law enforcement? Is there any tension there? Do you find that they’re supportive?
MIKE: Once we got the Mendocino County permits, then they were on our side fully.
KAMI: Do you want to share about that day you walked into the garden with the sheriff?
MIKE: So in 2016 we had the 99 plant program where you bought these zip ties and you put a zip tie around each plant and you’re allowed 99 of them. It affected a lot of us when we did it. But when you open the gates and walk the sheriff into your garden — that was pretty cool. Like when he left, he walked around, he counted, he goes, “yeah, you got 99, you know, if there was one more, we’d cut it down.”
Now we have a lot more than 99, so interesting that the days of like, it was 25 and then it was 99 and now it’s like…
KAMI: Now it’s square footage.
MIKE: I don’t exactly know everything that’s going on in the hills, but I’m pretty sure everybody hasn’t gotten their permit and I don’t think everybody will. But I don’t feel that there’s a fear at this point. Our police department is here for the community. I’m happy with their level of enforcement cause they haven’t arrested me and they haven’t cut down my plants.
EMERALD: It’s crazy how much has changed in the last ten years. Especially if you consider that cannabis is now an essential business anywhere it’s legal and yet, at the same time, there are thousands of people that are still in jail because of simple cannabis possession. How do you guys feel about that?
JENNIFER: I’ve been working with cannabis, not cultivating and growing, but working with it and loving the plant for over 25 years. I lived on the East Coast for a while. [I saw] people get caught with a pound and have to do two years in jail in certain states or even for smaller amounts.
I remember always looking forward to the time when that wouldn’t have to happen. And, unfortunately, there are still people who still are in prison for the sacrifices that they made for so many of us. I’d really like for those types of imprisonments, especially during COVID-19, to continue to be looked at.
I think for me, one of the main reasons to support [legalization] is because of so many people arrested for something that they shouldn’t be arrested for. I think it’s going to be a long road, but at least we’re moving in a direction where a pound of weed doesn’t put you in jail, right?
MIKE: 12 years ago I got my driver’s license and a few hours later I had my medical recommendation card and I felt like, I think I even wrote in my journal: “I don’t feel like I’m an American now. I feel like I’m a Californian.”
It was a really interesting experience going to the dispensary the first time and being like, “I’m not a criminal and [I’m] buying cannabis in a store.” These people are paying with a credit card. These people are getting paid.
I have a number of cannabis arrests; minor misdemeanors and small things all throughout the country and getting here, I was like, this is really nice to be in a place where I didn’t have to worry about who I was or what I was doing. As a white person, white male, I don’t really have to worry about a whole lot. But there [are] still things that need to change. It has to start somewhere and California is by far leading in that department.
Federal legalization would be wonderful. Just to have some non-hypocrisy in our drug laws would be remarkably nice. I think that things are being shaken up quite a bit right now. Hopefully when the dust settles, prohibition is one of the things that kind of goes by the wayside. I’m not holding my breath for national legalization this year but it sure needs to happen pretty soon.
They also need to regulate the fact that like there’s people producing all over the place and all the shipments across any state lines are still illegal. It’s pretty well known that there’s gangs, there’s moving across state lines. So let’s be honest about what’s going on and regulate instead of like, this “cannabis is bad” and “we need to put people who use cannabis in jail.”
I don’t know what the catalyst will be to propel us to not put people in jail for using nature as a medicine and really, cannabis is a gateway plant in that way. People [who] use cannabis as medicine learn that there’s other plants that they might want to grow, other plants that might benefit them.
They say there’s not a silver bullet that could save the world, but maybe ending the prohibition of cannabis might be one.
EMERALD: What’s Nurturing Seed’s philosophy in terms of how you approach cannabis cultivation?
KAMI: Our policy is to always strive to improve. We are working to build the soil and work more with the native ground that we are blessed to be working on. We implement compost teas. We work cover crops into the fall and then hunker down and let the microbes do their magic to make food for the plants for the season. I think we realized that feeding soil is more important than feeding the plants because without having healthy soil the plants cannot be healthy themselves.
Having diversity in the garden helps create balance and harmony. One of our first years we had a pest infestation and people were saying, “you need to burn that ground, you shouldn’t even grow there the next year.” We just planted a bunch of flowers and we were able to attract and bring in beneficial insects. And we did not encounter that pest problem again in that area. It was just really transformative to realize [that] you don’t need to spray the chemicals. You just need to create the balanced environment so that the ecosystem can remain in balance and create the balance itself.
Nature seeks balance. [You can] help it and facilitate that with companion planting and interplanting with a diversity of flowers and herbs and even vegetables. We’re not just working with one plant, we’re working with a diversity of plants and we have chickens and we have bees and it is a whole ecosystem.
JENNIFER: I want to really bring up the point that Kami brought up about that particular year., I was one of those people that I was like, “Oh my God, are we going to have to light the beds on fire?” I wasn’t as much of a believer I will admit and then praying mantises started to show up everywhere. And at that point, I was just like, I am such a believer in planting like a diverse amount of flowers.
EMERALD: It’s lovely hearing you both talk about the farm. Your faces immediately brightened up. Why do you love farming?
BRIAN: The best part is the family. We’re a family. We’re brothers. We get to spend a lot of time together. We work together. We do raise our daughter here and I spend a lot of time with her. It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s a lot of work where I’m surrounded by my family.
JENNIFER: I love growing food and feeding people. It’s been my passion for years. I decided years ago that I was going to solely focus on growing food and feeding people. Cause that’s what I really loved to do. And growing cannabis as well. I still forget we’re legal.
KAMI: The communion with nature on a daily basis. Being outside. Having my bare feet on the ground and watching things grow from seed and being reminded of the magic that energy is being put to building food security and medicine resiliency.
I wake up and I’m not like, “Oh, what am I doing with my life?” I’m like, “I know what I’m doing with my life. I’m feeding myself, I’m feeding other people, I’m sharing medicine.” I love it.
MIKE: I would echo some of [those] things. It’s great to spend time with the family and friends. It’s great to walk around barefoot and have dirty feet and dirty hands. It’s great to not have to get in a car and drive to work. It’s great to eat the food that we create. When you’re in agriculture we create. We take those seeds and turn those seeds into immensely more value. Sharing that with people is insanely rewarding.
One of the challenges I have with the way that cannabis is structured now is that we don’t get to sell our cannabis. We don’t even know where our cannabis is. That’s been a little bit of a bummer because it’s one of the most rewarding things to know the people you’re selling your food to or the people you’re selling your medicine to. We can still do that with food [but] I pray that there will come a time where we can do that again with cannabis.
“We want to inspire people to play with plants, to get their fingers dirty and their feet on the ground,” says Kami.
It’s clear that every member of the Nurturing Seed crew loves what they do. After a summer of meeting Sun+Earth Certified farms, the Emerald team is certainly itching to give gardening a shot — maybe by planting a potato (or something).