Cannabis farmers get ready to show off their amazing farms and talk about their growing methods in a different type of farm tour
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MICHELLE MAGDALENA
The legalization of marijuana in 2018 not only means products are now more accessible; it also means cannabis farmers can finally step into the light. “We’re peeking our heads out of prohibition,” says Terry Sardinas, and she couldn’t be more excited.
Sardinas owns Watsonville cannabis farm Bird Valley Organics with her partner Manny Alvarez and they are teaming up with farm tour expert Penny Ellis to begin offering a new type of agritourism based on cannabis farms.
To test the waters on their concept, they are organizing the 420 Farm Tour for April 20—a date long associated with celebrations of cannabis culture. The tour will visit three unique cannabis growing operations, giving participants the opportunity to walk among the plants and get to know the farmers.
Ellis—who organizes the annual Open Farm Tours in Corralitos every October and a monthly farm tour group—says she got the idea while attending a recent Cannabis Tech meetup and it quickly became a unique collaboration.
“My passion with these tours is to connect people with our local cannabis culture, to understand the plant and the unique role it holds in Santa Cruz history,” she says. If all goes well, the cannabis farm tours will become a regular offering of her new company Santa Cruz Cultural Tours, along with other excursions that focus on food, farming and lifestyle.
For this first tour, Ellis has curated an educational event where guests will be transported by bus. The tour primarily focuses on the various methods of cannabis cultivation, but also features speakers who will discuss the history of marijuana farming in Santa Cruz County and medicinal usages. It will even include a hands-on workshop on trimming. Only one detail of the cannabis experience will be excluded— guests won’t be getting high.
Participants will hear from local cannabis historian Christopher Carr, host of The Cannabis Connection radio show on KSCO. Carr is also the steward of a 90-acre farm in Happy Valley, a judge at both the Emerald Cup and the High Times Cup competitions, and a passionate cannabis expert. He sees the tour as an opportunity to educate the “canna curious” as well as enthusiasts. He will share the history of the plant, and hybridization and farming methods that contribute to the Santa Cruz terroir. Cultivars such as “Haze” and “Blue Dream” are now internationally renowned and Carr hopes collaboration between local farmers will increase recognition for Santa Cruz’s own appellation of legal cannabis.
“Cannabis farmers have been and continue to be a type of farmer that are ecologically aligned with the environment. They seek to improve their biology and bring more fertility to their land,” Carr says.
One of the stops on the tour will be Lifted Farms, a biodynamic cannabis and vegetable farm. Angela Evans, along with partners Matthew Groves, David Doriot and Aziz Nashat, is working to repurpose Watsonville- area strawberry fields into a thriving sun-grown cannabis operation and CSA. They will educate guests about their cannabis breeding projects, and provide composting, livestock and homesteading basics.
Lifted Farms grows the cannabis for an award-winning line called Lifted Edibles. From its cannabis strains, it produces a coldwater hash and blends it with organic fruits and nuts to create edibles such as Ginger Bites and Blueberry Bites.
Another stop on the tour is the innovative Coastal Sun/Moon/Star Farms, where acres of blueberries are grown along with vegetable crops, plant starters and cannabis. Angus Mills and Darren Story of Coastal Farms grow their organic plants “bioponically” in containers, fed with nutrients and growing media. In that way, the farmers at Coastal are able to conserve resources and eliminate waste by recycling water, nutrients and growing media while building microbes and eliminating soil erosion, nutrient runoff and waste matter in a closed system. Visitors will learn how a combination of technology and agriculture in cannabis farming is changing the future of sustainable agriculture.
“To be truthful, what I see is much larger than just the fact that it is an organic agricultural endeavor,” says Mills, brimming with positivity about the future. “The fact that we’re able to move towards localization and resource management are key components to what I feel is our potential for social evolution.”
He sees the tour as an opportunity to educate the “canna curious” as well as enthusiasts.
The owners of Bird Valley Organics will captivate guests in a completely different way with a tour of their gorgeous home and farm, lush with trees, rolling green hills and crops of vegetables interspersed with cannabis. Everything is grown outdoors using a traditional European raised bed farming method called hugelkultur. The beds, similar to those used in traditional Native American farming, are built on a base of sticks and organic soil. They are then planted with cannabis and other compatible vegetables. The raised mounds create a perfect microbial base and are also home to sunflowers, garlic, beans, peppers, ginger and corn. Bird Valley Organics produces cannabis oils that can be used both recreationally and medicinally.
A Cannabis Farm Dinner will follow the tour, at which guests can recap their day under twinkling lights at large redwood tables at Bird Valley Organics. Chef Dare Arowe will prepare a family-style dinner with produce gathered from surrounding farms. Diners can expect creative dishes infused with terpenes and innovative uses of cannabis. While not a medicated dinner, guests will get to experience the unique flavors and benefits of cannabis.
Organizers of the first 420 Farm Tour hope to show that community building is a valuable next step in the local cannabis movement.
Always on the hunt for a great story, Emily Thomas loves to spin the yarn. Brewery owner by day, she is active in the Santa Cruz food culture and spends her days using organic beer to build community.