Sun+Earth Series: Sunbright Gardens

“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 U.S. 


 

This week, Emerald sat down with Monique Ramirez, co-owner of Sunbright Gardens in Mendocino County, CA. Mo is an absolute badass. Her and her partner, Gus, officially founded Sunbright Gardens in 2017. Since then, the two have grown the farm into a glorious 2,500 square foot canopy—all while raising their two year old son, Kahlo. 

Sunbright Gardens is proud to only grow seed plants, all outdoors, with ample sunshine and TLC. Join us as we learn some more about this small family farm and their cannabis cultivation journey.  

EMERALD: How do you and Gus manage the workload while raising a kid?

RAMIREZ: I don’t know, honestly, a lot of coffee (laughs). I mean, this is kind of the beauty of staying small. I see a lot of other farms cultivating larger footprints, and even at our scale, it’s already such a challenge. [But] we don’t want to get any bigger. We actually believe in the “smaller is better” model. I think it’s more sustainable and more regenerative. 

Once you start getting beyond your own capabilities, then it’s really challenging—especially having a family and stuff. We don’t want this to be something that we can’t manage. We take turns with our gardening [and] farm duties; I’ll watch Kahlo while Gus will go water, and then he’ll watch Kahlo and I’ll do some trimming. We just kind of do that together and try to make it work. But I firmly believe in just the small model. 

I feel like if everyone had a small cultivation site in their backyard, it would be so fantastic from an ecological standpoint… Everyone should really have a little plot of land in their backyard, cultivating vegetables and cannabis. But, unfortunately, I don’t think we’re there yet.

Ramirez proudly shows off her garden and “sunbright” personality! Photo courtesy of Monique Ramirez.

EMERALD: What would you say is the greatest challenge of cultivating cannabis, especially as a small farm?

RAMIREZ: It’s just the unknown. The unknown of how the plant’s going to do. Are you going to get attacked by some crazy bug? [Are] the weather conditions going to be just right so that you don’t face mold issues?

Then, finding a good distributor to help market your products and get it out into the hands of the consumer. And also, to cultivate batch sizes that work for the industry. I think that’s probably one of the biggest challenges as a small farm because I get cold calls all day long from [distributors] wanting a thousand pounds and I kinda laugh. I’m like, do you know that that will take me 10 years?

It’s been really amazing to find companies that we can align with that will honor the small farm model. But it’s hard. I mean, you’re competing against these bigger grows and once the price drops, that makes it really challenging for a small farm to stay afloat because we only have so many units to put into the market. We don’t have that flexibility with the pricing. 

Cannabis plant with companions. Photo courtesy of Monique Ramirez.

EMERALD: Where are you selling most of your product? Can consumers just find your product in Northern California? All of California?

RAMIREZ: Most of our product has been marketed through Flow Kana and they have retail accounts throughout the whole state. We’ve also done a small batch of cannabis [through] Organicann, which is located in Santa Rosa, [CA]. Those are basically the two distribution companies that we’ve been marketing to and they’ve both been really helpful and great because they really model after small batches and support the small sun-grown model.

At the end of the day, we want to align with companies that understand what the small farm is about and honoring it and supporting it.

I think what we’re doing is really different. We’re incorporating vegetable production and rebuilding our soil and being regenerative. We’re not just a “monocrop,” you know, row-by-row of just cannabis; there’s herbs, there’s vegetables, there’s flowers to attract pollinators…

When you can align with a distributor that understands that, then they can help promote that story to the consumer. And hopefully, the consumer that ends up purchasing the flower will find value in that and keep coming back—just like we see in coffee production [or] specialty chocolates. The world is demanding this quality. And putting our environment over profits, I think is so important right now. Consumers are craving that. So, if we can showcase that in the cannabis industry, I think it’s really wonderful and you’re supporting real small farm people.

Gus, Kahlo and dog admiring double rainbow over Sunbight Gardens farm. Photo courtesy of Monique Ramirez.

EMERALD: Being in Mendocino County, what’s your relationship to wildfires? How do you prepare for them? 

RAMIREZ: Oh gosh. Well, we live on 45 acres. It’s mostly wooded. We have Madrone, Oak Pine, Doug Firs, so we have a wide variety of beautiful trees and it’s densely populated with them. And so it is a huge concern of ours every single year that the fire season starts. I feel like it comes sooner and sooner and lasts longer and longer as these weather patterns continue to change.

Around this time we start to pull out all of our important documents and photos and just have them ready to grab in case we need to leave and evacuate. It’s really scary. I just pray every year that we’re safe and that nothing happens. We can control the human error part of it; when people throw cigarette butts out their windows and stuff like that. But when it’s a lightning strike in the middle of July, it’s fair game and it can strike anywhere. 

EMERALD: I cannot imagine what that must be like. Thank you for sharing that with us. Switching gears, what’s your favorite Sunbright Gardens-grown strain?

RAMIREZ: It has predominantly been the Goo Platinum Cookies. It’s a strain that was cultivated by [Sun Roots Farm]. It’s super frosty, a great high, it’s just an all around wonderful smoke and it comes in at around like 24% THC.

[But] we’re not going to cultivate that one this year. Actually. We’re gonna go for some other things that are a little bit different. We love the fruity things. We’re pretty excited for this year since it’s all new stuff. It’s a little risky too, ‘cause you’re not sure how it’s going to go. We’ve been planting a bunch. We have 10 strains that we’re doing this year, which is a lot for a small farm. 

We’ve also really enjoyed the Jelly Roll bred by Waska Farms.

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Our flowers are forming and the season is changing. You can feel it in the air. Today I sat in the garden for a moment in between conference calls and thought about how beautiful everything truly is. All that I’m grateful for and how much I love Mendocino County. The amazing people in our industry that make it so special. How even though we have a few challenges with our garden this year, that I know in the end everything is going to be just as it should and my family will be ok. I thanked the ladies for giving us so much abundance. Freedom to be two stay at home parents and able to raise our son and watch him grow. Thankful for all the bees buzzing and the buds starting to form with so much fragrance. Thankful to even those damn aphids for teaching us to not freak out and trust in nature and her ability to keep it all in balance in the end. I love where I am today, growing this beautiful plant in the full sunshine with no fears of going to jail. I feel so privileged to be able to have this kind of opportunity and my heart is so full of gratitude. Snapped this shot of our Jelly Roll reminding us to keep shining bright with color and life!

A post shared by Sunbrightgardens707@gmail.com (@sunbrightgardens) on

 

At this point in our interview, one of Sunbright Gardens’ resident roosters let out a crow and announced that it was time to wrap up. 

Small farms like Sunbright Gardens are the backbone of their communities. With continued support, they can continue to cultivate, care for and protect the land. 

We left our conversation with Ramirez feeling hopeful for the future of cannabis cultivation and above all, our world. 

A few Sunbright Gardens residents and caretakers. Photo taken from Sunbright Gardens website.

“Love is the way,” said Ramirez. “In a time when it’s so crazy, we just have to remember that. We’re all connected in this whole thing.” 

Interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

Emerald contributor since May 2020

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