- A climate controlled greenhouse houses the moms of several dozen strains
I went to a trade show this weekend. My first Cannabis trade show. Well, I suppose technically I went to a Cannabis Cup, specifically The Emerald Cup. A once humble—in a Southern Humboldt/ Northern Mendo weed grower kinda way—outdoor only cannabis flower contest that has become—or rather organically grown into—what the Santa Rosa Press Democrat called in 2013 a “Pot Festival Meets County Fair”. Indeed in the years since the Cup moved to its current locale, it has grown from one modest size building on the founders property to filling every structure in the vast Sonoma County Fairgrounds, with after parties and the like stretching well beyond.
Beginning over a decade ago in 2003 on reclaimed and restored land bought and blinged by Tim Blake, the Emerald Cup was an underground—no public promotion—celebration of the years harvest. The best of the best really, only organic outdoor grown cannabis from the mecca of organic outdoor cannabis production. Nestled near the meeting point of the three counties meet that make up the Emerald Triangle, Humboldt Trinity and Mendocino, just north of Laytonville sits AREA 101. Tim Blakes home, vision, oasis, and birthplace the Emerald Cup. If you’ve ever travelled north on the 101 you may recall a billboard unlike any other: A UFO beams down on redwoods below, it beckons: “Welcome to Area 101”. The eyes of Ra now adorn the large garage facing the highway. US 101. Humboldt, Mendocino, Sonoma and Marin county’s main thoroughfare. The Golden Gate Bridge and the newly aptly named Robin Williams (Rainbow) tunnel are first to greet you as you head north from the city of San Francisco. It’s simply spectacular. But keep your eyes on the road. As we go north we see why so many chose this rugged remote region to plant those first seeds 50 some years ago.
As the numbers in attendance grew from the tens to the hundreds to the thousands the venue moved first from Area 101 to the Mateel Community Center; a grower funded beauty of a venue/ community center which has hosted, along with local kids plays, dance troupes, and a comedy night, it has hosted musical acts on par with those playing Madison Square Garden. Steel Pulse, The Wu-Tang Clan, George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars, Edgar Winter, Little Feat and Hank 3, a repeat favorite. It is about as grand a community center as I’ve seen, feeding the hungry three days a week. A beautiful place, but though it could fill a Wu Tang crowd, The Emerald Cup out grew it in only a couple years. The next venue would be down south, outside the Triangle, in Sonoma County. Thirteen years after it’s founding, The Emerald Cup has outgrown the Emerald Triangle. From 23 entries in 2003 to over 1000 in 2016… Welcome to Santa Rosa.
Booths filled every building in the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. One dedicated to the business side of things, booths offered printing, packaging, marketing and advertising strategies. Another building was dedicated to growing cannabis and every possible amendment, timer, nutrient, ph pen, grow lamp, grow pot, and of course soil needed for growing.
Other buildings offered the real thing, from flowers to shatter, full melt wax, live freeze dried resin and heat pressed rosin making up a few of the ever expanding ways to consume cannabis. Cannabis edibles filled another building. Making a name for their brand, of which there were hundreds, were the OG’s (Original Growers) hanging with old and new friends in the back of their booths. These are the ones who’ve spent 20-40 years working in the shadows, the 20 year olds were up front greeting, politicking, handing out samples and collecting $5 a gram for flowers, $20 and up for extracts.
- The Emerald Cup’s 2016 Entries for Best Flower
I first grew cannabis in Tampa Florida in 1997, a year after California’s landmark Proposition 215 passed. Though I worked for 215, gathering the signatures required for the initiative to make the ballot, and had attended Humboldt State University, I didn’t grow. I sold. Back in Tampa the scene played out like so: I had one friend, one visitor, and he went to high school with my partner. No one else ever entered the (grow) house. My partner had been growing for several years at this point and was fairly well tied into the local network; a tattoo artist, a chef, a restauranteur, an ad salesman, everyone had another job. A socially acceptable cover. We spoke with only one neighbor, probably as he was convinced a cure for cancer existed, distrust in the government was his credential. We chose one of the roughest parts of town to live in. Single family homes mixed with two story government housing complexes, the majority of the homes in significant disrepair, save for the Caribbean cancer cure man and his wife.
To get to our grow house one would invariably pass a dozen corner kids on bikes peddling crack and weed. Sometimes I wanted to share so bad, though these kids were tough, they had to be in their line of work.. and what other work was there? McDonalds? Some were really smart, as one of the few groups of people I’d see often, we were as close as could be given the circumstances. I’d see the weed they sold and smoked, it was often painful looking weed and always painful being unable to share.The corner kids, the guys at the at the Publix Bakery Counter, my partner and our one friend. This was my social scene. I worked with an incredible Cuban girl who;s english matched my spanish, but we were hot for each other. It never went anywhere as i couldn’t let her into my life.. she had a large family and too many friends and presenting too many potential problems. Robbery, arrest, these were very real concerns in a very poor area of a poor state with poor laws. The one time we did go out outside work (I couldn’t resist) I met her a mile from home to go dancing in Ybor City, Tampa’s Party/ Cuban Historic District. My partner flipped. My role was to know no one but the plants, that was my job and my commitment, and a lucrative one at that.
A pound could easily fetch $5000 even at wholesale. To choose this line of work I had to make certain sacrifices; friends, lovers, a boring cover job.. We had to go through three parties to get our supplies. A friend would go to a grow shop out of town. Another would pick up our rock wool cubes grow and ph up and down, our drip line and nutrients. I dwelled in the dark shadows, mainly of the living room, watering watching wondering and planning for life after the crop came in.
- Red and Crimson Clover and Alfalfa make great companion crops. Frogs make great companion critters.
Shadows, secrets, deadening cover jobs, lost relationships. I lasted a few rounds, about a year and a half and went back on the road starved for human connection. I got on the Greyhound with a couple pounds on each leg and immersed myself back in the remnants of the traveling Grateful Dead scene.
The light in it all came from knowing how happy those that would end up smoking these flowers would be. Just being able to enjoy the fruits of your own labour, pun intended, always tastes better. My partner, with roots in the Florida hydroponics was an artist. His paints were the GH line of Nutrients, and an Ebb and Flow table, but he cared—we cared for the plants. Growing any food is special, but these plants happen to be a spectacular living being to be in the presence of…even now.. in an ever-changing scene that went from basement to 80 acre parcels with thirty greenhouses housing tens of thousands of em, it’s a beautiful plant. With so many medical benefits even after a forty plus year scientific/ medical research blackout. When rich healthy green sticky smelly and stretching towards the midday sun it can be easy for me to spend hours staring as if looking at any beautiful woman (we didn’t grow males, whom I assume some find equally moving).
The first time I went to rehab for heroin addiction was in Southern Humboldt, the beating heart of the Emerald Triangle, I chose to stay, essentially terrified of life outside the small NA network I had developed. I stayed and found work in the main industry in area. My sponsor was my boss, and we did strictly clones, little rooted cuts ready for transplanting, the demand was always beyond supply, being in the beating heart and all. This was a shadowed time in SoHum, the CAMP Choppers had recently stopped flying, but others were. These were the indoor years, circa 2001, grow houses disguised as three car garages or camouflaged in leaf covered netting. The Towers Fell just as I was allowed to leave the rehab facility. When i got a place of my own I quickly filled it too, sacrificing the only bedroom for a nursery.
After a couple years I moved to Arcata for another brief attempt at school. I wouldn’t crack another seed for about ten years.
I moved east after it was clear my last long term relationship was over. With a selection Long story short: Boy meets girl couple has child and moves to southern Humboldt. couple dissolves girl quickly marries and bares another, soon thereafter moves back East.
I’ve been back in Southern Humboldt and in the “ganja game” since then, about 8 years now., whether brokering, growing, cloning, transporting, shipping, vacuum sealing, or spending all day on the phone.. discussing weed.
In that time Ive witnessed the start of an avalanche thats still mid-fall.
New glossies, some a hundred pages deep with half of them ads, in an industry many have called dead for years, are coming out in droves. Emerald, Skunk. The Highway, MG. DOPE. How to Gro Bigger Buds. Culture. Evergreen. CannaTalk. Weed World. and on and on.
- Cannabis creeps from the back of the Liquor Store’s magazine rack to dominating it
Size scale and scope of the farming or growing operations here are expanding exponentially. One green house becomes 3 becomes 10 becomes 30 becomes 50.
What growers are getting paid here is in no way represented down the line. The client at the dispensary in LA, SD, even SF is still paying $30-$60 an eighth. The retail end may come out to around 5k a pound but thats not what they’re selling for anymore. Unless dealing with Mexican or Bulgarian cartels, wholesale pounds average between 1200 and 2000, largely seasonally dependent as plants moved back into the sun.
Murders and Homicides, largely the result of robberies, abound across the Emerald Triangle, now set new records by the year. The same is true of drug addiction and overdose deaths.
The amount of hard drugs, which have always been popular here, has skyrocketed. I know this well as i spent a lot of time here as a heroin addict both in 2001 and in 2015. Back then it was hard to find heroin. Now large busts are frequent. Dealers plentiful. Hard drugs abound.
I moved back to Humboldt just over 5 years ago. In that time it seems like the counties woes have increased exponentially each passing year. Homicides, destructive mega-grows, drug addiction and drug arrests. Maybe its just me, but it seems the county has gone from independent, land-loving hippies and loggers to straight up gangster.
Investors, venture capitalists, are set to take over the whole show. The big wigs. the white whigs. The kind that are quite visible even in the dark.
It all began, or really took off I should say, around the 2012 election: California’s prior legalization initiative drafted and funded by Richard Lee of Oakland’s Oaksterdam University fame…
- A panel at the Emerald Cup discussing ever evolving (or devolving) cannabis regulations
PART TWO COMING SOON.