Higher Profiles: The Plight of the Small Farmer

By Sharon Letts

The Plight of the Small Farmer

Persecution in the Face of Legalization

Higher Profiles

America was fed by small, ten-acre truck farms. They were local, you knew the farmer, and you knew where your food came from. In many rural areas the truck farmer still exists. While the local food movement began in the 1980s started by chef Alice Waters, a new awareness emerged, with farmers markets now prominent in cities throughout the country.

For the most part, small farms across the country were replaced by housing developments, with large, corporate agriculture operations planting hundreds of acres of GMO laden crops in regions where water doesn’t exist and must be re-routed at great cost and effort.

Farm AID began in support of the small farmers affected, with the U.S. Government stepping in by offering subsidies. But that didn’t stop the onslaught of GMOs or the mega farms devoid of substance or soul.


Many Farmers, Few Permits

With an estimated 15,000 small cannabis farmers in Humboldt County alone, according to Humboldt County’s Cannabis Environmental Impact Report, and 2,300 applications turned in, with just 510 accepted for permitting so far, to say this is a catastrophe of grand proportions is an understatement.

The small cannabis farmers of California, specifically in Northern California within the Emerald Triangle, have been meeting supply and demand of the world’s most beloved herb for decades in the face of great persecution and personal loss.

Generations of farmers have passed down cultivation methods, perfected the plant and raised the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to the heights we have today. The late Southern Humboldt cultivator, Lawrence Ringo, hybridized the THC back down. He gave us the high cannabinoid (CBD) strains, which are now at the forefront of the movement for acceptance of cannabis as medicine, making the rhetoric, “what about the children” a moot point.

The contributions from farmers in the first medically legal state of California are numerous. They’ve also gone on without accolades, largely for fear of persecution.

Impending Doom

Kevin Jodrey is owner and founder of Wonderland Nursery in the heart of Southern Humboldt, where cultivation is king, and its customers have the most to lose.

“I don’t think anyone realizes the level of enforcement that is about to come,” he warned. “The overall tone is one of impending doom.”

The crux of the matter is the way most farms on the North Coast have operated under the radar, with unpermitted roads, buildings, and a covert cottage industry that crosses state lines with tonnage.

“The first 60 cease and desist letters went out to the panther gap area, and literally made those properties worthless,” he continued, referring to land in Southern Humboldt. “A lien [was put] on the land until all fines [are] paid and restoration [is] completed. No permits are being offered for those properties. The rumor is another 8,000 are enroute.”

To give an idea of what is happening statewide, Jodrey added that in Sacramento alone, there have been 661 raids on indoor farming operations in a two-month period. An increase in the number of officers assigned will enable them to perform 600 raids per month. The operations are done by using algorithms via Smart Meters to detect high electrical usage by indoor growers.

“The state wants to protect its tax base,” he surmised. “Humboldt is more spread out, making this type of enforcement harder, except in towns like Arcata, McKinleyville, and Fortuna, [California] with a concentration of indoor farms in residential neighborhoods.”

Jodrey said the “mega farms” being permitted now will provide material to legal retail shops, but it’s safe to say the thousands of farmers still unpermitted will face prison time, great hardship, and loss.

“It’s the redistribution of wealth and prosperity that is going to be felt the hardest,” he empathized. “The shops will have product, just not the same product once produced by locals – and that’s not just in Humboldt. We are going into an industrialized model — that’s the state’s desire.”


Medicine Thrown Under the Bus

Washington State is one example of medical cannabis being thrown under the bus. Jodrey explained that they didn’t get the recreational revenues they desired, and viewed medical as a competing industry. The same thing is happening in Colorado, with the business faction feeling the pinch from the medicine cabinet. The irony is, the plant is the same on both sides of the aisle – and that edible quickly becomes a medible, when the pain miraculously goes away, and prescription pills are replaced.

Chrystal Ortiz farms in Humboldt County; she’s Operations Manager for True Humboldt, an award-winning brand that serves as an umbrella for more than 200 farmers in the county.

Ortiz believes the downfall of cannabis as medicine in California stems from the passing of the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (MMRSA), combined with the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MCRSA), which created the Medical and Adult Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MAUCRSA) after Prop. 64 or AUMA was enacted.

According to the California Growers Association, MAUCRSA is “the foundation of regulated cannabis in California.” According to Ortiz, it’s a roadblock to collectives in an already overly regulated market.

“The collective model is absolutely threatened by the MAUCRSA, as it sets the square footage at 500 square feet,” she informed. “Our compassionate programs and collective models will need a lot of continued advocacy at the state level to survive.”

Ortiz feels the only way most small farmers and the cottage industry will survive is by banding together under one umbrella, lobbying and pooling financial resources for the greater good of the collective community that has worked without a hitch for decades. One such successful endeavor she sites is the Humboldt Sun Growers Guild, which encourages organic cannabis grown outdoors.


Unlimited Land Use

“Regulators scream about how medical is the priority, but we know now that is a smoke screen to calm the public while they dismantle it in the dark of night,” Jodrey added. “The removal of the one-acre cap is a precursor.”

The one-acre limit set forth by the state’s Department of Food and Agriculture was left out of the regulations put forth by California, prompting many to panic as big money and large-scale operations were seemingly given the green light. So far, only Sonoma County — a region known for its craft wines — has held firm on its one-acre limit, with a compassionate nod to its small farmers.

The comparison of California’s wine industry to the cannabis industry isn’t far-fetched. While corporations and big money flooded its wine country during the 1980s, those with the wherewithal to go forward in small-batch craft wines found success. But they also had the law behind them, with no threat of persecution or prison sentences, just loss of the business if they couldn’t compete.

The same can be said of America’s small farmers. The only difference is, the family farm wasn’t raided, the family dog wasn’t shot and killed, and grandpa didn’t have to do hard time.


The New World Weed Order

On another note, California’s Department of Tax and Fee Administration recently issued a last-minute request that all dispensaries wishing to apply for a commercial permit must have its taxes paid in full.

No other industry in the country, including the alcohol and pharmaceutical industry, has such limiting demands. No other industry in the country is faced with the amount of fees and regulations from product inception to shelf. For cannabis patients miraculously helped by the plant for serious ailments, it’s an exceptionally hard pill to swallow.

Thousands of farmers now face staying in the smoky closet, and due to said demands, the black market will be alive and well in California. Farms will be raided, people will lose everything, serve time in privatized prisons, and emerge as felons. They will work for pennies an hour in manufacturing jobs once held in the private sector, while the billion dollar industry they founded thrives and prospers.

“Humboldt will always do what Humboldt does – buck the trends and make its own way,” Jodrey waxed poetic. “But the way will be littered with the corpses of all those who don’t fit into the new model.”

Emerald contributor since July 2019


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