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Zelig Kronberg of Spring Creek Farms
Zelig Kronberg of Spring Creek Farms

Could Your Cannabis Be Cleaner Than
Your Organic Produce?

Nov 2, 2018

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If you read the paper or watch the news as it relates to Sonoma County Cannabis, by now you’ve heard these terms: Regenerative, Biodynamic, Organic, Sun-Grown, Light-Dep, and Sustainable Practices.

Sure, you know it’s better than the stuff that comes from a warehouse or worse, grown with who-knows-what, added to it. But do you know why it’s better? More importantly, do you know where you can get it?

Sonoma County Cannabis (the Department that regulates the local industry), states that of the 222 applications that they have been received, 26 have been approved, 43 were withdrawn and 27 were deemed “incomplete,” while 121 are waiting for approval. Only 19 were approved for cultivation.

It’s unfortunate that the County is so far behind in permitting cultivation since it means that the black market will continue to flourish in an unregulated manner. This is true in other parts of the famed Emerald Triangle as well.

Just for comparison, in Humboldt County alone, there are as many as 15,000 private grows. Of those, 2,300 have applied for permits, and it has about “1,600 applications from the first round of permitting to sort through, with about 250 permits having been issued — mostly for cannabis farms,” according to Humboldt County’s Cannabis Services Division.

Those of us who reside in Sonoma County know the value of choosing clean products, be they vegetables, meat, dairy, or cannabis. We support small farmers and farmers markets and understand the connection between how something is grown or raised and the overall health of our bodies, and our communities.

New Regulations

Starting July 1 of this year, distributors and (legal) cultivators have to put their product through testing for heavy metals and bacteria like E. coli and chemicals like acephate (a general use insecticide). That’s important for consumers but especially of concern to medical marijuana patients with compromised health. 

Prior to that, cannabis could be grown with chemicals that could potentially also make you very ill.

To guarantee that whatever cannabis products you're imbibing are pure and clean, it's key that they've been officially tested and certified by one of the programs now available in the adult-use market. Reports have been circulated of growers irresponsibly using chemical fertilizers and pesticides — including Myclobutanil, a.k.a Eagle 20 pesticide, which becomes hydrogen cyanide when combusted in a smoking device of any kind. So it's important to know where and how the cannabis you're consuming is cultivated.

Cannabis labs test the final flower product after harvest and processing, or before and after manufacturing for products like edibles or concentrates. This is the only kind of testing that the state requires; however, these companies don't visit the farm or manufacturing site. They are testing for potency, pesticides, and pathogens, not for "organic" cultivation practices.

Why Cannabis Can’t Be Called “Organic”

Mike Benziger Solful partnerThe term "organic" is essentially owned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA). Since cannabis remains federally illegal, these institutions will not authorize standardized testing regulations for the legal cannabis industry.

To get the last word on why cultivators can’t use the term “organic” in their marketing or branding, I spoke to the experts at Golden State Government Relations, (a Sonoma County-based consulting firm).

“Basically, the USDA has a national regulatory program called the "National Organic Program" (NOP) that determines the standards for what can be considered "organic," says Lauren Funaro, an associate at GSGR. "In 2000, the USDA defined the word “organic” for agriculture, including food and other products. Private agencies are authorized by the USDA to perform certification. Since cannabis is still a federally illegal crop, the USDA does not recognize it as a crop that can be certified as organically grown.”

"You must describe it as 'grown with organic methods,' " explains Chris Van Hook, founder of Clean Green Certified. His company was the first third-party organic certification program for cannabis and continues to certify cannabis cultivators, processors, handlers, and retailers, as well.

Since the USDA and FDA refuse to classify cannabis as a crop, and the State says it's not even a food, the result is that no pesticides are legal to use on cannabis, even if they are legal for other crops. Crops and products must test clean, or they will fail and be destroyed. In California, this is the responsibility of the distributor, who collects the material from the grower or manufacturer, sends a small sample to the lab, and, if it passes, then ships the product to the retailer. Though many in the industry wish the Feds would change the classification, in this case, it’s a good thing for consumers. These days, if you buy cannabis in California from a dispensary or delivery service, it’s likely to be cleaner than your produce.

California is in the midst of finalizing its testing requirements. The State will inevitably mandate tests for pesticides, pathogens, microbes, and cannabinoid content. The State is also establishing precise regulations for the testing labs themselves, requiring, for instance, specific PhDs for the chief scientists.

We look forward to the day when regulated testing and laboratory inspections will help guarantee safe medicine. And getting Clean Green, Demeter or other "grown using organic methods" certification will enable both farmers and processors to send their products to the lab with confidence that they will pass. Then the consumer will truly be able to trust that they're purchasing the cleanest, best cannabis available.

It’s all about the soil

Regenerative farming is inclusive of all natural farming practices, including biodynamics, Korean natural farming and permaculture, committed to building fertility in closed loop systems on the farm. When necessary to source offsite farm inputs, regenerative farming emphasizes the importance of doing so locally, ethically and sustainably.

“Regenerative Growing” means using no insecticides, fertilizers, pesticides, and ensuring that no foreign elements have been introduced into the agricultural system.

Regenerative goes beyond “organic” or “sustainable” approaches, with the goal being to improve the environment through agriculture. Regenerative farming practices make soil richer. They increase the soil’s ability to sequester carbon. They improve groundwater quality. They help farms become more drought and flood resistant. Most important, regenerative farming produces higher quality crops.

Meet Your Local Farmers

Spring Creek Farm

Spring Creek Farm proudly uses a “no-till living soil system”, meaning they have reused the same soil continuously for 10 years. Spring Creek Farm’s goal is to grow the cleanest organic medical cannabis possible with the most biologically diverse inputs to create the “tastiest medicine”.

Nancy Birnbaum: What special “organic” or “regenerative” practices do you use and why?

Spring Creek Farm: “We are excited to be in the final “transition period” to become certified by DEMPure. We just need to plant more flowers to attract pollinators!

DEMPure is comprised of cannabis farmers who live sustainably and maintain regenerative practices. A DEMPure Certificate redefines what the Cannabis industry sees as pure, clean medicine. Having a DEMPure certification recognizes that a farmer is utilizing solely regenerative and biologically intelligent practices. We are acting as a steward to the land, soil, plants and the humans that are part of the cycle of natural health. A DEMPure certified farmer is giving back to the community through education, sharing ideas and encouraging an expansion of knowledge to those that are just learning.

We grow all our own inputs and like fetch, clover and nettles to use as amendments to soil, thereby nourishing the soil and we’re feeding with beneficial bacteria. We put systems in place to support the bacteria, rather than buying it and adding it on a constant basis. The Farm took 3rd place at the 2017 Emerald Cup for the light-dep category.

We are excited to have met the kindred spirits with DEMPure. It’s becoming a worldwide movement. At Spring Creek Farm, we’ve been doing it longer than almost everyone.

We believe in maintaining these standards: Quality over quantity, community focus, the intrinsic value of the plant, not just the focus on profits. Spring Creek Farm is growing top-shelve, artisanal, craft cannabis. Consistency is the most important aspect, in every part of the growing process. Also, we’ve learned that adding stress adds expression to the final product.”

NB: Why do you think it’s important that consumers learn how their cannabis is grown?

SCF: “Just like with our food and water, it’s important for us to know what we’re putting in our bodies. Our medicines can also help maintain our health.

We’re committed to caring for the next seven generations, which for us, means producing regenerative, not degenerative, products. Organic standards are not very strict. We are testing for contamination far beyond what the State requires. We’re finding that organic products that we buy are failing testing.

Ultimately it’s all about healing our bodies and minds, and making us stronger and more resilient. It’s about respect for the earth!”

NB: Where can consumers buy your product?

SCF: “You can find us in Organican in Santa Rosa and MendoCann, and soon in Oakland. Check our website: spring-creek-farm.com.”

Fiddler’s Green Farm

Fiddler’s Greens carefully-crafted products are sun-grown using organic and biodynamic practices, with a focus on sustainability and protecting the environment. Their tinctures, pre-rolls and flower are always solvent and pesticide-free and made from the whole plant.

NB: How’s the harvest going?

FG: “Really well, though it’s a very busy time especially with so much attention having gone into the infrastructure and compliance. Because of that, it’s not an optimum grow year. Ensuring that we were abiding by all the new regulations meant that we had to wait a long time to get the crop in the ground.”

NB: What’s special about how you grow?

FG: “Having a closed-loop system using a permaculture practice, we don’t add any fertilizers, pesticides or fungicides. We depend beneficial insects and predator insects to protect our plants. And we grow veggies and flowers that attract beneficial insects like Praying Mantis, Lady Bugs, and such.

The manner in which we farm is just more sustainable to our eco-system and the environment. We’re beyond organic, we practice what we preach: in-ground, fully sun-grown and we make our own compost teas to feed and inoculate our plants.

As a result, you (the consumer) will get a broader spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenes. The plants can focus on growing and reproduction rather than fending off disease and insects.

We want people to understand that this plant is a bioaccumuator, meaning it helps clean the soil. It benefits the environment just by growing. It’s not a smelly nuisance!”

NB: Why do you think it’s important that consumers learn how their cannabis is grown?

FG: “The cleaner and healthier the plants are, the cleaner and healthier the medicine will be. We are hyper-aware of not contaminating our plants. We’re very careful to make certain that anything that comes in contact with the plant doesn’t add anything bad or dangerous. Just like how we care about the foods we choose to consume, we should be just as careful about our choice of cannabis. Fiddler’s Green’s is dedicated to creating the most healthful products and medicines available.”

NB: Where can consumers buy your product?

FG: “We’re in over 60 dispensaries all over CA and be sure to check the map on our website. (fiddlers-greens.com/where-to-find-us). Or let us know if you don’t find it at your dispensary.”

Craig Alpenglow

Seed2Soul Farm

Seed2Soul is the cultivation, manufacturing, nursery and transportation company owned by Patrick King, the Soil King, in Cloverdale. Patrick has been committed to supplying his fellow cultivators with grow products that he can stand behind and cultivating “the best cannabis in the world!”

NB: What special “organic” or “regenerative” practices to you support?

S2S: “We support small businesses and carry Organic certified products. Seed 2 Soul carries approved products that we’ve vetted - ensuring that these products, services and companies are aligned with our vision – “Health before Wealth.”

All our flower and packages products are branded as outdoor, light-dep, and sun grown. We even list the farmer who grew it. All of it is sourced locally.”

NB: Why do you think it’s important that consumers learn how their cannabis is grown?

S2S: “Ideally, you want to have a relationship with the plant from the crack of the seed to the soul. It’s part of you, if you’re consuming it as medicine you want to depend on the quality of the plant.”

NB: Where can consumers buy your product?

S2S: “You can find our flower at Red Door Remedies in Cloverdale in December and across California. Ask for it at your retailer.”www.seed2soul.com

HerbaBuena Biodynamic Farm

HerbaBuena 

HerbaBuena was established in 2015, with the belief in things like full-spectrum, whole plant intelligence, regenerative farming, sun, seed and soil-grown plants, and responsible daily use of plant medicine. According to HerbaBuenas’ Vice President of Business Development, Michael Straus, “All of our pre-rolls are made from Demeter certified biodynamic cannabis, locally sourced in both Sonoma and Mendocino Counties.”

Biodynamic agriculture is a holistic, ecological and ethical approach to farming that goes beyond organic to develop the farm as its own contained biodiverse, sustainable and balanced ecosystem. Biodynamics, is the oldest agricultural certification in the world, and is based on a philosophy developed in 1924 by Rudolf Steiner (also the founder of the Waldorf alternative educational system). Considered the original organic, or regenerative farming system, its fundamental principal is to create a balanced ecosystem where plants, animals and soil are in a state of total harmony. The goal of biodynamics is to actually improve the health of the earth.

In their quest to define the gold standard of purity and quality, HerbaBuena released the country’s first Demeter-Certified Biodynamic Cannabis in 2015. The fact that current federal regulations preclude cannabis from being labeled organic, the biodynamic stamp of approval offers conscious consumers an important choice-point beyond standard testing protocols.

Michael’s experience with the Sustainability movement dates back to 1994, when he helped launch Straus Family Creamery, the first organic dairy West of the Mississippi, at a time when the organic food movement was primarily a handful of philosophically-oriented people who wanted to do something different for the community.  

“All of us want to know that the food we eat is produced with the highest standards possible. We’ve seen how the sustainability movement has evolved from being a small niche to becoming mainstream in just a few short years. Now it needs to happen with cannabis.”

NB: Why do you think it’s important that consumers learn how their cannabis is grown?

HB: “Well, the evolution of the sustainable food movement - including organic farming, farm-to-table, and increasing popularity of farmers markets – has helped us all become much more aware of the vital interconnection of food, health, the environment and our communities. As a society, we’ve begun to wake up and realize that our food system has relied on toxic pesticides, genetic engineering, and an industrial approach that has been decimating family farms and rural communities. 

By cultivating cannabis according to rigorous biodynamic and regenerative agricultural standards, our flowers can reach their true healing potential, by allow the full spectrum of their 400+ cannabinoids to develop into delicious, balanced medicine.

Just like with industrialized food, the more we learn about how commercial cannabis is grown in the mass market, the more we’re going to appreciate just how important it is to support ecological production... for our own personal health, for the health of our environment and our communities.

Here in California, we’re fortunate that the newly regulated market has such strict production and testing standards. But it’s also important to remember that many people continue to seek cheaper cannabis from the unregulated black market - an arena where the use of dangerous chemicals pesticides is both unregulated and rampant. 

It’s also incredibly important to support cannabis brands which source their product from independent small farms. In the rest of the agricultural world, it’s taken decades for Agribusiness to take over. In California’s newly regulated cannabis market, it’s only taking a few months. For example, in Sonoma County alone, there were an estimated 3000-7000 cultivators. But as of three months ago, just 26 have received their permits. Sustainable agriculture has to do with the people and reflects our cultural as well as environmental values. It’s good for all of us. Here at HerbaBuena, our farm partners reflect the highest values in sustainability and a beautiful integrative holistic approach.

NB: Where can people get your products?

HB: “HerbaBuena products are available in select cannabis dispensaries and delivery services throughout California including, here in the Bay Area, Sava, Nice Guys Delivery and Ona Life. We also host private, curated events, and have just launched our own statewide delivery service via www.HerbaBuena.com.

“Connoisseurs and sophisticated consumers know that a great meal or a great bottle of wine is as much about the passion, intention and love that went into its creation, as it is about ingredients. The same is true for cannabis – but even more so.” — Alicia Rose, Founder, HerbaBuena

Flow Kana InstituteFlow Kana

Flow Kana partners with independent multi-generational farmers who cultivate under full sun, sustainably, and in small batches. Using only organic methods, these stewards of the land have spent their lives balancing a unique and harmonious relationship between the farm, the genetics and the terroir.

NB: What kinds of products do you sell that qualify as Organic or grown using Regenerative techniques?

AM: “We believe that everyone should know who grows their cannabis, including where and how it is grown,” says VP Community Relations, Amanda Reiman. “All cannabis is now forced to be organically produced, here in California. Up north, in Oregon and Washington, they have a list of approved pesticides that cultivators are allowed to use. We don’t have that here in California. When we look at indoor vs. sun grown, we see major differences in what products can be used to keep them pest-free. Flow Kana only works with outdoor farms that support integrative pest management. We want to support the bigger picture – land ecology and maintaining balance in agriculture. It goes beyond organic, to regenerative – actually restoring the quality of the land, year after year.”

“In terms of certifications, we are working with Dr. Bronner’s Sun & Earth Certified, with the idea that behind regenerative standards, there’s an impact that businesses have on their workers and on their community. We must take care of land, the people working the land, and the communities it supports.”

Dr. Bronner's, in collaboration with The Cannabis Conservancy and Certified Kind, developed new regenerative cannabis standards. Their vision is a holistic, sun-grown, soil-based standard that includes provisions for human empowerment and community engagement. These standards are intended to go beyond current minimum requirements for organic standards and encompass three pillars Earth Care and Cultivation, Human Empowerment and Community Engagement. 

Flow Kana and some of their independent cultivators are currently participating in the Sun + Earth Certified pilot program. sunandearthcertified.org.

“We believe that California has the opportunity to build a unique agriculture supply chain of diversified independent farmers based on regenerative values. Preserving the immense biological diversity that exists in this Northern California region is key to fighting against the monocropping culture we see moving into the cannabis industry today. The opportunity for California to create the gold standard for agriculture through cannabis is grand and the responsibility to do so even grander.” Michael Stinemetz, Flow Kana's co-founder and CEO.

NB: Where can people get your products?

AR: “Flow Kana products are available all over the state. We have our main distributions hubs in Bay area and down south. Check the website for the latest.”  www.flowkana.com

Where Can I Buy “Clean Cannabis?

Just like you can taste the superior quality of a sun-grown tomato that you bought from a local farmer’s market or grew in your garden, when you compare it to one that’s been grown in a ‘hot-house’ and shipped across the country, the sun-grown will always win. The same is true of cannabis.

And though it is still hard for most Californians to find fair trade, ethically and regeneratively-produced, clean, sun-grown cannabis from small, artisanal craft farms in their local dispensary, Sonoma County is fortunate to have a few.


For a verified list of Cannabis Dispensaries and Delivery Services, SEE The Gazette's LOCAL GUIDE


Solful, in Sebastopol, is dedicated to curating high quality and impactful products that are consciously cultivated, and safely produced. They vet their farmers thoroughly to ensure that their practices are second to none, seeking out and offering the purest, cleanest, highest quality and most ethically and ecologically produced cannabis products on the market. 

Eli Melrod CEO and Co-Founder of Solful“The ways these farmers think about soil, water, wind, sun, the local flora and fauna, and their plants’ genetics brings a new level of creativity and quality to cannabis,” says Ei Melrod, who is on a mission to educate people about the ways cultivation practices impact the end product. “All our flower products meet the US standards for Organic. Our selection is the most robust selection in all of Northern California.”

NB: Why do you want to promote these?

EM: “It’s our mission to cultivate health and happiness in our community. The impetus to source the cleanest, purest cannabis came as a result of my experience helping my Father as he went through treatment for pancreatic cancer.  The last thing I wanted to do was introduce anything that wasn’t clean and healthy.

And it’s also about our environment. It’s the best way to help improve our ecosystem, to help our people and our planet. I’m excited that the Cannabis conversation can spark the bigger conversation on how to remediate and regenerate the planet.”

NB: Are your cultivator farms required to be certified? How?

EM: “Yes, we work with farms that have a variety of certifications such as Clean Green, USDA Organic standards, Demeter Certified and Dragonfly.

We’re focused on supporting farms that are not monocropping but producing other crops and foods, and meat, pork and poultry. It’s important to support diversified small family farms. All of the flower on our shelves is produced by small family farms.”

NB: Why do you think it’s important that consumers learn how their cannabis is grown?

EM: “It’s important that everyone knows what they’re putting into their systems. If you consume a product that has pesticides or artificial ingredients, you might feel better in the short term but it won’t be good in the long term. Here (in Sonoma County), we’re fortunate to have access to some of the best cannabis in the world and we care about supporting small farms. What do you want to support - toxic farming or those that support of our small business economy?”

It’s Harvest time in Sonoma County

Croptober,” as its called by farmers, is a very busy month for cultivators. And with the harvest comes the annual contest - the Emerald Cup, to see who has produced the best cannabis in the country (or at least in California.).

It’s estimated that about 20 acres of cannabis, worth approximately $34 million, is being harvested lawfully through the Sonoma County agricultural department or with temporary county authorization. And this doesn’t include warehouse or indoor grows.

Alpenglow Farms Cannabis

The 2018 harvest “is one for the record books” for those lucky few that managed to acquire those local permits and state licenses to grow, reported Hezekiah Allen, who founded the California Growers Association. Allen has since stepped down as executive director and is launching a new enterprise called Emerald Grown, a company he formed to offer resources for farming cooperatives.

Last year, a combination of major wildfires and the high costs of compliance took its toll on the region’s sun-grown cannabis harvest. It was also the first year when cultivators were required to follow new local regulations developed in advance of the state’s 2018 rollout of its rules.

This years’ legal outdoor harvest is estimated to be worth about $474 million, barring catastrophic crop loss, and based on industry standards for yield and the current wholesale value of cannabis, about $500 a pound.

And though both Sonoma and Mendocino counties each fell short in cannabis tax revenues by about $500,000 for the 2017-18 tax year, each is expected to see some rise in tax revenues.

It was those multi-generational farmers up north who created the well-known Emerald Cup, which started as a small, harvest festival and has grown into the country’s only contest celebrating sun-grown cannabis. The Emerald Cup is the largest event in the Country and once again, this December, the Cup will give out the coveted “Regenerative Cannabis Farm Award” to one deserving farm.

Be sure to support your favorite farmer! We wish all the contestants good luck. Thank goodness we have so many local farmer that are committed to providing us with clean, regeneratively-grown cannabis!


For a verified list of Cannabis Dispensaries and Delivery Services, SEE The Gazette's LOCAL GUIDE


Author – Nancy Birnbaum is ED of Women’s Cannabis Business Development(womenscbd.org) and Publisher of Sensi Magazine launching soon in the North Bay.

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