Fit for a Queen
Jul 09, 2019 01:28AM
For Humboldt County locals, Willow Creek a sleepy town of 1,700 on the edge of the Six Rivers National Forest is little more than a stopover on the way to I-5, a good river spot, or Bigfoot Country. But for Hannah Whyte of Emerald Queen Farms, her husband, and children, it’s home.
The long route to Whyte’s farm is a familiar road for most folks in the industry: Wind up a few miles on an old logging road, make the right unmarked hairpin turn, crawl along a bumpy and steep dirt road, and eureka! You’re there. But Whyte’s farm differs from “Humboldt Grows of Old” in several striking ways: No derelict home appliances strewn along the “driveway,” no busted refrigerators, blown-out washing machines, or random, purposeless ditches. And rather than scattered plots peppered amongst the trees, Emerald Queen is orderly and precise, with 12 greenhouses and nearly 35 full-sun cannabis plants that look ready to grow like saguaros.
Such aesthetic differences are of bedrock importance. “Changing the perspective of people in the industry is huge in this moment,” says Whyte’s husband. “It’s really important for people to see how good operators look.” And he’s right. As legalization spreads across the country, the public perception of cannabis farmers is still shadowy at best. The visage of a “dope grower” as a seedy criminal with a flat-brim hat and a diesel truck is still alive and well. But standing with Hannah Whyte amidst her endless rows of healthy, green plants, it’s hard to even try and paint her with that brush.
“We grow all organic. I mean, we use OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) listed pesticides when we have to, but mainly we use integrated pest management and preventative measures like thyme oil and soap,” says Whyte. “We’re never going to put anything on this crop that I wouldn’t spray on my kids.”
When we meet at her farm, Whyte and her crew have just battened down the hatches in anticipation of a heavy rainstorm. Luckily, the sun decides to pop out, showing off the many virtues of Willow Creek living. “We first came down here to visit friends in the winter years ago. It was beautiful 70-degree weather, and we were like, ‘Whoa, four-season growing!’ We got a little hoodwinked,” Whyte chuckles as she squabbles with some wiggle-wire sealing the tarp door to a greenhouse. “Last winter, we got five feet of snow.”
With a spirit undampened by impending rain or the turbid Humboldt climate, Whyte and her husband have big plans for their farm. “We’d like to have like an educational or interpretive center in the future to give people an opportunity to come here and learn what it’s like to grow good, clean cannabis,” she says as she wheels around a huge outbuilding to reveal the farm’s on-site skatepark.
“This is the best part,” Whyte’s husband says as he drops into the bowl and does a series of board-stalls and reverses. Avid skaters themselves, the couple has been working with the Humboldt Skatepark Collective to promote skateboarding in the community. “We’re hoping to get a park here in the next three years, and we’ve got skate parks in the works in Eureka and Fortuna, too.”
Whyte and her husband met in the agriculture program at The Evergreen State College in Washington. They started a farm in Olympia shortly after, growing cranberries, tobacco, and all kinds of produce before relocating to Marin and slowly working their way north to Willow Creek in Humboldt. The couple carries their small farmer mentality to cannabis cultivation. At Emerald Queen, they plant regenerative crops carbon traps and nitrogen fixers in the offseason to remediate the soil and keep fertilizer use and amendments to a minimum. In addition to the environmental benefits, Whyte likes that using native soils helps to maintain the terroir of her product.
Terroir, a French term generally associated with viticulture, is the “taste of the land” the idea that the sum of the environment (soil, climate, topography) in which a grape (or cannabis flower) is grown is unique and self-evident in the flavor. The concept dominates the craft cannabis industry, even though it’s only a somewhat measurable quality, and it’s what differentiates “boutique” bud from industrial, assembly-line flower.
“It’s necessary to educate consumers on why purchasing from small farms is so important,” says Whyte. “Are you spending your money on a company that supports community, or are you buying from a business who makes money off a community?” she asks.
With the looming threat of “the Phillip Morris of weed” steamrolling into the hills of the Emerald Triangle, conscientious and community-minded cultivators are struggling against falling prices, mercurial regulations, and general ignorance from lawmakers. In the face of change, the idea of “community” stands tall at Emerald Queen Farms. “Cannabis has been the bread of this community for a long time,” says Whyte. “It’s allowed people to cultivate and maintain this rural lifestyle and that’s in peril now with the commercialization of ganja.”
As cultivators of sustainably farmed cannabis, Emerald Queen Farms “believes in producing a high-quality product that people can feel good about putting in their bodies,” says Whyte. “That’s real.”