As a farmer and as Board Chair for California Growers Association, I’d like to offer some thoughts. I’ll start with some observations that are imperative to understanding my reality, and that serve as parabolic for the larger cannabis industry in California.
The first time the helicopters came was in 1985; I was not quite three. My pregnant mother ran with my middle brother under one arm and me by the hand. Law enforcement landed the chopper in the meadow and smashed up the houses, yanked my uncle out of his bathtub naked. They came for 30 plants.
The second time the chopper came, I was 26, on my own farm. The feds came to sweep the whole neighborhood; they spent the afternoon at my farm, eating my watermelon and throwing my neat pile of tools at the greenhouse fans, smashing them. They sliced our tents and air mattresses, threw our belongings down the hillside. When law enforcement goes to the mountains, it’s a free-for-all; they drink the beers they find, and they drive the ATV’s. Using law enforcement to regulate industry is a broken methodology with inevitable negative results.
College friends and I had purchased a raw piece of land we hoped to develop into three homesteads in the only place that would sell land on an owner-will-carry basis to young people with no credit; Island Mountain. The federal sweep ended our dreams of independence and I returned to my parents’ homestead, a long, skinny strip of 20 acres in rolling Northern Mendocino hill territory.
I faced five felony charges, trumped up in the typical “throw enough and one will stick” role of the punitive criminal justice system. I plead out to cultivation and served two months in Mendocino County jail. In preparing my defense I came to understand myself as a farmer and to see that my rights as such were being denied under the current process.
This country has a series of Right to Farm laws that have been enacted to support and maintain farms and their farmers; cannabis cultivators have been denied the honor and accord of the farmer while also being denied the protections under the law. I saw that my role in bringing cannabis forward was to work in connecting it with vegetable cultivation in a diversified, micro-scale setting.
I also saw that as a monocrop farmer, I had been at the mercy of any event that caused me to have a crop loss. I saw the fundamental power of a diversified crop portfolio, completing courses on sustainable vegetable production and soil/fertilizers at College of the Redwoods as I prepared for incarceration.
Getting out of jail was a big deal for me, though I was only in two months; it is an amazing feeling to know freedom. I applied what I learned in class, and in the books I studied during my brief stint. Amber and I became a couple and we began our vegetable farm business. We scaled slowly, incremental moves from garden to small farm.
Building soil with compost, cover crops, mulch and organic amendments, we learned our trade, marketing vegetables to our local community members through farmers markets and a small Community Supported Agriculture program. HappyDay Farms is five years going strong.
For the children of cannabis culture, the negative impression on our psyche is undeniable. Helicopters trigger visceral fight-or-flight reactions that leave indelible impressions on the pathways of the mind; post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, fear. The dreams are terrible; endless nightmares of being chased by the chopper.
I have chosen to work for regulation because I seek the end of the fear; for the communities, for the families, for the children. I seek the end of people being put in jail for cannabis. It has been the journey of many decades for many people. I seek to participate in the incremental process; but I believe that the next step must begin by asserting ourselves as farmers under the law.
I am not naïve enough to believe that regulation will be a simple answer; I know that it will take the continued vigilance of many active citizens at every step of the journey. I am galvanized in the mission by a lifetime of negative interaction with the criminal justice system, and as a Celiac, by my bodily inability to process the products of the agrindustrial complex. Cannabis is my relief, my succor, as it is for many in my family; we stand, united in our support for a transparent system that enables interactions between small farmers and consumers.
Cannabis is the fulcrum that supports small farms all over the state of California; an estimated 53,000 of us. Cannabis dollars provide needed cash flow because farming is a perpetual investment cycle; it takes money to grow the crops that provide food and medicine for people.
Cannabis enables small farmers to diversify, helps to maintain small food producers and provides liquid capital in every rural economy in this state. Cannabis dollars come into local economies and are then distributed mostly in the form of wages to workers and owners.
A large percentage of cannabis income is related to the vast number of human work hours spent tending it. This is the magic; cannabis is the conversion of solar dollars into real dollars through human effort. The heritage cannabis industry has provided meaningful employment for many thousands of people.
It is of special importance to us as a culture that our way of life supports the elders and the many people who can’t go out and work an eight hour day, but who can tend their plants in intervals as capacity allows. It is a viable living for the smallholder and we work to craft regulations that will maintain this reality.
That said, regulations still mean regulations. If we are to avoid corporate takeover and domination, we must step up as farmers; in demanding the rights of farmers, we also accept the responsibilities. Permitting with the various agencies will be necessary for engaging in commercial agriculture, these are the laws of the land. It will take us coming together in supportive units to help each other achieve compliance. There is much work to be done organizing ourselves, and much divisiveness to be put aside.
There is a disturbing note to modern America; consumers have defined themselves (or had themselves defined) as separate and in diametric opposition from farmers. This occurred when we lost our connection with food and with the land. This enabled corporate profiteers to corrupt our values system, leaving everyone suspicious and distrustful.
In a world of small farms, the people who purchase from their farmers feel a gratitude because they know how hard their farmers work to provide them with highest quality nourishment. Small farmers are embedded in our communities; we know the families and patients who reimburse us for our efforts. For small farms, it isn’t about money, it’s about a way of life.
But the sad thing is, it is about money. Americans expect to spend about half (8-9% of budget) of what Europeans spend on food. We’ve created a culture that demands cheap, and is suspicious of food costs; the ramifications of this are passed on to the farming communities.
Farms are the one point in the industrial distribution chain that can absorb costs, mining them from soil, animals and people in the endless extraction of commodities through processors and distributors. Labor doesn’t receive fair remuneration; no health care or dental for anyone; lost productivity in injuries that can’t rest; an extractive land-use process that mines the topsoil in production because the economic pace is set too fast for regenerative agriculture.
The externalities of the industrial food system have poisoned the land and water, the animals and the people. We are sick, overfed, undernourished. We are suspicious of farmers because we don’t know them and because corporations have wiped true moral value from productive systems.
In classic Marxist terms, the people are so removed from ownership of the means of production that the option is either vague suspicion or passive acceptance. The ills of the industrial society are so broad that it becomes impossible to begin; where do we start when everything is broken?
As Vandana Shiva says, “small farms are the answer.” We must seek out and support small farms with our food dollars; we must support regenerative agriculture. We must examine our priorities and make some decisions about the consumer-based reality in which we find ourselves.
It took three generations to create such a broken industrial complex. The result is a profound darkness because the light won’t shine again until our children’s children walk this Earth. We stand at the nexus of a choice for humanity; will we continue into a homogenized billions-of-the-same-piece-of-plastic-trash-with-branding-on-it blowing around the planet like the movie Wall-E?
Or will we use the benefits of modern technology (stainless steel, refrigeration, communication etc) to return to the old ways? A return to the Agrarian roots of this country and the sustainable cultivation techniques of indigenous peoples provides the roadmap for our future.
Regenerative agriculture is based in the need to spread humans out upon the land to work and tend small amounts of it in a manner that creates more ecological, economic and social bounty over time. The average human has been at the mercy of those more powerful since the dawn of “civilized” society. We cede our power when we sacrifice the basic means of providing for survival.
The Ghandian principle of Satya Graha is one of active nonviolence; it means having the capacity for violence and choosing not to use it. I would apply the same principle to food and medicine; it is not essential that I produce everything for myself, but it is of fundamental spiritual necessity that I have the capacity to do so.
If I do not possess the skills to provide for myself through food cultivation and animal husbandry, I lack the potential for Active Engagement in my food system. If I lack the understanding of food production and the realities behind it, I am unable to make informed decisions about this essential human process.
It’s about waking up from the Matrix; we all got plugged into some form of Sugar-Salf-Fat-Branding paradigm, and it was done in sinister, deliberate fashion. Upton Sinclair would feel a great sense of failure to understand that a hundred years after he wrote The Jungle, things are worse.
Yet, there is hope. Bernie Sanders is making the strongest showing of anyone ever branded with the letter S. My mother is a socialist, Papa an English teacher. My reality is geared towards educating people about social change. Seeing a strong democratic-socialist candidate for President is the thrill of a lifetime.
There is hope; we are all learning together. We are learning that it is a deep, spiritual joy to cultivate food and medicine; to raise animals. We are learning to share these skills, teaching each other through unparalleled communication paths that make information instantaneous and provide positive reinforcement feedback loops.
Likeminded communities are able to gather and organize with more effect and functionality than ever before. We stand in the darkest hour of the industrial paradigm but we are amassing the tools to again seek the dawn.
Cannabis is one of these tools. Cannaculture has been held down under the Prohibition System, but like any good ferment kept under pressure, we have become something new, effervescent and magical. In recreating the linkages of food, fiber, fuel, medicine and meat on small, localized units, we create the ability to address/redress every ill in the industrial paradigm. As farmers, we are now self-aware, and it is in this capacity for self-representation that we seek to engage in the legislative process.
Bringing people close to food and medicine production engenders an understanding of the sacred nature of these acts. This understanding follows through to the sacred nature of consumption; eating, inhaling, partaking. American culture requires a constant process of devaluing the sacred into the profane and reproducible; that’s why all produce at the supermarket has to look the same. In recreating the viability of small farms as participants in society, we create a fulcrum for increasing the quality of food that is available to low-income populations. We do this in two ways; first, networks of small farms have unrivaled quality of production; we need to be more capable of forming cooperative distribution units. Any farmer will tell you, logistics and distribution are the choke points for scaling up in meaningful manner. Second, mixed crop, diversified farms that include cannabis create a fulcrum for transportation and distribution. Cannabis is a high-value, low-volume shipment that is in high demand by urban areas; a system of small farms producing high quality cannabis and food products will synthesize in incredible ways with urban populations. Government programs tailored to providing assistance would access double-efficiency because food subsidy dollars would go direct from consumers to small farmers. The Market Match Programs in which EBT dollars are doubled in farmers’ market tokens is an excellent beginning of this system that could be scaled with total effectiveness.
Modern agribusiness economics would suggest that economies of scale are achieved by large actors but this is viable only by discounting many externalities. In other words, turn a blind eye to obesity, soil loss, nutrient degradation and the denigration of all forms of populations under corporate rule. Networks of small farms provide more qualitative production because farmers are engaged in production for themselves and their buyers.
There is no separation between the crops that small farmers grow for themselves and the ones that we market. We grow things that we like to consume, and as such have an inherent drive to increase our quality over time. Corporations are incapable of this type of enhancement.
It is about choices; we can choose which things to buy and what we do for fun. We can choose what we spend our limited resources on, and the directions in which we choose to put our energy. Life is an inherent series of feedback loops, either positive or negative; you’re either going up or going down. It is time to seek out farmers, to spend our entertainment budgets going to farms and finding good food to eat. Think of yourself as a hunter-gatherer in an industrial wasteland, seeking real nutrition and a sense of the qualitative aspects of food; you’ll find the journey of a lifetime that will last for the rest of your life.
In accepting and welcoming the sacred back into our lives, there is a reestablished sense of ritual. I harvest the food this way. I slaughter the animal for meat this way. I pack the bong this way. These fundamental acts can be ones of deep consciousness; this type of activity then becomes pervasive; I walk down the sidewalk this way; I talk to people in this manner. Establishing a sense of the sacred in one corner of life creates the inevitable transference to a life that seeks conscious understanding.
I saw on a church marquee last week; ‘only still waters can reflect anything.’ We must become more aware, more present. We must eat more real food that we cook or is cooked by people we love. We must drink less caffeine and sugar beverages, more water. We all struggle with these things; industrial society is designed to make things convenient so we won’t notice what we are missing. It is our existential challenge to notice.