“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.
Casey Branham, co-founder of Oregon’s Phoenix Rising Farm, is quick to tell you that he’s originally from New Jersey. He was first introduced to the world of cannabis when he made the journey out to Humboldt County, California for college. Branham found a home in the Emerald Triangle’s counter culture community and eventually made his way up to Oregon’s Applegate Valley.
Branham founded Phoenix Rising Farm with his wife in 2014, the year Oregon finally passed Measure 91 —effectively legalizing recreational cannabis sales, manufacturing and use in the state. As part of the Oregon Cannabis Association, Branham and his wife even helped draft the guidelines for outdoor growing in Measure 91.
The farm’s name alludes to the greek myth of the phoenix rising from the ashes; the ashes symbolizing the illicit market and the shadowy unregulated cannabis world.
Emerald sat down with Branham this week to discuss the highs and lows of being a cannabis farmer. So sit back, relax and take a peek into the life of this small Oregon farm.
EMERALD: What makes Phoenix Rising Farm special? How are you different from other growers in the industry?
BRANHAM: We practice regenerative agriculture, meaning we grow food alongside our cannabis, as well as other medicinal plants. [By] taking a holistic approach, we put ourselves in a different category than some other farmers who are just using bottled nutrients or whatever. [It] feels good to be able to be a steward of our land.
EMERALD: Could you elaborate on your growing techniques and approach to farming?
BRANHAM: Sure. We [basically] grow food for the plants alongside the plant. So there’s companion plants [like] comfrey, nettle [and] borage. These plants are biodynamic accumulators that pull up nutrients from deep in the soil and allow the plants around them to feed off that good stuff.
We don’t till. So, we’re just using mulch layers made up of deciduous leaves that we collect from the valley. [We use] leaves, local organic dairy manure, wood chips sourced from cleaning brush projects [and] fire suppression on our land and then straw. We’ll just mulch every year with that; building more soil [and] increasing the biome of our area.
BRANHAM: In the last couple of years, we’ve gotten into Korean natural farming. That’s essentially taking indigenous micro-organisms [like] natural molds and fungus, and then using rice and sugar and other different things to make an inoculant. Then, you’re sort of taking it step-by-step through these indigenous microorganisms (IMOs) to feed your soil and feed the beneficial bacteria microbes in your soil.
We ferment the nettle, we ferment the horsetail [and the comfrey]. We also ferment beets and sweet potatoes. All these different plants have natural chemicals and other properties inside them that promote growth and promote flower. Along the way we use each of these different ferments to feed the plants.
So we take a holistic approach to farming. [Well] more of a permaculture-based approach. [That] not only promotes the biodiversity on our farm. [But also] by increasing the biodiversity, we lose those predators and pests and all kinds of stuff that affects the crop.
EMERALD: Tell us about the cannabis farming community. What’s it like? Would you describe it as friendly or competitive?
BRANHAM: There’s a large group of people who have been in the cannabis community prior to legalization. So in that world [it’s] tight knit. We share genetics and we share knowledge. It’s a real community. We take care of each other.
After legalization happened, the big green rush came in and a lot of people jumped in for the money. In a situation like that, there’s going to be competition. And that’s fine. It’s all about the consumer getting the best product. Ideally from companies and farms that care about what their process is rather than profits over safety or profits over quality.
EMERALD: What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced since you founded the farm in 2014?
BRANHAM: Banking has really been the biggest [challenge]… They still aren’t there yet with laws that can better allow cannabis businesses to thrive.
EMERALD: Speaking of challenges, what has been the effect of COVID-19 on Phoenix Rising Farm? Whether financially or emotionally?
BRANHAM: It’s been tough. I’ve got two children, 11 and five. Them not being in school has made it a lot harder for both my wife and I to be on the farm and work. But, I think Oregon did the right thing in designating cannabis businesses an essential service. That has allowed us to stay busy and keep moving, getting our farm ready [and] keeping our employees employed. We’ve been able to honor all those different guidelines set in place and we’re way out in the middle of nowhere. So that helps too. It hasn’t been very hard to manage.
EMERALD: What does the future look like for Phoenix Rising Farm?
BRANHAM: I’d like to see a “canna-tourism” aspect to it. We’ve got a really unique farm and homestead [here] that was one of the first in the valley a hundred years ago. So I’d like to bring people in to have an experience on a working cannabis farm, where they can come and they can stay [and where] we’re fortunate enough to live. There’s a local organic dairy that’s just a mile up the road as well as an organic bakery two miles up the road. There’s about three incredible organic vegetable farms within a mile in each direction, as well as a beef ranch.
What I’d like to do is have people come have an experience on the farm, eat food, all sourced within three miles [and] really get the locavore experience. That would be awesome.
EMERALD: And what’s your most popular strain? Your personal favorite?
BRANHAM: Wow. So, it changes over the years. Every year the customer wants to see new stuff.
We’ve got a couple of staples that we’ve stood by with for a few years now. One of them is Key Lime Pie which is a Durban Poison by Cherry Pie Kush. The terpene profile on it is amazing. It really gets that key lime essence.
This year [Ice Cream Man]’s been really popular. That’s a Legend Orange Apricot by Jet Fuel Gelato. Really unique terpene profile on that one as well.
But my favorite [is] probably Chem 4. Yeah, just a really hard hitting heavy, heavy stone.
I usually like a sort of heavy Indica. But the Ice Cream Man is more uplifting, but also [fades] into [a] sort of couch lock, super stone. The Key Lime Pie is pretty even. Great flavor. But also you can do stuff. It’s not just like a nighttime weed.
As our interview drew to a close, Branham highlighted how important it is to educate yourself on why organic and sun-grown cannabis is just better. Sun+Earth Certified cannabis, for example, is both ethically grown and of much higher quality than say, the cheapest alternative.
According to Branham, flowers grown under the sun are going to have the widest range of cannabinoids and the broadest terpene profile. “They’re going to have the fullest expression of the plant,” says Branham.
When you buy organic, everyone wins. On one hand, you support small farms and on the other, you get the most bang for your buck. That’s a win in our books!
Interview has been edited for clarity and length.